Toddlers and Early Literacy Skills

Long before your child begins to read, she’ll develop pre-reading skills that set her up for early literacy skills and future reading success. Believe it or not, some of these skills emerge during the toddler years.

While the toddler years are often characterized by chasing down new runners, picking up dropped (or thrown) food, and trying desperately to decode early attempts at communication, the language development that occurs during these years play an important role in later reading skills.

What pre-reading skills develop during the toddler years?

All kids are different, and toddlers develop different skills at different times. The following emerging skills, however, do play an important role in later academic skills:

• Word recognition – You might notice that your toddler brightens up when you read or say a word that she knows. Between ages 2 and 3, your toddler’s vocabulary will expand to 200 words.

Wordplay – Chanting known nursery rhymes or singing favorite songs helps your child work out word sounds and practice simple sentences.

Phonemic awareness – This refers to your toddler’s ability to recognize and manipulate sounds within words.

Play reading – Flipping through a book, even if it’s upside down, and identifying words on a page using picture/word books helps toddlers make the connection between words she knows by sound and words that appear on a page.

How can I build early literacy skills in my toddler?

Developing your toddler’s pre-reading skills can be a ton of fun. Toddlers enjoy reading the same books over and over as they attempt to increase their language development, but don’t stop there. By engaging with your toddler in a meaningful way, you can help your toddler build early reading skills.

Read nursery rhymes: Nursery rhymes help kids hear the connections between words with similar sounds and spellings.

Read word family books – Reading books that focus on a particular word, or a group of words, helps your toddler develop phonemic awareness. Books with words that end in similar sounds, for example, help toddlers draw connections between words with similar sounds.

Sing together – Rhyming songs are great for developing phonemic awareness, but singing favorite songs helps toddlers practice sentence structure and voice tone.

Clap it out – You can help your toddler understand the concept of syllables by clapping out word sounds. This helps your toddler break down words into parts and understand each sound within the word.

Letter hunt – Go on a letter hunt around your house (or your neighborhood) to practice letter recognition.

Talk – Conversational skills play an important role in later reading skills because kids learn to decode words in a variety of contexts.

Attend story time: Find a toddler story time at your local library to expose your toddler to reading in a group setting.

Read! – Reading all kinds of books to your kids is the best way to promote early literacy skills and instill a lifelong love of reading.

Your toddler is still a long way away from independent reading. Now is not the time to push early reading programs, but it’s never too soon to lay the foundation for a love of reading.