What is Early Literacy Development and How Does it Tie to Language Acquisition?

Children start to learn language from the day they are born. As they grow and develop so do their speech and language skills. They learn to understand and use language to express their thoughts, ideas, and feelings to communicate with others. During this stage of early speech and language development, children also learn skills that are important to the development of literacy skills (reading and writing). This is known as Emergent Literacy or Early Literacy. This begins at birth and continues through the preschool years.

Children are exposed to print (e.g. books, writings on the grocery list) in everyday situations (e.g. home, daycare) well before they enter elementary school. Parents can see their child’s appreciation for print grow as they begin to recognize words that rhyme, scribble with crayons, name some letters in the alphabet, and eventually combine what they know about speaking and listening with what they know about print indicating their readiness to read and write.

The Development of Print Knowledge

Children start by making guesses:

  1. Understanding what symbols mean
  2. Making inferences based on the size and length of the print
  3. Making inferences based on their unique design
  4. Directionality
  5. Oral/Written Language Correspondence
  6. Understanding how letters relate to sound

Warning Signs

The experiences with talking and listening learned during the preschool years prepare children to learn to read and write during early elementary school years. This means that children who enter school with weaker verbal abilities are much more likely to experience difficulties in learning literacy skills than those who don’t. Children who are at risk may exhibit these warning signs:

  • Persistent “baby” talk
  • Absence or lack of interest for nursery rhymes
  • Absence or lack of interest in joint book readings
  • Difficulty understanding simple directions
  • Difficulty learning or remembering names of letters
  • Failure to recognize or identify own name

What can you do?

Children need to engage in learning about learning literacy through meaningful experiences. You, as a parent, can help your child develop literacy skills during regular activities without adding extra time to your day. Show them reading and writing is part of everyday life and can be fun and enjoyable. Activities for children include:

  • Talk to your child and name objects, people, and events in their everyday environment
  • Repeat what your child is saying, including babbling (e.g. “dadada, bababa”) and add to them
  • Talk to your child during routine activities (e.g. bathtime) and respond to their questions
  • Draw your child’s attention to print in everyday settings such as traffic signs, store logos, and food containers
  • Introduce new vocabulary word during holidays and special activities such as outings to the zoo, park, etc.
  • Engage with your child in singing, rhyming games, and nursery rhymes
  • Read picture and story books that focus on sounds, rhymes, and alliteration (words that start with the same sound, as found in Dr. Seuss books).
  • Reread your child’s favorite book(s).
  • Focus your child’s attention on books by pointing to words and pictures as you read.
  • Provide a variety of materials to encourage drawing and scribbling (e.g., crayons, paper, markers, finger paints).
  • Encourage your child to describe or tell a story about his/her drawing and write down the words.

-Michelle Smith, M.S. CCC-SLP & Chary Liz Macasero, B.S. – Student Intern


Roth, F., Paul, D., & Pierotti, A., (2006). Emergent Literacy: Early Reading and Writing  Development. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA).  Retrieved May 14, 2012, from http://www.asha.org/public/speech/emergent-          literacy.htm.

Dobbels, D. (2003). Using what we know to enhance early literacy programming: An  SLP’s guide to early literacy development & practices [PowerPoint Slides].  Retrieved May 14, 2012, from  http://www.asha.org/Events/convention/handouts/2007/1500_Dobbels_Deidre/


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