Early Literacy

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.

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!


  • 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!

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).
Reading together, or shared reading, remains the single most effective way to help children become proficient readers.
Writing and reading go together. Writing helps children learn that letters and words stand for sounds and that print has meaning.
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.

Sprinkles to Support Early Childhood Development in Your Children

In support of the Early Childhood Mapping Project (ECMap), EPL has developed ideas for parents and caregivers to strengthen early literacy in five key developmental areas.

Every child will benefit from early literacy activities, language-rich environments and meaningful interactions with adults in their lives, so explore all the developmental areas and talk, read, write, play and sing together!

If your child has a developmental area that needs more attention, we invite you to incorporate some of our suggested activities into daily life and recommend to come to library programs to help your child build all five developmental skills.

1. Emotional Maturity

Child is able to express emotions at an age-appropriate level, can empathize with others, able to reflect before acting, not too fearful and not too impulsive.

  • Choose stories, songs, and rhymes that explore emotions and explore them together.
  • Perform songs and stories by using exaggerated facial expressions and emotional emphasis.
  • Encourage children to express emotions based on the storyline or characters. Have children act out feelings using facial expressions, body language and/or sounds.
  • Talk with children about the emotional aspects of the story. For example ask questions like: How would you feel in this situation? Show me how you would express that emotion? Tell a story about a time you felt that way? Can you tell me what this character might be feeling? Have the children identify the emotion from the picture.
  • Provide clear routines and transitions for daily tasks i.e. tell children what’s coming in advance and prepare them for what will happen at the end of each activity. Using songs, rhymes or play routines with transitions can really help.

Recommended books:

2. Social Competence

Child plays and gets along with others, is curious about the world and likes to explore, shows respect for adults and other children, able to control own behaviour, follows rules and instructions, can work independently, shows self-confidence, and is eager to play with a new toy or game.

  • Take children to library storytimes to get them used to how to behave in groups and take direction. Using communal props like shakers or scarves encourages children to have respect for other’s property; they can borrow an item but they will have to give it back.
  • Encourage make believe play. This gives children a chance to act out real-life situations, work through worries and fears and use their imagination to solve problems.
  • Encourage children to interact with each other to build a better sense of their surroundings and to promote empathy skills. Ask your local library or Parentlink centre to provide more resources about opportunities in the community for families
  • Talk to your child about what’s happening around him or her at any time of day. Ask him or her to describe what they are experiencing as a narrative story.
  • When introducing new songs use encouraging words and praise the child’s performance, clap and sing along.

Recommended Books:

3. Physical Health and Well-Being

Child is well rested and well-nourished and can sustain energy levels during kindergarten activities, is able to climb stairs, is physically independent (can look after own basic needs), has gross motor skills (e.g. able to catch and throw a ball), has fine motor skills (able to hold a pencil or crayon), and well-coordinated (e.g.can run without bumping into or tripping over things).

  • Provide the opportunity for children to colour and draw.
  • Give children time to play before and after structured activities – both indoors and out.
  • Provide time for children to play with and handle books in a variety of ways.
  • Ask children to act out events from their books and add physical actions to your favourite stories and choose songs that have a physical component like actions or dancing.
  • Ask children to hold the book while you read to them. Model turning the pages, following along the text with a finger and have children practice these skills.
  • Read books that promote healthy activities like riding a bike or eating breakfast and encourage discussion of these activities.

Recommended books:

Recommended songs:

4. Language and Thinking Skills

Child is interested in reading and writing, is able to identify at least 10 letters of the alphabet, can count up to 20, is able to remember things easily, is able to sort and classify objects by shape, colour and size, understands simple time concepts (e.g., today, summer, bedtime).

  • Sing the alphabet song with children. Try alternating between yourself and the child so they can fill in missing letters.
  • Point out letters and numbers in everyday life on street signs, posters and buildings.
  • Play I Spy or similar games with colours, numbers or letters.
  • Ask children to predict what will happen next in a story.
  • Give the child a timeline of the day’s activities: “First we have breakfast, then we’ll ride on the bus, then we’ll visit the library.” As you finish an activity, ask the child what is coming up next. Use movable pictures on a felt board or clothesline to create the routine visually. Enhance transitions with songs, rhymes or actions.
  • Read a book without words. Help the child create the story.

Recommended books:

Recommended songs:

5. Communication Skills and General Knowledge

Child is able to communicate needs and wants in socially appropriate ways, can tell stories, has general knowledge about the outside world that is age appropriate.

  • Have children use puppets or felt figures to create their own stories. Visit the epl.ca Books and Other Fun Stuff page for some puppet inspiration!
  • Provide opportunities to select books together through library borrowing and/or purchasing. Having a variety of books in the home is essential. Empower the child in choosing materials based on his or her interests.
  • Role play and model socially appropriate communication in your speech; reward children with encouragement when they are polite and communicate clearly.
  • Teach children with limited verbal skills to communicate using signs or pictures.
  • Pre-read books by discussing the setting or other elements from looking at the cover or illustrations.
  • Ask children questions or give them each a short time to talk about their own related experiences after a book, song or story.
  • Use materials including non-fiction that feature other countries, time periods or ways of life the child may not be familiar with, and follow up with questions or comments.
  • Before reading, singing or storytelling, ask children what they already know about the topic.
  • Create sorting activities using objects or pictures.
  • Encourage and model “pretending” during play.

Recommended books:

Learn More about Early Literacy

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.