Early Literacy

Why is early literacy so important?

  • The early years are essential for literacy: reading can come at any age, but language skills cannot. (Diane McGuinness, Growing a Reader from Birth)

  • Did you know that your baby has been listening to your voice since before he or she was born? Babies are born prepared to learn! 

  • By age 4, the brain is 90% of its adult size. (Dr. Bruce Perry, The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog)

  • Early Literacy is not expensive; babies learn best when spending time with a loving caregiver. (Jane Cobb, What’ll I Do With the Baby-o?)

  • Early Literacy lasts a lifetime. Knowledge of alphabet letters at entry into kindergarten is a strong predictor of reading ability in 10th grade. 

  • Children can’t learn to talk unless adults talk to them. (Mem Fox, Reading Magic). Talk all the time!

Early literacy and language development resources

Check out the great tips, booklists and videos that we have developed for your baby,  toddler and preschooler.   Help your little ones develop the essential language skills they need.

Five Practices to Support Early Literacy

Parents are a child's first and best teacher; by modeling and communicating these 5 simple and powerful practices, parents and caregivers can build early literacy skills into everyday activities:


Talking with children helps them learn oral language, one of the most critical early literacy skills.  The experience of self-expression also stimulates brain development, which underlies all learning.


Singing—which also includes rhyming—increases children's awareness of and sensitivity to the sounds in words. This helps prepare children to decode print (written language).


Writing and reading go together. Writing helps children learn that letters and words stand for sounds and that print has meaning.


Reading together, or shared reading, remains the single most effective way to help children become proficient readers.


Play is one of the primary ways young children learn about the world. General knowledge is an important literacy skill that helps children understand books and stories once they begin to read.


  • Part of exploring books for babies is to chew, shake and tear them—have some board books available for this! You can save special books on a high shelf, but place books for daily playing in easily accessible places, like a low shelf or a basket on the floor.
  • Read at least once a day. You know your child better than anyone else, so pick a time when she’s in the mood for a cuddle and book.
  • Don’t worry if your child isn’t interested for a long time! Short, positive interactions are more important than long ones.
  • Research shows that children who have larger vocabularies are better readers
  • Knowing many words helps children recognize written words and understand what they read
  • Read favourite books again and again—repetition deepens understanding
  • Use silly voices for characters when you read!
  • Many books have kisses and cuddles in the story—take advantage of them and give your child a kiss! Loving physical contact helps release serotonin, a hormone that helps build brain connections.

100 Great Books to Read Together
Download the booklist as a PDF and check out fantastic books to share and read tips about making reading fun. Pick up a print copy of the list at your local branch!

100 More Great Books to Read Together

There's no such thing as too much reading with children. Pick up EPL's other recommended reading list for more titles great for sharing with babies, toddlers, and preschoolers!

Audio books, games, non-English books, and more! The books and activities help to develop Early Literacy skills and have everything from storybooks to non-fiction titles about important social issues.

eBooks Bookflix for Kids
BookFlix is an online literacy resource that pairs classic video storybooks with related nonfiction eBooks to build a love of reading and learning. The engaging way to link fact and fiction, BookFlix reinforces early reading skills and introduces children to a world of knowledge and exploration.


  • Speak slowly and clearly—this helps children hear the little sounds in words
  • Repeat yourself—repetition of key words is important for learning
  • Use short, simple sentences
  • Look at your child while you are talking—children need to see mouths make words so they know how words form
  • Talking with children develops comprehension skills
  • Respond to baby babbles, as if you were having a conversation, so they learn how a conversation works
  • Answer questions your child has—curiosity shows children are engaged with a topic and ready to learn
  • Speak with, not at your child—children learn way more when they are actively involved
  • Be silly—make up your own songs and rhymes
  • Be patient when your child is talking—they need more time to organize their thoughts and have less practice coordinating the parts of the brain

Reading is more than just words on a page! How you read is just as important as what you read.

Dialogic reading is having a conversation about what you are reading while you are reading. Children learn best when they are involved, so including them in sharing a book allows them to become the storyteller!

  • Avoid questions with yes or no answers.
  • Ask questions about the story—who, what, where, why, when , how:
    “What sound does a dog make?” “What is she wearing?” “What colour is the house?”
  • Ask open-ended questions to encourage conversation allow the child to give descriptions of what they see:
    “What do you think will happen next?” “How do you think the monkey feels?” “”What do you think would happen if…?”
  • Relate questions back to your child’s life:
    “Yes—that’s a cat. What is the name of grandma’s cat?”
  • Expand on their answers to help introduce new words to your child’s vocabulary
    “Yes! That’s a bear—a big, brown bear.”


  •  Children learn through play!
  • Limit screen time (TV, computers) when possible—children have a lot of energy and need movement and interaction to be a part of their learning. Studies show that excessive television time negatively impacts language skills.
  • Make a game out of naming objects you see in the house or on the street!
  • Play silly rhyming games, make up your own songs and play I Spy!
  • Playing with puzzles does more than help develop manual dexterity—it helps children be aware of different shapes, which is essential for learning letters!
  • Make bathtime and diaper changing more fun and relaxing for babies by singing songs while you do it!


Early Childhood Mapping Project (ECMap)

Five developmental areas - sprinkles to support early childhood development in your children. Find out more now.

ABC Life Literacy Canada
ABC Life Literacy Canada is a national organization that inspires Canadians of all ages to increase their literacy skills. There are lots of tips to help children and parents read, talk, and play together.

AHS Early Intervention Program Parent Resources

A list of resources including a calendar of local playgroups that the Early Intervention Program (EIP) team has supported and developed with community groups, including the Edmonton Public Library program Sign, Sign, Laugh and Learn.

Centre for Family Literacy
Located in Edmonton, the Centre for Family Literacy is dedicated to building, developing, and improving literacy with families and communities.  

Every Child Ready to Read @ Your Library
Find out about what the American Library Association is doing to help promote early literacy.

Great Books on Early Literacy Booklist
Looking to find out more about early literacy? Check out these great books in EPL’s collection.