What is early literacy?

Early literacy is what children know about communication, language, reading, and writing before they can actually read and write. It is all of a child’s early experiences with language, stories, books, and print.

Early literacy matters because many of Alaska’s young children enter kindergarten without proper early literacy skills. These literacy skills are necessary for children to learn how to read AND to become good readers. When a child reads well, it leads to greater success in school (including high school graduation), higher self-esteem, and wider choices and options in life after they leave school.  During the first three years of a child’s life, the brain develops at an extremely fast rate. This is when children are more receptive to gaining language and literacy skills. It is critical that during this time we promote early literacy.
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Six components of early literacy

Early literacy can be divided early literacy into six skills or components. Children need ALL of these early literacy components to be good readers, though they will not obtain them in a particular order.

  1. Oral language: speaking, listening, and communication skills
  2. Phonological awareness: ability to hear and play with the smaller sounds in words
  3. Print awareness: knowledge that print has meaning/ how to handle a book
  4. Letter knowledge: knowing that letters have different shapes and represent sounds
  5. Vocabulary: knowing the meanings of words
  6. Background knowledge: prior knowledge about the world before a child enters school

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Five practices of early literacy

Parents and caregivers are a child’s first teachers. You may not think of yourself as a teacher, but children learn about new words and concepts by interacting with caring adults. To encourage early literacy development in the infants and toddlers in your life, caregivers are encouraged to use five practices:


Watch this short video from Herrick District Library in Holland, Michigan for an overview of the five practices of early literacy:


  • Listening to books read aloud passes along numerous skills
  • Choose books that you both enjoy and read together for 15-20 minutes every day


  • Slows down language so children can hear sounds and syllables
  • Sing songs from your childhood and/or make up songs together


  • Helps children put thoughts into words and think symbolically
  • Have fun/ be silly playing imaginative and interactive games


  • One of the best ways to teach new words and concepts
  • Talk with children as you go through daily routines (explain things and ask questions, even with babies)


  • Helps children learn that written words stand for spoken language
  • Encourage drawing, scribbling, and coloring

Having trouble thinking of activities to do with your child? Try our Early Literacy Calendar, a free resource that lists one activity each day to support your child’s early literacy skills.

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Early literacy organizations

The organizations listed below are dedicated to early literacy and/or early childhood education. The list is divided into two sections: Alaska statewide organizations and national organizations.

Alaska Organizations

  • Alaska Head Start Association
    Dedicated to strengthening early learning programs through advocacy, education, and leadership. AHSA represents all 16 Head Start programs in Alaska.
  • Alaska Infant Learning Program
    Program run by the Department of Health and Social Services that promotes access to a flexible array of quality services to all Alaskan infants and toddlers with special developmental needs and to their families.
  • Alaska’s 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten Challenge
    Sign up today for the 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten Challenge, sponsored by the Alaska State Library.
  • Anchorage Association for the Education of Young Children
    The Anchorage chapter of the AEYC is working to bring high-quality early learning opportunities to all children from birth through age eight and serves the needs of early childhood education professionals in the Anchorage area.
  • Best Beginnings
    A public-private partnership that mobilizes people and resources to ensure all Alaska children begin school ready to succeed through support from businesses, foundations, nonprofits, government, and individuals. They also offer a general monthly and parent newsletter, designed specifically for parents and caregivers of children birth to 5.
  • Imagination Library in Alaska
    Imagination Library mails a FREE, high-quality, brand-new book each month to children from birth to age 5 who live in communities that support the program.
  • Northern Interior Alaska Association for the Education of Young Children
    The Northern Interior chapter of the AEYC serves early childhood education professionals in the Interior and other parts of Alaska.
  • Parents As Teachers
    A support network that empowers parents to give their children a great start in life, includes one-on-one home visits and group events. Administered by RurAL CAP. Serves 19 communities in AK.
  • Partnerships for Families & Children
    PFC are groups of local non-profit agencies working together to promote a web of community support for young children and their families. Groups exist in Fairbanks, Juneau, and Mat-Su
  • Southeast Alaska Association for the Education of Young Children
    The Southeast chapter of the AEYC serves early childhood education professionals in southeast Alaska.
  • thread
    Helps parents make informed choices about child care and education. thread also holds family events and parent workshops. Offices in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau, Kenai, and Wasilla.

National Organizations

  • Every Child Ready to Read
    Every Child Ready to Read (ECRR) is a parent education initiative created by the Public Library Association. It stresses that early literacy begins with the primary adults in a child’s life. The ECRR toolkit is available for purchase.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Milestones in Action
    Visit the CDC’s milestone website to view checklists and other resources related to your child’s development and see if they are on track.
  • Colorado Libraries for Early Literacy
    This Colorado state organization provides early literacy information and resources for librarians, children, and their caregivers. They have a section on tips for a more successful storytime, collection development, and program planning. They also offer an annual award for picture books that provide excellent support of early literacy development in young children.
  • Get Ready to Read
    Get Ready to Read! is a service of the National Center for Learning Disabilities. It is designed to support educators, parents, and young children in the development of early literacy skills in the years before kindergarten. Intended for use with all children, the resources and information provided on this site promote skill-building, communication between adults, and ways to address concerns.
  • Growing Readers Together 
    The Colorado State Library has pulled together a wealth of early literacy resources and information for librarians and other early childhood professionals, including free printables and tip sheets.
  • National Institute for Early Education Research
    NIEER conducts and communicates research to support high-quality, effective early childhood education for all young children. The Institute offers independent, research-based advice and technical assistance to policymakers, journalists, researchers, and educators.
  • Family Place Libraries
    Network of children’s librarians nationwide who believe that literacy begins at birth, and that libraries can help build healthy communities by nourishing healthy families. The program focuses on the parent-child relationship and aims to expand the role of  public libraries as key players in family and early childhood development, parent and community involvement, and lifelong learning beginning at birth.
  • Mother Goose on the Loose
    An award-winning early-literacy program for children from birth to age 3 with their parents or caregivers that uses a variety of activities, such as rhymes, songs, puppets and instruments to foster speech development, motor coordination, self-confidence, and sensitivity to others. Program materials are available for purchase.
  • Read Aloud 15 MINUTES
    Non-profit organization that is working to make reading aloud every day for at least 15 minutes the new standard in child care.
  • Saroj Ghoting (Early Childhood Literacy Consultant)
    Ghoting is an expert on early literacy who offers training and workshops for library staff and at national, state, and local conferences. Her website has a wealth of early literacy resources for librarians.
  • Zero to Three
    National non-profit organization that provides parents, professionals and policymakers the knowledge and the know-how to nurture early development.

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