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Why Emergent Literacy Matters and How You Can Help

Updated: 5 days ago

Teacher reading to preschoolers.

Emergent literacy matters. I don’t think that any American will argue with this statement. Literacy begins in the womb, when babies hear the sounds of the environment and people around them. It develops in many different ways throughout infants' early years and is a vital part of everyday life as babies grow into children, adolescence, and adults. From the minute that babies are born, we have a strong and direct impact on how we build and strengthen early literacy skills. While many people might consider that the majority of literacy instruction begins in kindergarten, I challenge that this is starkly untrue. The environment and experiences that we offer children before kindergarten matter as much, if not more, than the next 13+ years that children spend in the classroom. During these early years, the brain is experiencing rapid growth and development.

There have been numerous studies throughout the world that have proven that early literacy matters. A few examples include:

  • Direct correlations between the number of books in the home and reading proficiency.

  • Studies showing the positive and direct impact of child-led conversations on brain development.

  • Studies proving that alphabetic knowledge in preschool and kindergarten is one of the best predictors of reading, writing, spelling, and comprehension in later elementary years.

  • Longitudinal studies supporting research that children’s oral language and vocabulary from birth to age 3 are strong predictors of academic achievement throughout elementary school.

Decades of research has proved that a strong literacy foundation makes a powerful impact on children’s lives, and we must do our part to ensure that all children are exposed to high quality, positive experiences that build emergent literacy skills.


3 Reasons Why Emergent Literacy Matters

Preschool books.

1. Teaching emergent literacy skills builds a strong foundation for the future. Decades of research has proven that early literacy skills are a strong predictor of future reading success. All children, regardless of race, culture, disabilities, and income levels, benefit greatly from literacy opportunities and instruction. Intentionally prioritizing literacy in the daily lives of children can take very little preparation and bring immeasurable benefits.

2. The brain develops most rapidly between birth and age 3. If fact, the brain reached about 80% of total growth by age 3 and 90% growth by age 5. The brain is more active during these years than any other time of life. Does this mean that we should drill our 2-year-olds with letter flashcards? Absolutely not! However, we can capitalize on this time of rapid brain development by offering positive, meaningful, and engaging experiences for our children. We can read daily. We can engage in child-led conversations. We can expose children to the alphabet and phonological awareness in playful ways. These things are proven by science to build connections in the brain. If we are intentional with our time with children, we can build a strong literacy foundation in simple and natural ways.

3. High quality early childhood education can help to close gaps wealth and class gaps. Literacy is the future and giving all children the gift of a strong literacy foundation is a must. I was lucky enough to teach at a school in South Carolina that offered free public preschool to qualifying students. By the time that the preschoolers began kindergarten in my classroom, they were well prepared to learn kindergarten standards. Because of this opportunity that they were given, nearly all my students came to kindergarten with a strong literacy foundation. My memories at this school were some of the best. I could take my students

The importance of public preschool.

so much further academically those years. We could take extra time to explore topics of interest and go deep into vocabulary discussions. We had more time to dedicate to writing, one area that often gets left out at the end of a busy day. Their love of writing flourished, and we took time to celebrate it! Where I could take my students in one year was astonishing compared to previous years where I dedicated a large portion of my time to struggling students. These students may have never had the opportunity to go to preschool and build crucial literacy skills that set them up for success without this program. Providing an early childhood education that builds key foundational skills is one of the greatest ways that we can close the gap between wealth and class and help to put an end to the vicious cycle of poverty.


3 Ways to Approach Emergent Literacy

1. Be open-minded. Preschool is about play. There is no arguing that the brain is on fire when children are at play. However, science has also proven that a pre-literate brain needs repeated, explicit instruction in specific literacy skills to build a reading brain. Play is not enough to prepare children for reading. We have to build connections between vision, speech, and meaning and these connections don't happen simply through immersion. I encourage you to be open-minded to the science. Can you provide 5-10 minutes of explicit literacy instruction during your day? Explicit instruction does not equal talking AT the children. Explicit instruction is teaching in fun and engaging ways with meaningful intensions.

2. Be intentional. What are your learning goals for the day? This is a question that you should ask yourself before the beginning of every day. By asking yourself this question, we can intentionally guide children to accomplish specific literacy goals. I encourage you to plan purposeful play. There are appropriate times for free play, purposeful play, and instruction, and we must make time for all three. How can we accomplish this goal? By creating a plan. Here is an example:

Preschool Alphabet.

Goal: My goal for today is to encourage my students to write the letter Aa using proper letter formation.

Instructional Method:

  • Hold up a flashcard of an uppercase and lowercase Aa. Discuss the letter name and sound. Point out unique features of the letter, where you may have seen the letter before, children with names that begin with A, etc.

  • Model how to properly form the uppercase letter A. Discuss where to begin on the paper and what types of lines create the letter (slanted, straight, etc.).

  • ·Next, have the children practice forming the letter using a multi-sensory approach (fingers in carpet or on sandpaper, in sand tray, gel bag, wet sponge on chalkboard, etc.).

  • Then, discuss the lowercase A. Review the name and sound.

  • Model how to form a lowercase A. Discuss where to begin on the paper and what types of lines create the letter (slanted, curved, etc.).

  • If developmentally appropriate, practice forming the letter together. If not, simply expose the children to the lowercase A by modeling how to draw the letter.

  • Finally, during centers, pull 1-2 students in a group and practice properly writing the letter Aa with a pencil and pencil. Again, children should only write the lowercase letter if they are developmentally ready for this skill.

Purposeful Play:

  • Go on a walk around your home or school, hunting for the letter Aa. When you find it, use your finger to trace over the letter, modeling proper letter formation and directionality.

  • Use blocks with straight lines and curves to build the letter Aa on the floor. CLICK HERE for an link to order.

  • Use Play-Doh to form the letter Aa or toothpicks to draw in the Play-Doh.

Check out my Letter Sound and Motion Flashcards. Click below!

Preschool Alphabet Cards

Free Play:

  • Make writing paper and tools easily accessible in all learning centers. The home living center might quickly morph into a restaurant with a waiter taking orders on a notepad.

  • ·Place picture models of the letter Aa with directional arrows to remind students of proper letter formation in the writing and painting centers, as well as other places around the room that might lead to writing.

  • Include bendable manipulatives in free play (pipe cleaners, wiki sticks, straws). You will be surprised how these can easily to turned into letters!

Be involved. The only way to encourage and strengthen early literacy skills is to get involved. Make time for your child. Set a goal for yourself. Even 5 minutes once a week is worth it! Volunteer to work with other children at your child's school that may not have the support at home. Change can only happen with commitment. Give. If you have the means to, donate to charities that support early literacy initiatives. Spread the word about the value of building emergent literacy skills. Share this blog with a friend or coworker. Together, we can all make an impact!

Charities to Get Involved


Looking for a Curriculum that Supports the Science of Reading? Check out Moving Little Minds Literacy Curriculums!

Learn how we teach alphabetic knowledge, phonological awareness, and pre-writing skills through instruction and play!


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Build beginning literacy skills with easy, engaging activities that can be completed in just a few minutes of your day!  Designed by a preschool literacy teacher with over 20 years in the education field, these activities are tried and true!  Perfect for at-home learning or classroom warm-ups and transitions!


Simply complete an activity, pull off a page, and celebrate.


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Be sure to check out our free resources!

free preschool songs


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We believe that every child deserves a bright future, and this begins with a strong foundation in early literacy skills.  At Moving Little Minds, we are dedicated to providing research-based literacy activities in fun and engaging ways!  By merging instruction with play, we ensure that children are reaching their full potential and embark on their educational journey well-prepared for the future! Let's build those KEY emergent literacy skills together.

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