19 - 21 Months

5 pre-literacy skills to encourage in your toddler

Many parents hope their children will love reading and writing, but it’s hard to know how to make that happen. Here’s a hint—it doesn’t come from memorizing their ABCs. Instead, experts say enjoyable experiences with books and language are what help young children develop pre-literacy skills and a desire to read. 

Here are five pre-literacy skills your toddler is already building—and will continue to develop over the next several years—along with ways to reinforce them. 

1. Receptive language

This is the language—spoken and signed—your toddler can understand. Your child has been building their receptive vocabulary since they were a baby. Simply talking to your toddler and naming things together builds this knowledge. You can help them by pairing words with gestures—for example, name body parts as you point to you and your child.

2. Productive or oral language

Thisis the language—spoken or signed—that your toddler can say. Talking to your toddler—including asking questions and using “I wonder…” and “I notice…” statements—helps them build their spoken vocabulary.

Use rich vocabulary with your toddler. Instead of “Do you see that flower?” try, “Oh, a tulip! Do you see that flower, too?”

3. Phonological and phonemic awareness

This is the ability to recognize that spoken words are made up of sounds and, specifically, sound parts. Before a child can read, they need to know how sounds come together to make words. Your toddler is learning about the sounds that make up words just by hearing you talk, sing, and read.

Singing simple, repetitive words and rhymes, like “Open, Shut Them” will help your toddler tune in to the sounds that make up words. 

4. Print concepts

These are the rules of how books and other print materials work, including things like how to orient a book and where to find its title. When you read a book to your toddler, they don’t just listen to the words. They also learn about the books themselves—that the pages turn, that there’s a front and back, that they have information in them (including pictures), and, eventually, that all those little marks are letters and words. 

5. Handwriting

Everything from holding a spoon to banging blocks together builds the fine motor strength and control your toddler will need to write later on. Try giving your toddler chunky crayons or washable markers to explore under close supervision. Making marks with writing tools is the first step toward writing by hand.

Alphabetic knowledge and fluency are two more pre-literacy skills that develop closer to or during elementary school years. Right now, your toddler is still focused on learning words and sounds.

Note to parents: If your toddler isn’t very interested in books now—or is mostly interested in knocking over a stack of them or hiding them between the couch cushions—that’s okay. Singing songs, talking together, and telling stories are all great ways to develop their interest in language, which will lead to book reading when they’re ready. 

Learn more about the research

Isbell, R., Sobol, J., Lindauer, L., & Lowrance, A. (2004). The effects of storytelling and story reading on the oral language complexity and story comprehension of young children. Early Childhood Education Journal, 32(3), 157-163.


Team Lovevery Avatar

Team Lovevery

Visit site

Posted in: 19 - 21 Months, 22 - 24 Months, 25 - 27 Months, Literacy, Cognitive Development, Lovevery App, Child Development

Keep reading