Grow a Reader: Print Awareness

By Rachel Placchetti

One of my favorite things to do when reading with young children is to pretend that I’ve forgotten how to hold a book. Do we start in the middle? No, that’s funny! Can we read the book backward or upside down? Of course, not!

Children love to make connections between written language and the words that they hear spoken aloud, especially while having fun and enjoying books together. Understanding how books work and that the text on a page has meaning is called print awareness, an important early literacy skill for children to develop on their way to reading.

In fact, the ability to perform print awareness tasks is one of the most reliable indicators for future reading achievement. A recent study has shown that when children are encouraged to notice and recognize print in books, their resulting early print knowledge has a marked impact on their later literacy skills.

Fortunately, daily life provides many opportunities for children to practice this skill. Whether you are walking or driving to the library, shopping for groceries, or even just getting dressed in the morning, printed words are part of even the simplest tasks caregivers can engage in with their children. Sharing the connection between written language and the things, actions, and ideas that make up our world is an excellent way to boost children's print awareness and help prepare them for a life of reading.

Here are some easy ways that caregivers can reinforce this skill in everyday life:

  • Include books and reading in your daily routine, even if the children in your care are babies. Kids will love the experience of playing with books, touching the pages, and turning them back and forth. Board books, in particular, allow them to practice handling a book without fear of damaging it.
  • Pointing to some of the words while you read aloud is a fun and effective way to show that the writing on a page has meaning. Try sharing a book with a repeating phrase, such as in Go Away, Big Green Monster! by Ed Emberley. Encouraging children to say the repeating phrase as you point to it on the page is a great way to emphasize that we read the text, not the pictures.
  • Shopping with young children can present many moments for developing their print awareness as well. Have them cross off items on your shopping list as you go through the store. Not only will this give them an idea of how much longer the trip will take, but it also lets them see the words for familiar foods and objects in print.
  • Draw attention to familiar words and letters as they appear throughout your day. Restaurant menus, street signs, and food labels are readily available and show how print provides meaning and gives direction to even the most ordinary of tasks. Try pointing out the first letter in the child’s name as it appears on signs or reading aloud the washing instructions for clothing as you do the laundry.
  • Be silly! When reading with children, try holding the book upside down or turning the pages backward. See if your child notices! Children learn best through play, so this goofy trick is really a great way to teach them how a book works.

The library also has many wonderful books that are fun to read aloud with children and which will boost their print awareness. Here is a list of some of my favorites!

Read it again! A dragon who doesn't want to go to bed enjoys his favorite story over and over again, each time a little bit different than before. Great for modeling books in action and showing how words can change the meaning of a story.

With a repeating phrase throughout, this silly classic lets children be active participants in the reading experience. Point to the words, "Go away, big green monster," as you read aloud and encourage kids to say them with you!

A young frog explains to his dad why he'd rather be a cat or a pig . . . anything but a slimy, yucky frog! Not only is this a great story about self acceptance, but the speech bubbles throughout demonstrate the relationship between speech and written language.

Guess the animals with a combination of die-cut holes, bright colors, and clues voiced by the animals themselves.

Cow steals the farmer's car in this adventure tale, where the word "moo" can mean many different things!

Niño, a world champion lucha libra competitor, challenges La Llorona, Cabeza Olmeca, and other fantastic baddies in this action-packed read-aloud. Features attention-grabbing typography and Spanish vocabulary.

Sing along and act out the classic nursery song with this baby-friendly board book.

Introduces tools and their sounds with interesting vocabulary and onomatopoeia. Also available as a board book.

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