How to Teach Early Literacy Concepts About Print/Books

How to teach early literacy concepts to children. Children need to learn basic literacy skills before they can actually learn how to read. Read for tips.

Boy reading a book

After I posted Over 51 Activities To Do at Home with a Preschooler , blog reader Susanne left a comment with a lot of great ideas for teaching literacy. Susanne is a reading specialist and had some great ideas, so I asked her if she would write some posts with pointers for teaching early literacy to our children. Here is the first installment! I think you will be excited at these ideas. When you read them, you will likely be struck by the common sense of it all. They should be really easy to implement.

I will also note that these ideas in this post are written for reading English. Many cultures will be able to apply ideas (those that read left to right), but others will have to adapt ideas to suit their own culture. For example, if your culture reads right to left, teach your child to read that way 🙂 Here is the post:


How To Teach Early Literacy Concepts to Children

Most parents assume that in order to teach their children to read and write, they must have them learn their phonic sounds and read some sight words like “the,” “and,” and “you” from flash cards. But in order for children to become proficient readers and writers, they must develop some pre-reading and writing skills. I will address one pre-reading skill in this post: Concepts about Print/ Books.

Children must learn that when you read a story that you read from left to right and from top to bottom. They must also learn how to hold a book correctly and to turn to pages in the right direction.

Parents can easily teach their child this by reading daily to your child. Hold the book and tell your child why you turn the page. Use your finger to track underneath of the text, pointing to each word as you read it. Your child will see you modeling this movement. You can begin modeling this skill as early as 6 months old.

Over time, invite your child to turn the pages and to point to the words as your read. They may not point to the correct word read, but the main goal is for them to move their finger from left to right and from top to bottom. I would not expect them to track with their finger until they are about 3.5-4 years old.

You can create a fun pointer to help make this activity more fun. You could use a magic wand or spoon, or any object your child might find fun. Finger puppets also work great for this activity. Keep it fun. Keep modeling good reading by pointing to the words. Don’t get stressed out if your son or daughter does not get it at first. You want them to love reading, not hate it. Be patient; they will get it with time.

Children must also learn that a cluster of letters represents a word and that the spaces separate the words. A good activity to develop this understanding is what I call “Train.”

This activity is meant for 4-5 year olds. Most 4 year olds will have some trouble with this activity. It may take many attempts to get them to understand and perform this activity correctly. Just keep modeling it and over time they will begin to understand.

Early literacy concepts you must teach to your child pinnable image

Here is how to do “Train.”

  • Draw a boxcar train on paper.
  • Find some small candies such as M&Ms or cereal like Cheerios.
  • Say a simple sentence that has no more than three words in it. Make sure that each word only has one syllable (one syllable words such as cat, no two syllable words such as jacket). For instance, “ Tom eats corn.”
  • Lay down a piece of candy inside each of the boxcars. You should have filled tree boxcars. Say each word as you lay down the candy.
  • Count how many words there are.
  • Discuss how the candies do not touch and how they need to be separated.
  • Write the words below the boxcar train. Show how each word does not touch. Each word needs space. I sometimes use the analogy that each word needs breathing room or space to play. You can come up with anything creative, but help your child to understand that each word needs space.

Repeat this activity several times and then allow your child to place the candy, count the words, and explain each time why the words need space. Then find a simple children’s book and count how many words are on each page. Find a book that has few words on each page. This will help to make the activity easier. After you finish counting the words on each page, read the story and take turns pointing to each word. At the end of the book or page, make sure you discuss how your child knew to touch the word as you read aloud.


Quite simple! Let’s review the main things you want to teach your child about print/books:

  • You read from left to right
  • You read from top to bottom
  • How to hold a book correctly
  • How to turn pages in the right direction
  • A cluster of letters represents a word
  • Spaces separate words