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Our children are exposed to written words every day, in the stories we read, text and captions on TV, on signs, and much more. Well before our children start kindergarten, we can foster these print awareness skills, to best prepare them for learning to read and formal literacy instruction.

What is Print Awareness?

Print awareness is a set of skills that includes:

  • Understanding that written words represent spoken words and have meaning
  • Understanding that written words are made up of letters
  • Understanding that books written in English are read from front to back, and left to right
  • Being able to locate the cover and back of a book, its title, the first page with written words, etc.
  • Understanding that words are separated by spaces and can be counted
  • Recognizing letters, such as those in the child’s name

The preschool years, around ages 2-4, are a perfect time to begin supporting print awareness to get ready for school. Point out labels as you read containers at the grocery store. Point out letters and words on street signs, buildings, and menus. Environmental print is everywhere, so these brief learning opportunities are endless!


How to Build Print Awareness through Storytime

As you sit down to read, take a moment to orient your child with the elements of the book. This could be finding the front or back covers, showing them how to hold the book with the opening on the right side, or pointing out the title, author, or illustrations. 

While reading the story with your child, move your finger below each word as you read, so they can see that there is a connection with the writing and what you are saying. You may choose to look for a special letter as you read, like one from the child’s name. Or you might ask your child to point to the first and last words on the page, or even count the number of words, if they are able to do so. 


Activities to Increase Print Awareness and Letter Knowledge

Early letter knowledge starts with repetition and recognition. Give your child plenty of opportunities to see their name in print. Read their name and have them repeat it while you point to the word. Show the first letter in their name, such as “T” for Thomas, and go on a “T” hunt around the house and in your storybooks, looking for his or her special letter. Then gradually introduce other letters, focussing first on those with personal importance. Research has found that it is optimal for children to enter kindergarten being able to identify and name about 18 uppercase and 15 lowercase letters.

Justice, L. M., Ezell, H. K. (2002). Use of Storybook Reading to Increase Print Awareness in At-Risk Children. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 11(1), 17-29.

Piasta, S. B., Petscher, Y., & Justice, L. M. (2012). How many letters should preschoolers in public programs know? The diagnostic efficiency of various preschool letter-naming benchmarks for predicting first-grade literacy achievement. Journal of Educational Psychology, 104(4), 945–958.

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