By Erika Brock
Everyday Education 

Helping Get Every Child Ready To Read


As a youth services librarian, I’m always so glad to get asked the question, “What can I do to help my child get ready to read?”

Language development and building literacy skills start from the day a child is born and have a long-lasting impact on children’s reading achievement and academic success. As children grow and develop, their speech and language skills become increasingly more complex. During early speech and language development, children learn skills that are important to the development of literacy (reading and writing). This stage, known as emergent literacy, begins at birth and continues through the preschool years.

From birth, babies listen to language patterns in everyday speech, as well as in rhyming, chanting, and singing. All of these play an important part in literacy development. As they develop, children see and interact with print in everyday situations. In everything from books and magazines to grocery lists, whether at home or in preschool, they are (and should be) encountering language in print well before they start elementary school.

Parents can see their child’s growing appreciation and enjoyment of print as he or she begins to recognize words that rhyme, to scribble with crayons, to point out street signs and symbols, and to name some letters of the alphabet. Gradually, children combine what they know about speaking and listening with what they know about print and become ready to learn to read and write.

There are six essential early literacy skills that children can start learning from birth to build their path to reading – narrative skill, print awareness, phonological awareness, print motivation, letter knowledge, and vocabulary.

Narrative skill is the ability to describe things and events and tell stories. This skill helps children understand the meaning of what he or she is reading.

Print awareness is noticing print everywhere, knowing how to handle a book, and knowing how to follow the words on a page. Before children learn to read, they must be familiar with how books work.

Phonological awareness is the ability to hear and play with the smaller sounds in words. This skill helps children sound out words when they begin to read. Print motivation is a child’s interest in and enjoyment of books. Children who enjoy books and reading will be curious about how to read and will read more.

Letter knowledge is knowing that letters are different from each other and that they have different names and sounds. This skill helps children understand that specific sounds go with specific letters. Vocabulary is knowing that words describe things and ideas. Children need to know the meaning of words to understand what they are reading.

That’s what the Transylvania County Library’s Hullabaloo Storytime is all about. The library’s early literacy programs are derived from the American Library Association’s Every Child Ready to Read program, a research-based series of practices that can help young children develop essential literacy skills that will help them get ready to read and on the right path to school readiness and student success.

Our Hullabaloo Storytimes are not only geared towards the children, but also towards parents and caregivers, as they are a child’s first and best teachers. Every Child Ready to Read is a parent education initiative that provides strategies parents and caregivers can use to help children from birth to age 5 develop the six essential early literacy skills and get ready to read. There are five simple practices that parents and caregivers can do with their child to get them ready to read – talking, singing, reading, writing, and playing.

Talking with children helps them learn oral language, one of the most critical early literacy skills. Children learn about language by listening to parents talk and joining in the conversation. On your next walk outside, try talking about what you see, hear, and smell.

Singing slows down language so children can hear the different sounds in words, thus developing language skills. Singing also helps children learn new words and information. Don’t worry about singing in perfect pitch – your child won’t mind and will have fun regardless! Check out a children’s music CD from the library and sing and dance with your child.

Reading together develops vocabulary and comprehension, nurtures a love for reading, and motivates children to want to learn to read. Try re-reading the same book over and over again. Children learn through repetition. Use open-ended questions to help your child re-tell the sequence of the story.

Writing allows children to become aware that printed letters stand for spoken words as they see print used in their daily lives. Coloring and scribbling are the precursors to drawing shapes and writing letters.

Play is one of the best ways for children to learn language and literacy skills. They learn about language through playing as the activities help them put thoughts into words and talk about what they are doing. Encourage dramatic play! Make up stories with puppets or stuffed animals to help develop important narrative skills.

Babies, toddlers and preschoolers in all stages of development are welcome to celebrate early and emergent literacy with the Youth Services staff at Transylvania County Library. Our staff uses the five Every Child Ready to Read practices in our Hullabaloo Storytimes and also models practices for parents. Check out the library website,, for more information about Hullabaloo and our schedule.

Everyone has a stake in helping children become fluent readers, lifelong learners and productive citizens.

It’s never too early or too late to incorporate these practices into your everyday lives.

(Brock is youth services librarian at Transylvania County Library.)


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