A little stuck on what to do to best support your child’s reading development? This most important early literacy skill will have your little one up and playing, all while setting a very strong foundation for reading.

In this post, you will learn about:

  • The 6 Early Literacy Skills
  • The Most Important Early Literacy Skill for a Pre-Reader
  • How to Know if Your Child is Ready to Play with This Skill
Mom and young daughter sitting on a green couch and reading together.
Most important early literacy skill.

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Early Literacy Skills: The Foundation for Reading Success

This heading truly says it all: Early literacy skills are the foundation for reading success. These skills allow an emerging reader to learn how to decode words, understand story structure, and comprehend a text. There are 6 early literacy skills your child should become familiar with as an emerging reader. 

Print Motivation

Print motivation is purely just your child’s desire to want to read and interact with books and literacy activities. Without motivation, getting your child to read will be a huge struggle. Encourage them to look at and play with books on topics that already interest them like animals, trucks, princesses, etc. 

Want some ideas for engaging books that also support development? Check out my list to build baby’s library.

Print Awareness

Print awareness, also known as concepts of print, are all of the innate skills of reading. These are things that we don’t even think about doing while we are reading because they are so second nature to us. For example, how to hold a book, reading from left to right and top to bottom, and the visual concept of words and spaces are all aspects of print awareness. These skills can be modeled during your special reading time with your little one. They will start to understand how to do these things by watching you do them over and over. 

Young girl in pink t-shirt turning the page of an open book in her lap.

Letter Knowledge

Letter knowledge is what we usually think of first when learning how to read. This would be learning to identify letters and sounds and eventually sounding out words. The more that this learning can be done through play, the better. You will want to make this a fun experience.


Vocabulary acquisition starts even before your child has learned to speak. Your child is absorbing everything you say and learning new words and language at an astronomical speed. Support that learning by keeping the conversation going and providing labels for everything in their world. 

Narrative Skills

Narrative skills are the ability to be able to tell a story in sequence. This could be a personal story or a favorite story they have heard over and over. Encourage your little to share about their day and use sequence words such as first, then, next, and last

Phonological Awareness

Phonological awareness is the ability to hear and understand that sentences are made up of words and words are made up of sounds. This skill is practiced orally and with pictures. It does not involve using letters, even though you are practicing letter sounds

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    Phonological Awareness: Unlocking the Key to Reading Success

    Out of all of the skills that we just talked about above, phonological awareness is the most important early literacy skill for reading success. When you are reading to your child every day, you are providing a basis for all of the early literacy skills. However, phonological awareness is the first skill you should actively be trying to teach your child because it is not as explicit in the process of reading as the other 5 skills are. 

    What is Phonological Awareness?

    As mentioned above, phonological awareness is the ability to hear and understand that sentences are made up of words and words are made up of sounds. We all need to be able to discriminate and manipulate sounds at the sentence, word, syllable, and individual sound level to be a successful reader. 

    What does this mean? At the very basic level, your child should be able to understand and count how many words there are in a sentence or that words have multiple sounds in them. Some words can start with the same sound or end with the same sound or even sound very similar. This awareness allows them to use what they know about sounds and eventually apply it to the visual part of reading.

    Infographic demonstrating the important early literacy skill of phonological awareness. Sunflower and leaves listing phonological awareness skills.

    Why is it the most important early literacy skill?

    Why is phonological awareness so important? Think of it this way: If you are baking cookies, you need to have the appropriate ingredients to be able to make them. But if you don’t have a mixing bowl, a mixing spoon, or an oven, you aren’t going to be able to mix all of those ingredients together to get your delicious end result. 

    If our end result is reading, and the words on the page are our ingredients, our little ones won’t be able to do anything with that print without having the proper “tools”, or “awareness”. 

    The research and evidence doesn’t lie: “Children who have difficulty in learning to read or who have failed to learn to read are those who also lack [phonological] awareness abilities” (Fredericks, 2001). I see this every. single. day…without fail. The second and third graders who I work with and cannot read, don’t have any sense of phonological awareness. This is what makes it such an important early literacy skill.

    What are some Phonological Awareness Skills that I can teach my child?

    This most important literacy skill contains a lot of mini skills inside of it. Starting with the biggest structure of sentences and working down to the smallest structure of sounds is how you will want to approach this. Counting words in a sentence and hearing rhyming words are the first steps in understanding phonological awareness

    You can even start having your child identify words that begin with the same sound and breaking words into syllables. This concepts get increasing more difficult and can be tricky for a 2-3 year old, but can start being practiced with a 4-5 year old. 

    Young boy reading a book on a white bed.

    How You Can Support Phonological Awareness at Home

    When thinking about where your child is developmentally, you want to start with skills that can easily be turned into active games

    Get more quick activities for phonological awareness.

    Practice counting words in a sentence by clapping them out or using objects to represent words. Your child can stack cups for every word or clap and sing the words to make it a game.

    Rhyming games, songs, and sayings are all around us. Immerse your child in rhymes so they get used to hearing them. The more they hear words that sound similar, the easier it will be for them to eventually produce them.

    Get some more ideas for infant literacy skills and toddler literacy skills.

    How to Know Your Child is Ready for Phonological Awareness

    I am a strong believer in never forcing your child to read or partake in literacy activities before they are ready. This can cause resentment, frustration, and create a negative stigma around literacy and reading in general. You will definitely want to keep these activities a positive time during the day and something your child will look forward to.

    Toddler boy reading a board book on a striped blanket.

    Follow your child’s lead:

    Does your child show an interest in reading and books?

    You will know that your child is eager to start working on literacy skills if she or he is playing with their books and wanting to read with you. Remember, just because they might not be able to sit through an entire book, doesn’t mean they aren’t interested in reading. If they pick up their books to play with them or want to read with you, they are interested. Even if it is for only a minute.

    Does your child enjoy nursery rhymes, chants, and songs?

    Showing an interest in these things indicates that they have an awareness of rhythm. This will allow them to experiment with hearing and determining if two words rhyme. 

    Is your child speaking in simple sentences?

    Although your child may be able to understand your more complex sentences, if they aren’t speaking in simple sentences yet, it may be difficult for them to understand the concept of words within a sentence.

    Something you can do as they are learning to put words together is to continue to label and support sentence building. When they are using one word, repeat the request back in a simple sentence. For example, if your child is saying “cup”, you can repeat back, “Would you like your cup?” This will build the idea that cup is a word, but it has added meaning when you string multiple words together.

    Next Steps for Reading Development

    Young toddler reading a colorful book with her mom.
Important early literacy skills.

    Wondering where to go next after this most important early literacy skill? You will definitely want to check out my Toddler Read to Lead Free Email Course. With 4 jam-packed videos, tons of extra bonuses, and actionable quick tips that you can implement in a hurry, your little one will be getting a strong foundation for reading success.

    PS- What are your favorite ways to support your child’s reading development? Drop your ideas in the comments below.

    Fredericks, A. D. (2001). The Complete Phonemic Awareness Handbook. United States: Rigby.