Director, Milton Public Library

Susan Larson; Milton Public Library director. (Photo by Kaylee Sullivan)

Early literacy is what children know about reading and writing before they can actually read and write. It’s a key element in helping children enter school ready to learn, according to the organization Zero to Three.

At Milton Public Library, we structure our year-round preschool programming to present and model early literacy skills. Our summer reading program includes Rubber Ducky Readers, in which we give caregivers a sheet of early literacy activities each month that they can complete with their charges. This summer when the sheet is turned in at the end of each month, the child will receive a free book, courtesy of the Milton’s Promise Community grant.

Caregivers can have a big impact on preparing children for learning to read and loving books. The six primary early literacy skills are listed below, with examples of how to easily incorporate them into daily living. We’ve included a few suggested book titles, too.

Letter knowledge is the ability to recognize the letters of the alphabet in both upper and lower case, and to know the names and sounds of each. Research shows that recognizing shapes is a precursor to identifying letters. Point out the shapes of objects as you encounter them. For example, the round ball, and the square block.

Name letters and their sounds. For example, at bath time you can say, “Bath starts with B; bath, bubbles, body, baby. Read an alphabet book with a story.

Try “Max’s ABC” by Rosemary Wells “SuperHero ABC” by Bob McLeod or “Alphabet Under Construction” by Denise Fleming.

Narrative skill is the ability to describe things and to tell stories. Start with babies by naming things throughout the day, and with toddlers by asking them questions about a story you’re reading. Use puppets and toys to act out a story, and invite your child to tell a story using the illustrations in a picture book.

Try “A Good Day” by Kevin Henkes, “The Runaway Bunny” by Margaret Wise Brown or “Draw!” by Raúl Colón.

Phonological awareness is the ability to hear and play with the smaller sounds of words. Recite nursery rhymes like “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” and play with tongue twisters like “Granny grows grapes in her garden,” and “She sells sea shells by the sea shore.”

Sing songs and use instruments like bells and shaky eggs. Most songs break up words into one syllable per note. Read a book with rhyming text, and emphasize the rhyming words.

Try “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?” by Bill Martin, “Green Eggs and Ham” by Dr. Seuss or “Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed” by Eileen Christelow.

Print awareness is the ability to understand how books work and that the text on the page has meaning. Let even the littlest kids play with books. Board books are great for babies, because they can turn the pages and look at the illustrations without fear of damaging the pages.

Choose a book with a repeated phase and have your child say it along with you.

Notice words and letters as you go through your day – on menus, license plates, signs and more.

Try “Go Away, Big Green Monster” by Ed Emberley, “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus” by Mo Willems or “Peekaboo Morning” by Rachel Isadora.

Print motivation is an interest in and the enjoyment of books and reading. Keep reading time fun. If your child loses interest, stop for now. Use books as a starting point. For example, read “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” by Jane Cabrera, then sing the song. Let your child choose the same book repeatedly. You may be bored, but they’re engaged!

Try “Muncha! Muncha! Muncha!” By Candace Fleming, “The Big Umbrella” by Amy June Bates or “Big Fat Hen” by Keith Baker.

Vocabulary is learning new words. Read aloud to your child every day, and be prepared to explain the meaning of new words. Use vivid and varied words in conversations with your child. Share wordbooks with your child – books that have a picture and a word identifying it. One of my favorites is Richard Scary’s “Best Little Word Book Ever.”

Try “Planting a Rainbow” by Lois Ehlert, “Honk Honk! Beep Beep!” by Daniel Kirk or “Mama Built a Little Nest” by Jennifer Ward.

All the early literacy skills can be summed up in this: Read with your child. “Reading together is more significant than targeting any specific content or skills,” said Sharon Rosenkoetter and Lauren R. Barton in “Bridges to Literacy: Early Routines That Promote Later School Success.”

Would you like more suggestions for early literacy activities and books? Ask us. We’d be happy to help!