Early Literacy

The following information is based on the second edition of American Library Association's Every Child Ready to Read®. Special thanks to Saroj Ghoting, early childhood literacy consultant.


What is Early Literacy?

Early literacy (sometimes referred to as emergent literacy) is what children know about communication, language, reading, and writing before they can actually read and write. It encompasses all of a child's experiences with conversation, stories (oral and written), books, and print.


From: 2011 policy Brief from Zero to Three. A Window to the World: Early Language and Literacy Development.


Why is Early Literacy Important?

Many of Alaska's young children enter kindergarten without adequate early literacy skills. These foundational literacy skills allow children to become better readers. Better readers lead to greater school and work success, higher self-esteem, and wider choices and options in life. There is a strong need to promote early literacy throughout Alaska, especially during the first three years of life, when the brain is developing at its fastest rate and is most receptive to acquiring language and literacy skills.


Six Components of Early Literacy

The aspects of early literacy can be described in different ways, using different terms. The basic information is the same. Here we have divided early literacy into six skills. Children need ALL of these early literacy components to be good readers.

1. Oral Language: listening, speaking, communication skills

2. Phonological Awareness: ability to hear and play with the smaller sounds in words

3. Print Awareness: knowledge that print has meaning, how to handle a book

4. Letter Knowledge: knowing that letters have different shapes and represent sounds

5. Vocabulary: knowing the meanings of words

6. Background Knowledge: prior knowledge before child enters school

Five Practices of Early Literacy

To help children with early literacy development, caregivers are encouraged to use five practices:



  • One of the best ways to teach new words and concepts
  • Talk with children as you go through daily routines (explain things and ask questions)


  • Slows down language so children can hear sounds and syllables
  • Enjoyable and easiest way to learn language


  • The single most important way to help children get ready to read
  • Listening to books read aloud passes along numerous skills


  • Helps children learn that written words stand for spoken language
  • Scribbling is the start of the skills needed to make shapes and letters


  • Helps children put thoughts into words and think symbolically
  • Safe way to experiment with new concepts


This project is made possible by a grant from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services to
the Alaska State Library under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act.