word piglits

Literacy 101

  • Little Steps to Literacy

    Your young child needs some help to navigate their literacy journey. Here are some ways you can be there for them each step of the way.

  • Pictures

    'Reading' pictures is one of the earliest stages of literacy development.

  • Letters & Sounds

    Recognizing each alphabet letter and its’ sounds is a foundational stage in your child's literacy development.

  • Words

    This is where your child will learn about putting letters together to make meaning. There are lots of rules, so it's important to keep things short and sweet.

  • Text

    Yay! Your child recognizes a lot of simple words and is sounding longer words out. But that doesn't mean they're ready to travel through books on their own yet.

  • Independence

    Independent readers and writers still need support once in a while. Here's why...

Little Steps to Literacy

These are the most common stages your child will take on the road to literacy. Like navigating any roadmap, plan for stops, detours, scenic byways, and naps along the way. Pay close attention to the signs your child points out to you. They will help you decide when to keep going and when it's time to pack it in for the day.

* WARNING: moving too quickly down the road to literacy will make your child apprehensive and may lead to a loss of confidence. You'll also miss important milestones. Consistent, small steps are more effective than inconsistent sprints that leave both you and your child tired and frustrated.



The picture stage is an exciting one. Young children love naming the things around them. And you can teach them the names of objects at any time.

In the grocery store? "I see a yellow banana."

At the playground? "I see a red slide."

In their bedroom? "I see a big teddy bear."

Reading a book? "I see a small mouse."  You get the idea.

Naming things comes before comprehending the meaning of things. It will take time before your child understands the meaning behind the symbols and pictures around them. This stage is akin to learning how to read road signs with symbols.

Picture this. You’re driving down a country road. Suddenly, your child calls out, “Look, a deer!” You immediately pump the brakes while scanning for deer when you realize your child saw a road sign with the deer symbol on it. "Look, a deer," is a far cry from "Watch out for the deer on the side of the road."

But is it fair to compare your reading of the road sign with your child's? Your child's background knowledge is more limited than yours. After all, you know what deer are, where they live, and why they might be near the road. You know about collisions and road hazard signs. 

When your child calls out, "Look, a deer!" it's cause for celebration. They have to notice the sign, categorize the symbol as an animal, and scan their short memories for an animal that has a similar shape as the symbol. If they’re lucky, they have an image of a deer stored away. Deer aren’t as common as cats, dogs, or birds. Somehow, your child can recognize that the symbol on the sign is a deer.

As your child acquires new vocabulary, it's important to check in with them. If you know they've seen and heard the name of an  object before, point to it and ask them, "What's that?" If they can't answer, name the object, and move on.

Another important part of this stage is helping your child make happy memories that revolve around books. Reading picture books with a young child is an invaluable teaching opportunity. But more importantly, it's a bonding activity (read this post about creating a reading ritual to find out more). Not only will they learn to recognize and name the things in pictures, but they will also learn a lot about books. How books open, what page you turn to first, how to hold a book the correct way, and the relationship between pictures and words. Take the time to talk about how each book makes you feel. Find out how your child feels. Help them find the words. These back-and-forth exchanges about the stories you read are building a strong connection between you and your child that will last beyond their early literacy journey.

Everything you know about books but take for granted should be explicitly taught to your young child. No matter how simplistic it seems to you, to your child it is new information that has cumulative value. You know things they don't know. Be generous. Be patient. But remember not to share everything everywhere all at once. You are not standing in a lecture hall. At least I hope you aren't. Holding a young child's interest for more than a few minutes at a time is no easy feat. Unless you're a Sesame Street character. Then, by all means, do your thing.


Letters & Sounds

Letters and sounds and vowels, oh my! This stage takes a while and overlaps with the picture and word stage.

As with symbols and pictures, naming the letter comes first. A letter is a symbol. A child typically recognizes the symbol for the letter M before they can tell you what sound the letter M makes. They'll need to connect that M to a bunch of words over time before the sound clicks. M is for mom, monkey, milk, movie, and so on. Oh, and keep in mind that children usually recognize uppercase letters before lowercase letters.

My recommendation for introducing letters is to start with the FIRST letter of words they are very familiar with. Words like Mom, Dad, their first name, their pet's name, etc. Singing the alphabet song, pointing out the first letter of words in the books you read together, writing the first letter of a familiar word down, and giving them a crayon to trace it with are just a few simple and repeatable activities you can do with them. 

Rhyme time- Keep lessons short and sweet, rinse and repeat.  And rhyming is a good segue into another stage of your child's literacy journey- learning about words.



Words, words, and more words. This stage is full of aha moments for your child. It offers a lot of happy surprises for you, too. The first time your child draws a picture and writes TO MOM or DAD on it and signs their name will leave you feeling giddy. And that's only the beginning.

Your child has a long way to go before they can write long-form stories with correct punctuation. But good news. They have years before they'll need to write that college essay or compose emails to their bosses. Plenty of time to practice. What matters at this stage is the pleasure of reading and writing words. This pleasure is what they'll carry with them and recall when faced with a writing task. Don't dampen their spirits by telling them their B is written backward.

Alliteration, rhyming, word association, and finding short words in books, all play a role in their future success. Write together. You the long words, them the short ones. If they spell it wrong, keep going. Help with sounds. Remind them of other words they know that begin with the same sound. Do whatever it takes to help them be successful. Their self-confidence is critical. 

When you're reading together have them look for words they know. Reread books they enjoy even if you're tired of them. Your child thrives on repetition. Let them "read" their favorite books to you. It doesn't matter if they get the words wrong. Tune into their excitement. Let them experiment and tell the story in their way. If they ask you what a word is help them sound it out. If it's a tough word tell them what it is then let them continue.



So your child knows a lot of sight words and can sound most unfamiliar words out. Now what? It's time to make regular trips to the library. Online or in person. Help them make book choices based on their ability and interests. Ask the librarians for suggestions. They know what's popular among different age groups and are skilled at matching children with "just right" books.

At this stage, you're still reading to your child, only you're reading books they can't manage on their own. Yet. The rest of the time they are attempting to read text independently. Grab a book or magazine and read alongside your child. They'll still turn to you for help. But try to remember-  you're the passenger. They're doing the driving. 

This sounds easier than it is. You will be inclined to step in and rescue them. At times you may need to. For example, if your child is struggling to read a book they aren't ready for. But your goal at this stage is to start letting go. You've been preparing them for this. Trust the process. 



There they go. Off on their reading and writing adventures. Choosing books you've never heard of. Writing stories they may not let you read. Isn't it exciting?! Think of all that time you'll get back. Scratch that. You shouldn't step out of the picture completely. There are still lessons you can pass on and opportunities you won't want to miss. Plus, you don't want to abandon the bond you and your child built during the developing literacy years.

This stage is all about comprehension and questioning. Books offer slices of life, varied opinions, and new ways of looking at the world. Your child's newfound knowledge will open up new avenues of conversation and give you insight into the things your child is interested in and values. Questioning them will give them a chance to form answers and opinions. Through these conversations, they will find themselves. And you will discover new things about yourself in the process. 

Ask your child for a book recommendation and why they'd recommend it. Then take the time to read it and talk to them about it. Think of it as an exclusive book club. And reading isn't limited to books. News stories, current events, Reddit posts are all source materials you can mine for topics that will spark conversations with your child.