Language Development & Communication
Promoting Emergent Literacy
Core Finding: LD-LIT-C04

A literacy routine which is embedded into a child’s daily routines is helpful for promoting emergent literacy.


Children’s home literacy environment consists of the experiences, attitudes, and materials pertaining to literacy that they encounter and interact with at home.

Literacy, rooted in social interactions, begins before birth and expands rapidly in the preschool years. Adults provide components that strengthen the basic foundation associated with literacy.

When adults’ attitudes are supportive, nurturing, accepting and motivating, it promotes a feeling of security for children as they gradually develop skills. Literacy activities both in and out of the home positively affect learning.

A literacy routine is the regular use of a variety of techniques to enhance children’s abilities to listen, observe, imitate, and to develop their language, reading and writing skills. In selecting purposeful activities and projects for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers, adults may use familiar experiences that are appropriate and relevant to children’s daily lives and build upon the foundation of the children’s prior knowledge.

Often, experiences are integrated into the meaningful context of daily routines and in the social interactions of caregivers, teachers, and parents.

Having regular routines where children can explore and play with literacy objects (for example, books and writing tools) to develop literacy skills and explore literacy-related ideas

is helpful. Children’s language and literacy abilities grow when there are opportunities to see, share, act, sing, classify, observe, make decisions, develop sequencing skills, recognise and understand relationships, read and tell stories, and interact.
2, 6, 7
  1. Lawhon, T. (2000). Creating Language and Print Awareness Environments for Young Children. Contemporary Education, 71(3), 5.

  2. Honig, A. (Ed.) (2014). Fostering Early Language with Infants and Toddlers. Montessori Life, 26(2), 28–31.

  3. Rosenquest, B. B. (2002). Literacy-based planning and pedagogy that supports toddler language development. Early Childhood Education Journal, 29(4), 241-249.

Play is a powerful force in developing literacy routines. When babies coo, babble, and smile at their parents or caregivers, they need a response. Researchers call this "serve and return” interactions and believe it is the key in establishing strong brain architecture.

This occurs when a baby makes a playful squeal (the serve) and the parent notices, smiles, and talks to the baby (the return).

As children grow older, they attempt to say certain sounds or even words. A toddler may say "bah" for ball, and her adult caregiver will respond by saying, "Yes! That's a ball! It's blue and bouncy!" In this example, the toddler is making connections between words and objects or actions and learning new vocabulary through interaction with an adult.

Strong oral language development contributes to later reading success and happens most naturally through this kind of interactive, language-rich play.

When children have educational experiences that are not geared to their developmental level or in tune with their learning needs and cultures, it can cause them great harm, including feelings of inadequacy, anxiety and confusion. Literacy-based activities should be introduced in play-based contexts that are suited to children’s developmental levels.

Written language is also part of the literacy routine. Large crayons and paper lend support for early attempts at writing and drawing.

Printing a child's name on paper gradually encourages scribbling and eventually print.

Writing is a system of abstract symbols that represent the spoken word. Young children take years to build the foundation they need to be able to make sense of print. An important aspect of this process is being able to understand these abstract symbols.

Children learn that real things can be represented by symbols when they play and use hands-on materials. For example, a toddler might pretend that his wooden block is a phone to call Daddy. Children engage in symbolic activities like these throughout the early years of childhood. They begin to find meaningful ways to bring letter symbols into their play scenarios very slowly, especially in a print-rich environment and with adult guidance. This gradual progression is very important. When children use symbols in their play with materials in many ways, it builds a strong foundation for understanding the abstract symbols in our print system.

Play provides opportunities for children to use literacy objects (for example, books and writing tools), develop literacy skills, and explore literacy-related ideas.

It is beneficial to have a

print-rich environment

Print-Rich Environment - A print-rich environment with labels, signs, logos, and visual displays helps children construct knowledge about print. When the children understand that print has meaning, they learn about how the meanings of written language, and it will motivate them to read.

from infancy, with ongoing access to books and reading as this helps to develop the child’s language ability.
  1. Lawhon, T. (2000). Creating Language and Print Awareness Environments for Young Children. Contemporary Education, 71(3), 5.
Reading to infants stimulates listening and language skills.
  1. Kupetz, B. N., & Green, E. J. (1997). Sharing Books with Infants and Toddlers: Facing the Challenges. Young Children, 52(2), 22–27.
Holding infants and showing them the pictures helps with eye focusing.
  1. Lawhon, T. (2000). Creating Language and Print Awareness Environments for Young Children. Contemporary Education, 71(3), 5.

Concrete sources of first print are object names and words on cereal boxes, clothing labels, and toy packages. As a result, children learn about letters and words that they can then transfer to the abstract. Adults teach children important concepts about print, including left to right and top to bottom directionality,

that spaces appear between words and that a single letter can be a word.
  1. Lawhon, T. (2000). Creating Language and Print Awareness Environments for Young Children. Contemporary Education, 71(3), 5.

The value of print awareness and how it is used is illustrated by taking children on a walk to read and recognise the different shapes and colours of signs. A discussion about what each sign means will help them see why signs are important.

This learning experience is strengthened by later reviewing a chart that has the same signs.

Making labels of things in their environment with children and letting them learn to write their names is also helpful. Children at the emergent stage of literacy development are beginning to recognise the relationship between alphabetic symbols and the sounds they represent. Children also increasingly understand that print conveys meaning. Additionally, they also learn that the tools of writing leads to experimentation. Children’s names are related to their identity. Seeing and hearing their names introduce them to the relationship between sounds and print. Being exposed to the sounds in their names is a start to their awareness of sound and how they can be translated into words and print.

Exposure to different kinds of books is helpful in building young children’s literacy orientation. Picture books, with and without words, allow for conversations about books. As young children experience quality literature at home or in early childhood education settings, they begin to identify objects in illustrations, and become familiar with how books are organised.

Photographs and wordless books are particularly useful in teaching children how a book works because most children recognise, interpret and express themselves through pictures long before they master print.
  1. Jalongo, M. R., Dragich, D., Conrad, N. K., & Zhang, A. (2002). Using Wordless Picture Books to Support Emergent Literacy. Early Childhood Education Journal, 29(3), 167-177.

Children’s environments influence their learning. This implies that some of their first books should be very durable: touchable, bendable, and even lickable! Such books may be made of nontoxic laminated cardboard, vinyl, or cloth. Effective infant and toddler books are simply designed and brightly illustrated. They are often concept books with plain, uncomplicated backgrounds and brief, simple illustrations and texts.

These may include such things as rhythmical-language books, point-and-say books, touch-and-smell books, board books and early picture storybooks.

Music also gives children easy access into practicing language and deciphering meaning. Singing songs with infants and toddlers can help develop dual language learning, receptive and expressive skills and phonemic awareness.

To become strong readers, children first need a strong foundation of oral language. Phonological awareness comprises an important part of this foundation: children need to understand that spoken words are composed of different sounds, or phonemes. Exposure to rhyming is an excellent strategy to help children develop phonological (sound) awareness.
  1. Dunst, C. J., Meter, D., & Hamby, D. W. (2011). Relationship between young children’s nursery rhyme experiences and knowledge and phonological and print-related skills. CELL Review, 4(1), 1–12.