Play-based learning is totally my thing. I love being able to provide my little one with engaging opportunities to practice skills, but in a fun and active environment. However, sometimes in order to get creative, you need to understand the nitty-gritty. Through this post, you will be able to soak in everything you need to know about how to get your child reading so that you can put that thinking cap on to create really awesome learning activities. Get ready to line your toolkit and incorporate the 6 early literacy skills that should be at the foundation of all of your activities because in this post you will learn:

  • What the 6 early literacy skills are
  • Why it is important that you focus on the early literacy skills as a parent
  • Which skills are the most important at what point in development
Mom and preschool daughter sitting on couch and reading together practicing early literacy skills.

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What are the 6 Early Literacy Skills?

The 6 Early Literacy Skills are a set of pre-reading skills that allow a child to gain a strong foundation to beginning reading. Together they support the desire to read, story structure, how to attack words, and comprehension…all at the most accessible level. Knowing and understanding these 6 early literacy skills are an important part of preparing your child for their future.

Print Motivation

The first skill is print motivation. This is your child’s motivation and interest in reading. Does your child show an interest in books, letters, words? An interest in print could even be an interest in street or business signs while you are driving or walking. Print is anything that can communicate a message.

Whenever your child shows an interest in a book, letters, or any type of print, encourage it. Don’t force it as this could cause frustration and resentment towards literacy, which is the exact opposite of what you want.

Print Awareness

Print Awareness is the idea that those squiggles and symbols your child sees on a page (more commonly known to us as words) carry a meaning. This also refers to children being able to distinguish the difference between letters and words, the purpose of spaces, and punctuation marks.

These skills within the Print Awareness realm are all innate skills to us that we take for granted that we know and understand. When your child sees a book for the first time, they don’t know how to hold it unless they have seen you hold it. They don’t know to read from left to right and top to bottom unless they have seen you read from left to right and top to bottom.

Narrative Skills

All texts have structure and a purpose. At the early literacy level, you want your child to understand that a story has a sequence of events in which it is told. Something happens first. And then something else happens, etc. Knowing that there is a beginning, middle, and end to a story and being able to talk about it in order is a great way to develop this skill.

You can initially practice this by having your child tell you about their day and prompting them with sequence words like, “What did you do when you first woke up? And then what happened? What did you do next?”

Additionally, having them look at the pages of a book and tell you the story in their own words is an amazing way to practice narrative skills.

Toddler boy independently reading a book on a carpet.


Developing your child’s vocabulary is such an important skill. Your child’s language skills and the amount of words they know directly affect how well they will read. It is so much easier to read words that you already know because they are words you have already attached meaning to.

The top ways to build your child’s vocabulary is to talk and converse with them as much as possible as well as reading as many books as possible. By conversing, you are increasing their word acquisition of everyday words that they will use often. But by reading, you are increasing their vocabulary of words that may not come up in everyday conversation.

Letter Knowledge

Letter Knowledge, or the Alphabetic Principal, is the learning that there are symbols that go with the sounds in the words that we say. Learning letters and the sounds that they make is one of the most common ways to support your emerging reader.

Making this learning fun and engaging is the key to its success. Flash cards and memorization tactics may work, but they are not the best way to foster a love of reading.

Phonological Awareness

Phonological Awareness is the understanding that there are words inside of sentences and sounds inside of words. This helps children be able to distinguish between words in a sentence and eventually sound out words. The more work that is done in this literacy skill, the stronger reader you will most likely have.

In my opinion, this is one of the most important skills of the 6 early literacy skills. Read more about that in the post: The Most Important Literacy Skill Your Child Needs to Start Reading.

Playing sound games, such as rhyming games, will help your little one start hearing that sounds can be similar to one another. This will eventually help them with sounding out words as they are reading.

Infographic detailing the 6 early literacy skills and how to support them at home.

Why Should Parents Focus on the 6 Early Literacy Skills?

Just working on letter knowledge and reading with your child are both a great start to preparing your child to read. But adding in the other 4 skills will fully support your child in their pre-reading habits. You will notice increased engagement, decoding skills, and comprehension skills.

Prepping Your Child for Academic Success

So much research is available now that provides evidence for the benefits of working with the 6 early literacy skills. But what sticks out to me the most is the research behind vocabulary and phonemic awareness.


Developing your child’s language skills and vocabulary by involving your child in conversation (whether or not they can speak yet) is one of the most important things you can do for your little one. It’s not enough to overhear conversations between adults, on the radio, or through the television. Providing meaningful conversation in context is key to vocabulary acquisition. That is as true for a 6 month old as it is for a 56 year old.

If you are in the field of education, you have most likely heard about the 30 million word gap. What this research study states is that there exists a 30 million word gap between children of high and low socioeconomic statuses before that child’s first day of Kindergarten.

While people have tried to “debunk” this study, what does remain is the fact that regardless of your income level, how much you involve your child in meaningful conversation and language directly impacts their vocabulary acquisition (source).

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    Phonological Awareness

    Learning about the sounds that make up our language is a critical component to learning to read. When reading, our brain is striving to make the connection between what we say and the letters on the page. Phonological Awareness is crucial in creating that connection.

    Evidence shows that phonological awareness is a prerequisite skill for decoding. Of all the students measured in the study from the link above, they never found one instance where there was a low level of phonological awareness, but a high level for decoding. Therefore, in order to be able to learn to read, you have to have a strong sense of phonological awareness.

    Developmental Awareness

    Understanding the 6 Early Literacy Skills as a parent allows you to be aware of where your child is in their development. This can help you make informed decisions on what you can be doing to help support your little one on their literacy journey.

    Be a Role Model

    If you are aware of all of the skills that your child needs as an emerging reader, you are able to consistently model them to your child and show them how to do it like you do. Your child watches you with amazement every day wanting to do things like you. Take advantage and find ways to model literacy skills.

    Woman reading with young girl outside on a blanket practicing 6 early literacy skills.

    Which Skills are the Most Important?

    While all of the 6 Early Literacy Skills are essential to providing your little with a strong reading foundation, some are more important than others at different periods of your child’s development. I’ll be sharing some focuses for different age ranges down below, but that doesn’t mean that the other skills shouldn’t be addressed as well.

    I will say that vocabulary should be a focus at all age ranges, even for an infant. The reason for this is because meaningful, direct communication should start right from birth (if not in the womb!). Your child is learning language from you from the very beginning. You need to support this by conversing with them throughout the early years as much as possible, even if they can’t communicate back yet.

    Focus for 0-1 year olds

    Print Motivation & Print Awareness

    While your child may not be able to talk yet, or may just be learning their first words, something you can work on outside of vocabulary is your child’s desire to read. You want them to see reading with you as a time for bonding and enjoyment. The more they enjoy books with you, the more likely they are to enjoy books independently. Here are some other ways to encourage print motivation:

    • Let your child play with durable books (board books, cloth books, etc.). Biting and chewing are acceptable!
    • Be a role model and read the paper or a book in front of them while they engage in independent play. They look up to you and want to do what mama does.
    • Center reading time around when your child is in a good mood. Don’t force reading when it’s just going to make everyone frustrated.

    Focus for 2-3 year olds

    Narrative Skills

    As your child is starting to talk in longer sentences and communicating better, encourage them to tell you about their days, simple routines they do every day, or even about the books they read.

    • Encourage your child to use sequence words like “First, Then, Next, Last”
    • Take pictures of a certain routine like bedtime. Have your child put the pictures in order and talk about each picture.

    Phonological Awareness

    As your child experiments with language, this would also be a great time to get them to start experimenting with sounds too. Starting off with the bigger concepts of phonological awareness is key to frustration-free success.

    • Have your child count words in a sentence. It doesn’t have to be with numbers. They can use objects for each word in a sentence or clap for each word. You may have to model, but they will pick up on it quickly.
    • Start focusing on the concept of rhyming. Sing a lot of rhyming songs, chants, or stories and have your child participate with you.

    Focus for 4-5 year olds

    Phonological Awareness

    Now that your child is older, you can start working more on individual sounds to prepare them for reading.

    • Have them find objects that start with the same sound.
    • Try breaking apart the sounds in a word that you tell them.
    • Practice identifying words that do or do not rhyme

    Letter Knowledge

    Since your child has been working so hard on all of the literacy skills, it is now an appropriate time to start working with letters. If your child shows interest in letters earlier, by all means, you should most definitely take advantage of their interest. But, it is developmentally appropriate for children to learn letters between the ages of 4-7.

    • Find letters while you drive around town. You can practice looking for certain letters or share in the excitement when your child points one out.
    • Magnetic Letters will be your best friend. Simple play on the fridge is always welcome as well as taking advantage of the fascination of your child’s name.
    Young girl reading and practicing early literacy skills with her parents.

    Last Thoughts on Early Literacy Skills

    The 6 Early Literacy Skills that we discussed are your key for laying down a strong literacy foundation for your child. Every single one of them plays an important role in learning to read. While they are all always important, taking the time to learn about them and when to maximize your time on each skill has given you the first step you need to prepare emerging reader for success.

    Tell me about you…which of the early literacy skills are you going to try? Share below!