Decoding the Poster

Sing: Singing slows down language. It helps children hear the smaller sounds in words. There is also a different note for each syllable so they hear words broken down in to parts, supporting phonological awareness. This helps children later sound out words. Some songs have interesting words that we would not hear in normal conversation with young children, so they are also building vocabulary.

 As you sing with children, you have the opportunity to support their pre-reading skills in little ways that add up to make a difference by the time children enter school.  Discover some ideas at

 See also this video created by Calgary Public Library

Talk: Children start to learn language by hearing people talk. This is oral language! When you talk with your baby, your baby is hearing the sounds of the languages you speak, learning what words mean as you point to and label things. Babies will start to babble and their babble uses the sounds they have heard. As children get older they follow directions, repeat your words, respond to what you say with words, phrases, and then whole sentences. Listening to children while they speak is as important as talking to them. Young children need more time than adults do to figure out what to say and how to say it. Having your children talk, tell and retell stories, and tell you what they know all helps them to later understand what they read. When you add new words and information to conversations with your children, you are developing their vocabulary and background knowledge. When you talk with them about signs and logos, you are developing their print awareness. When you talk with them about shapes and observe what is alike and different, or point out letters, you are developing their letter knowledge.

 As you talk with children, you have the opportunity to support their pre-reading skills in little ways that add up to make a difference by the time children enter school.  Discover some things to talk about at

 See also this video created by the Calgary Public Library

Read: Shared reading is the single most important activity that you can to do help your child get ready to read, even from birth! Remember to keep the interaction around the book a positive one. When children have positive experiences around books and reading they are more likely to stick with learning to read when they get to school, even if it is difficult.

Books have different words than the words of conversation so children learn more words when you read books to them. Some board books for babies actually do not have many words, so you would add some to those on the page. In this way you are developing your children’s vocabulary.

Reading books helps develop children’s background knowledge. When you read story books, they learn the structure of story so that when they are asked to write a story in school they know what to do. When you read factual books with young children you respond to their curiosity and help them learn about the world.

When pointing to the words in the title or a repeated phrase you support print awareness. You can point out letters in any book or share alphabet books to support letter knowledge.

Many books for young children include the sounds of animals and have rhymes, both of which support phonological awareness.

 As you read with children, you have the opportunity to support their pre-reading skills in little ways that add up to make a difference by the time children enter school.  Visit your public library for books your librarian is knowledgeable and delighted to help.  You might also share the book from Tumblebooks library or the book of the day on

 See also this video created by Calgary Public Library:


Play, in addition to being fun, helps children to think symbolically. One item represents another—a block might represent a telephone. This kind of symbolic thinking is the same kind of thinking that is used for reading. Pictures and letters represent real things.

Dramatic play, when children act out stories, helps them build background knowledge—how stories work.

As you play with children, you have the opportunity to support their pre-reading skills in little ways that add up to make a difference by the time children enter school. Discover some ideas at Several libraries in Virginia have Early Literacy Activity Centers or places for children to develop early literacy skills through play.

See also this video created by Calgary Public Library

Write: Reading and writing go together. Both are ways to represent the spoken word. Writing goes through stages from light markings to letter like forms to drawing letters to forming them.

Writing helps children understand that print has meaning. When children scribble and then say what it means, they are understanding that what they have written or drawn means something. The beginning of writing for very young children is learning how to use their hands and fingers so that later they will hold crayons and pencils.

 As you write with children, you have the opportunity to support their pre-reading skills in little ways that add up to make a difference by the time children enter school.  Discover some craft/writing ideas at

 See also this video created by the Calgary Pubic Library

Background Knowledge
Background knowledge is what children know when they enter school. It is the sum of their experiences, what they know about the world and how things work. There are four areas of background knowledge:

Vocabulary is knowing the meanings of words. Some children enter school knowing 5,000 words. Some children enter school knowing 20,000 words. The children who enter school knowing more words will find it easier to recognize words correctly as they try to sound them out AND they will understand more words which will help them understand what they are reading. Children learn words best as you talk, play and read with them, not by drilling them on lists of words.
Even if your baby or toddler does not understand all the words you say, still use those words. Exposure to the words is the first step to learning what they mean—words for things, for concepts (colors, shapes, sizes, etc.), feelings, and ideas. Preschool children benefit from your explanations of what words mean and how two words may mean something similar but not exactly the same.
Books often use words we do not find in conversations. Use both story and factual books.

Print Awareness:
Print awareness is understanding that print has meaning, that the printed word represents the words we speak. Children may start out by recognizing signs or logos they see, like the McDonald’s arches. They learn how to handle a book—which is the front, the back, upside down, and the direction that we read the print, from left to right and top to bottom in English. Preschoolers will also learn to identify the author, title and illustrator and what the author and illustrators of books do.

Phonological Awareness:
Phonological awareness is the ability to hear and play with the smaller sounds in words. It includes hearing environmental sounds (doorbell, car honking, animal sounds), hearing, recognizing, and making rhymes, and hearing, recognizing and making beginning sounds, hearing syllables in words. Helping children hear sounds and the smaller sounds in words will later help them to sound out words when they learn to read.

Letter Knowledge
Letter knowledge is knowing that the same letter can look different, that letters have names and represent sounds. There are two beginning concepts that lead to letter knowledge, concepts that children learn before they are able to identify letters. One is the ability to recognize and identify shapes.  Researchers have found that children identify letters by their shapes.
Children also need to be able to notice what is alike and different. An n and an h are similar and also different with the height of the line. That difference makes a difference in the letter. Other differences don’t matter, like the color of the letter does not change the name or the sound of the letter.
A child’s own name is important to him or her. Using the letters in the child’s name or the letters in words that the child is interested in (dinosaurs) is one good way to introduce letters to young children.

Oral language is the foundation for all later language. It is the roots of the tree.
Oral language includes speaking, listening and communication skills. The root of language also includes non-verbal language which includes body language, facial expressions, and gestures. All of these are ways that we communicate with each other. Even infants are learning to communicate through all of these techniques.
Children learn to read our facial expressions. By four months they recognize the difference between a smile and a frown. Young children watch our gestures, as we point to things or use hand motions and other movements to help explain what we say. As they get older they learn to follow directions, to ask and respond to questions, and to tell stories and tell us what they know.
Because oral language suffuses all of the rest of the areas of early literacy, it is not a separate early literacy component. It is the base for the early literacy components which are explained below.

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