Early Years Literacy


Whatever they do, let them learn through play and through experimenting with their world through picture books, construction toys, sand trays, Wendy house, drawing and colouring etc…Offer as wide an array of resources as you can provide, resources that will encourage listening and speaking, hand eye co-ordination and a love of books. They should be encouraged to work alone, or in groups and not always class taught and teacher led! They should have opportunities to sit near the teacher in a group to enjoy speaking and listening and sharing lots and lots of stories.

Too many adults underestimate the abilities of pre-school children to acquire and accelerate development in literacy skills and because of this, many opportunities are sadly wasted. No child is too young to learn so long as that learning is child appropriate and age appropriate. Learning at any level should be fun, but during early years, the fun learning can give life long benefits to children who are offered it, because they can express themselves more capably, they can listen more attentively and they have a broader vocabulary to understand what is being said to them. Their hand-eye co-ordination is better and so writing skills become easier for them. They are already on the way to being successful in acquiring literacy skills.

Team work.
Pre-school leaders and helpers need to work alongside parents to encourage an enthusiasm for fun learning, and they also need to be creative in planning everyday opportunities within a structured programme, to encourage the development of skills in Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing. Let parents know what is being done during the pre-school programme and why. In this way parents  have the opportunity not only to understand methods, but also to back and reinforce them at home.



Teach children to listen instead of telling them to listen. Praise them for good listening. Give them interesting things to listen to, an interesting story, a walk to listen to the sounds around them and to count how many different sounds they hear. Be a role model and always show them how attentively you listen to them when they have something to tell you.

I have seen some Pre-school leaders who are excellent at this, creating a soothing atmosphere as they allow the little ones to take their time and explain, yet I have seen other leaders who do not recognize the value of this activity and interrupt the child or finish the sentence for him or her in such a rush that the child has not had the opportunity to plan it and express it.

Listening is a very important pre-school skill, so develop it in all the ways you can think of. Give them a change from your voice by using a puppet for them to “listen” to.


Click here for how to make puppets

Read them lots of stories throughout the week and re read their favourites, allowing them to look at the picture so that they connect their listened to information with the illustration. Tell stories too. Use different voices to make the story more life like, and change the tones of your voice to add to the drama of the story telling. Regular story telling is an essential element to developing listening skills, so should be a constant activity with young children. Develop the listening activity into drama or drawing activities to reinforce the auditory and visual image for the children. Never underestimate the value of story telling to young children as it gives them opportunities to experience language in different genres.

Give children opportunities to listen to each other, to converse when playing in the “house” or any other creative play area. Give them opportunities to “read” to each other, to talk about their model making, to chat over what is happening when they play in the sand tray or the water tray. Allow lots of free activities, where children can talk to each other and never underestimate the value of free play, where children can explore their world, talk and listen about it and learn from their peers.

Have a sound table of things that make different noises and get the children to tell you what the sound reminds them of or what it sounds like.These sorts of activities benefit all areas of learning and so their value should not be under estimated.

From differentiating different sounds, children can move on to sound games that introduce basic phonics. Tell a sound story getting the children to fill in the words you miss.

I was in town and along the road came a great big b—–.
It had big w——-.
It was making a lot of n—–.
The colour of the bus was y—–.

Remember to use soft breath sounds for basic phonics teaching as these blend, unlike the sounds taught years ago which were harsh and when put together did not make the word, e.g. b,a,t blended to ber-a-tter instead of bat.

Have a picture to help them take contextual clues. Oops we are already into pre reading skills teaching!

(It should be noted here that some young children are poor listeners because they have a long term hearing loss or a short term hearing loss, like when they have a cold.



Early years children are almost daily acquiring an increasingly broader vocabulary. They are stringing words together to form phrases and sentences. They are trying out different sentence constructions, are learning to adjust volume and tone to give effect! Wow! And they acquire these skills in such a short time compared to how long it would take an adult to acquire the same level of skills when learning a foreign language! So allow them lots of practice, allow them to learn from each other in role play situations, in giving news (where incidentally they will be practicing using the past tense, as well as learning sequential recording skills) and don’t stop them talking to themselves as they do different activities..they are not being silly, being babyish, they are simply practicing and trying out their spoken language skills. Give opportunities to develop this, with acting out a story they have just heard, or with having an area set up as a home corner, or a shop, or a space ship, or the sea shore, any idea you can think of to offer opportunities to practice the vocabulary of that particular theme. Have interest tables to use in a similar way, a table of things collected on a walk, a table of things that are yellow. Get them to talk about it. Have some old telephones for them to talk into. Have a dressing up box and get them talking!

Provide a stimulating environment to encourage talking rather than a sterile environment that insists children are silent! And bring out those puppets again!

Toilet roll tube and a yogurt pot puppet



Reading is not just looking at letters and working out what words they make! Reading is also looking at pictures and plans and simple maps and interpreting them. In these cases. the young children are, in essence, looking at a mark on a page and interpreting it by allowing it to communicate with them and sometimes they will start commenting on what it means to them. Isn’t this not only a pre reading skill, but a skill we as adults develop as we cope with everyday experiences? So allow children lots of time to enjoy looking at pictures in books, let them absorb all the information they can. Don’t hurry them if they are engrossed, accept that they really are “reading” and that this pre reading skill is very important to their literacy development.

Young children will also pretend to read, holding up a book and talking along with the pictures. Do not undervalue this activity. It is showing an interest in reading and a confidence in the possibility of acquiring the skill of reading, so allow the child to independently carry on and never tease or make a negative comment about what the child is doing. Silently applaud the activity and NEVER mock the child for holding up a newspaper and moving his head from side to side. He has seen an adult reader doing this and is using that adult as a positive role model.

And as for role models, be, by your efforts and attitudes, a good role model for reading. Show you value books by the way you handle them and care for them. Show the joy you get from a story and read it with expression so that the children can visualize the characters and events, can predict the possible endings. Make story time fun because, by doing so, you are encouraging children’s reading and comprehension. And leave the book out when you have finished the story and you will see how children will love to pick it up and copy you..an excellent pre reading skill for them to do. They may even want to “read” it to each other. Always try to have somewhere cosy for them to get lost in the pages of a book. Tuffets, made out of empty cable spools cost very little to make and are very popular.

Click here for How to make a tuffet

Even an opened up cardboard box with patterns crayoned on it to look like a rug, defines a space where children can settled down with a book without being disturbed.

And you don’t have to limit pre reading skills with just books, Notices and signs are important too. Have a drawing by the written sign to help give the pre reader a clue as to what the writing says..like we see in airports or on roadsigns. They think they are reading the word when they are really, at least at the start, reading the sign, but after a while, it becomes the word they are reading too.



Trailing a stick in the sand, chalking a line on a chalkboard, pencil drawing a man on paper, colouring in a picture with crayons, tracing over a shape, these are all pre writing skills. You are developing hand-eye co-ordination ready to teach how to hold a pencil and how to control it to make letter shapes. Even finger rhymes and playing with dough and moving a toy car into a parking space, steering a paper boat on a stream, are all helping in the development of pre writing skills, as are cutting and sticking and model making, spooning objects from one bowl to another, using pincer movements with tongs.

Too many teachers do not see the connection and think teaching writing is done with children holding an often too thin pencil, which is hard for them to grip, and “writing” letter shapes for hours on end. But the child who has had opportunities to chalk and draw and colour and trace, will not only develop those hand eye co-ordination skills more quickly, but he will have more motivation and expertise having had fun with other hand-eye co-ordination/manual dexterity skills on the way.


Literacy Skills environment for the Pre school child.

The literacy skills environment should be rich in activities and colourful in inspiration. There should be different areas for different activities that the children can choose to go to. There should be a variety of resources to stimulate listening, speaking, reading and writing as the examples above suggest. There should be opportunities for children to work/play alone, and in groups and freely. And this costs more in imagination and creativity than in money.Wrapping paper, paper bags, leaves, fabric scraps, cardboard cartons, little boxes, all those things that are so readily thrown away can be used imaginatively to promote literacy with the pre school child. And what’s more it can be and should be such FUN, so they will love to work/play in this way.

You also need to be well organized in the way you store the resources and in the way you label boxes in lower case fonts similar to those in the early reading books.

And finally, may I add a bee in my bonnet as they say?

I am saddened when I see pre schools with their sign in capital letters, or with capital letters where there should not be one, or with spelling mistakes.

THE Bizzy bee Play skule

It is far better with correct spelling in lower case fonts and with a picture to help them “read” the sign as below.

The busy bee pre-school.

All that expense in time and effort wasted when, if done differently and with a little more thought, would so much more meaningfully help to improve the development of literacy skills in the young pre school child!

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