According to Roskos, K.A., Christie, J.F., & Richgels, D.J in their article The Essentials of Early Literacy Instruction, the term “early literacy” refers to the most comprehensive description of "the knowledge, skills, and dispositions that precede learning to read and write in the primary grades (K–3).” They add that "in the earliest phases of literacy development, forming reading and writing concepts and skills is a dynamic process.”
While there are various terms used in association with early literacy – terms like early reading, emergent reading and emergent writing – early literacy encompasses the wide array of key activities and behaviors of very young children, ages birth to age five, that lay a firm foundation for learning to read and write when the children reach school age.

Early Literacy and Very Young Children (Birth to Age 3)
This foundation really does start at a very early age, as the early learning advocacy group, Zero to Three points out. “Recent research supports an interactive and experiential process of learning spoken and written language skills that begins in early infancy” ( Early literacy is NOT early reading. It is not, according to early literacy experts, developmentally appropriate to teach reading to very young children. It is however very appropriate to encourage a natural “unfolding of skills” through access to and manipulation of books, positive interaction with adults and a variety of literacy rich experiences.

Foundational Early Literacy Behaviors
In her book Much More Than ABCs: The early stages of reading and writing, author and early childhood specialist Judith Schickedanz identifies key early literacy behaviors in babies that are the building blocks for reading and writing. Zero to Three supports Schickedanz’s findings, which are summarized here.

  • Book Handling – holding books, turning pages in books and chewing on books encourage young children to love books. While chewing on books may seem like a negative behavior that should be avoided, it is actually a very natural way that babies explore their world. The more babies are able to freely manipulate books, the more they will think positively about books.
  • Looking and Recognizing – gazing at or laughing at pictures, or pointing at pictures of familiar objects are activities that lay the groundwork for letter recognition.
  • Picture and Story Comprehension – imitating an action seen in a picture, such as peek-a-boo, or talking about events in the book, even in simple statements like, “Baby sad” lay a foundation for understanding stories.
  • Story Reading Behaviors – babbling to imitate reading, as well as running fingers along printed words are not only adorable baby behaviors, but are also the budding habits of successful readers.

Characteristics of Good Books for Very Young Children (Birth to Age 3)
Zero to Three, in partnership with leading early childhood training centers like the Erikson Institute in Chicago, has developed a list of what book characteristics very young children enjoy. Some of those characteristics are list here. For the full listing, please see:

0-6 month olds:
  • Large, simple pictures or designs
  • Chunky board books that can stand on their own
  • Cloth or soft books that are washable

6-12 month olds:
  • Board books with photos of babies or familiar items
  • Board books to that can be freely explored with hands and mouth
  • Plastic or vinyl books for bath time
  • Small plastic photo albums of family

12-24 month olds (young toddlers):
  • Sturdy books that can be carried
  • Books about animals or bedtime
  • Books about saying Hello and Goodbye
  • Simple rhymes or predictable text

  • Books about counting, the alphabet, shapes or vehicles
  • Books featuring favorite TV characters
  • Simple rhymes that can be memorized
  • Simple stories.

Positive Adult Interaction
It is important to note that benefits of appropriate books and book behaviors are maximized when young children encounter them along with a positive, caring adult. A young child’s parent or caregiver is an essential ingredient in his or her early literacy experiences (

Early Literacy and the Preschool Age Child
Early literacy continues to emerge in the preschool years as a dynamic “set of relationships between reading and writing” (Roskos, et al., 2). In a National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) article, “The Essentials of Early Literacy Instruction”, Roskos, Christie and Richgels explain that children need reading to understand about writing, and writing to understand about reading. Oral language is the link that helps children understand both reading and writing. By preschool age, a child might scribble something and then “read” what she “wrote”, thereby ascribing meaning to her marks. This event is an important next step toward reading and writing.

Content and Disposition
At the preschool age, parents, caregivers, teachers, librarians and other interested parties typically become concerned about what a child needs to know before Kindergarten in regards to reading and writing. Roskos, Christie and Richgels advocate for preschool age children to be taught to:
  • name and write the letters of the alphabet.
  • hear rhymes and sounds.
  • spell simple words.
  • recognize and write his or her own name.
  • understand new words from stories, play or other schoolwork.
  • listen to stories for meaning.

Most importantly, it is what Roskos, Christie and Richgels call the “disposition” of the preschool child that is of the utmost importance to cultivate. At home, school or in the library, preschool age children must be encouraged to:
  • listen to stories.
  • ask to be read to.
  • be curious about words and letters.
  • explore print forms.
  • be playful with words.
  • enjoy songs, poems, rhymes, books and dramatic play.

Six Essential Skills Before Kindergarden

The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development's National Reading Panel states that children should develop the six skills that are essential to early literacy before they reach kindergarden:

  1. Vocabulary - The knowledge of the names of and words for things
  2. Print Motivation - The interest in and enjoyment of books and other print materials
  3. Print Awareness - The knowledge of how we follow the print on a page (Print awareness also involves knowing how to handle a book.)
  4. Narrative Skills - The ability to use words to describe things and events )Narrative skills give the ability to tell a story.)
  5. Letter Knowledge - The knowledge that each letter has a different name, as well as a different sound and meaning
  6. Phonological Sensitivity - The ability to hear the smaller sounds in words

Traditionally, story times cover a majority of these skills, but interaction is required in order to cover all of the bases. The use of a checklist can assure that each one is addressed. Exercises that involve interacting with the children can help touch on each of the skills. Studies have shown that interacting with the children can help them develop phonological sensitivity and letter knowledge skills that are difficult to encourage but are also the most indicative of future literacy success.

It should be noted that the literacies mentioned here are all applied to print literacy. As we move farther into the digital age, these six essential skills will have to also be applied to things read off of a screen. Also, those skills that are related to knowledge of books may have to be reconfigured to involve knowledge of e-readers instead.

NAEYC and Roskos, Christie and Richgels offer a variety of strategies for engaging preschool age children in early literacy or literacy rich activities. The recommended strategies are summarized below, but the complete list, along with two detailed examples, can be found here:
  • Rich teacher talk – adults should ask questions, listen to what children have to say, use words and explain words the students haven’t heard before, and be intentional and enthusiastic about how he or she talks with children about books. Parents, caregiver, educators and librarians can also enrich storytime by providing scaffolding – before, during and after questions or activities that extend the themes of the story.
  • Support for emergent reading – books or a library center should be available to the children, teachers should do repeated readings of classroom books, functional print, such as signs, labels and calendars should be integrated into the home or classroom, as well as play-related print like pretend restaurant menus.
  • Support for emergent writing – children should have access to writing materials for writing signs, cards, labels, or posters using all forms of writing – including scribbling, inventive spelling and shared writing, where the adult writes what the child dictates.
  • Storybook reading -- stories should be read aloud to children at least once or twice every day. Adult readers should have fun reading the stories, using character voices when possible, and asking the children questions or encouraging them to make predictions as the story moves along.
  • Dramatic play – children prepare for, and then act out a story. As Roskos, Christie and Richgels point out, “a literacy-enriched play environment exposes children to valuable print experiences and lets them practice narrative skills” (6). While growing literacy skills, dramatic play also supports the early childhood theorist ,Vygotski’s, thoughts on important developmental steps for preschool age children, i.e. self-regulating behavior and remembering on purpose (Roskos, et al., 6).
While there are many ways to get preschool age children involved in literacy activities, the top priority for parents, caregivers, educators or librarians should be ENJOYMENT. The learning should not be forced, but should be creatively integrated into everyday school or home activities. If the adult leading the activity is having fun, the child is likely to have fun, too! If a child enjoys literacy activities as a preschooler, he or she is more likely to have future success as a reader and writer (Roskos, et al., 6).

Early Literacy programs

This section is dedicated to programs and initiatives implemented by libraries associations, institutions or services in order to develop and promote early literacy.

Books for Babies

This program is developed for parents of newborns.Parents who request it get a"Books for Babies"kit.This kit contains appropriate materials for parents and baby, available from United for Libraries. It includes a board book for baby, the baby’s first library card, and a variety of brochures with reading tips and early literacy information from nationally-recognized educational organizations.

Reading aloud of these selected books allows parents to accompany their newborns in the path of success of reading and learning. It’s a way for parents to help their babies develop language skills.

Born to Read, It's Never Too Early to Start!

This program aims at providing a wide range of resources to library staff, insofar as they can help new parents “to become aware that reading to a baby from birth is critical to every baby's growth and well being.”. These resources include :
- Brochures giving advice to parents on reading to their babies.
- A selective booklist so that librarians can recommend titles to parents with specific needs.
- Lists of links to some companies, foundations, publishers who can offer funding and grants for early literacy .
-Storytime ideas, plans and suggestions for early literacy programming.
- Storytime resources.

Every Child Ready to Read

Every Child Ready to Read is a parent education initiative, implemented by the Public Library Association (PLA) and the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC).
The goal of this program is to focus on teaching parents and caregivers about the importance of early literacy and how to nurture pre-reading skills at home. To this extent this program provides public libraries with vital materials to help prepare parents for their critical role as their child's first teacher.

Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy Program

Striving Readers is a program funded in 2006. This program aims at promoting and improving
advance literacy skills for students from birth through grade 12. Its goal includes :
- Raising middle and high school students' literacy levels in Title I-eligible schools with significant numbers of students reading below grade-levels.
- Building a strong, scientific research base for identifying and replicating strategies that improve adolescent literacy skills.
The 2009- project included a supplemental literacy intervention targeted to students reading significantly below grade level and a strong experimental evaluation component.

1000 Books Before Kindergarten

The goal of the “1000 Books Before Kindergarten” reading program is to foster a love of books in young children and lay the groundwork for reading and writing instruction in Kindergarten. The program originated at Southington Library and Museum in Southington, Connecticut, and now is beginning to spread to libraries across the country. 40 small to mid-sized public libraries in Wisconsin recently received grant money to start “1000 Books” programs ( Swampscott Public Library in Swampscott, MA believes in the program for three reasons: 1) Children who take part know they are part of something BIG, 2) Parents become more aware of their role in school readiness, and 3) Library circulation numbers have the potential to increase.

The goal of the program is that children and their parents or caregivers will read 1000 books together before entering Kindergarten. The same books can be read over and over again if desired, and most libraries that offer the program provide participants with materials for logging the books, as well as prizes and incentives for every 100 books read. Although 1000 books seems like a large number, the “1000 Books Before Kindergarten” website points out that the goal is easily reached and exceeded by simply reading just one book a day for every day your child is age 0-5 years. More information about this growing program is available on its website:

Preschool Literacy Initiative

The Preschool Literacy Initiative was created as a collaborative effort between the ALA's Public Library Association and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Its purpose is to combine research and practice to emphasize the necessity of interacting with children during story time. It uses the six essential skills as a foundation to guide the adults through the skills that they should be covering.

The project started out in several libraries that utilized the methods of interaction in their story time. The creators of the program provided librarians with the materials that they needed in order to become teachers to the children. As they developed a regular audience of patrons who were glad that their child's story time had a little something more, the librarians began to distribute the materials to the parents so that they could begin using the same methods with their children at home. The results were profound in both the parents and the children. The children showed the expect increase in literacy levels as they were growing older. The parents developed better skills for interacting with their own children.

Interest Leads to Literacy
As educators and librarians, we all know the importance of developing literacy in children. If children do not truly enjoy reading, they very often do not become better readers, or pleasure readers later on in life. To help children develop early literacy, it is helpful if they enjoy being read to and have interest in the printed word.

Susan Pannebaker, who is a Youth Services Advisor in the Office of Commonwealth Libraries in Pennsylvania, is working to do just this. She and librarians in Pennsylvania are working with parents to target children 3 to 6 to have an interest in being read to and reading, developing their early literacy.

After meeting at the 21st Century Learner Symposium in 2003, a group of librarians came back with new objectives for the state. The first goal is to promote the development of early literacy through reading to children often, and encouraging children to interact with the story through conversations and play (Pannebaker, 2008). It is also important to try to reach everyone, including those who are usually not served due to poverty and other risk factors. Collaborating with other professionals is a great way to promote literacy and sharing the burden of cost and resources (Pannebaker, 2008).

Obtaining a vast number of copies at discounted prices help organizations purchase books and make different formats of books to the community members. These formats include Spanish and English copies as hardback and paperback copies, and books written in Braille for those children or adults with children who may have visual impairments. This way almost all groups can be reached. Once the book has been distributed, author and illustrator visits were made across Pennsylvania. Libraries across the state create programs giving children opportunities to interact with the books, and create promotional materials about the book such as bookmarks and posters.

Museums also participated by creating a kit that included fun, book-related puppets, games, and other materials, as well as ideas of activities that educators and librarians can do using those items in the kit that are affiliated with the states Learning Standards.

Adults are also taught by educators and librarians in how to engage children while they are bing read to (Pannebaker, 2008). By having professionals collaborating and teaching adults, and providing interesting, fun activities to go along with the different books chosen, they are teaching parents how to engage their children in books and reading. This will hopefully cause children to be more engaged in the process of reading and exploring a text.
By: Samantha Smith

1000 Books Before Kindergarten. 1000 Books Before Kindergarten. 2013.

American Library Association. Early Literacy and Libraries. Retrieved from on November 14, 2013.

Arnold, Renea. "Public Libraries and Early Literacy: Raising a Reader." American Libraries 34.8 (Sept. 2003): 48, 50-51. Library grants support early childhood literacy efforts. 2013.

Pannebaker, S. (2008). One Book, Every Young Child: Pennsylvania Literacy Initiative Enters Third Year. Children & Libraries: The Journal Of The
Association For Library Service To Children, 6(2), 36-39.

Roskos, K.A., Christie, J.F., & Richgels, D.J. (2003). The Essentials of Early Literacy Instruction. Retrieved from on November 14, 2013.

Swampscott Public Library. 1000 Books Before Kindergarten. 2013.

Zero to Three/BrainWonders. "Early Literacy." 2003. Zero to Three Web site.