Children’s Literacy Development: A Simple Guide


How do I teach my child to read? At what age should my child learn to write? How do I support my child’s literacy development?

These are all great questions that our educators at Explore & Develop are frequently asked by parents and caregivers.

When referring to literacy in the early years, school-age children may come to mind. However, research shows that language and literacy development actually begins from birth.

As babies begin to interact with the people around them, they start to learn how language works and gain an understanding of how to communicate effectively. Through play, children can transfer this knowledge to other contexts. As their literacy skills develop, the begin to connect spoken language to written language.
Research suggests that children who grow up in literacy-rich homes are more likely to do better at school, meaning that parents and caregivers play a vital role in supporting early literacy development.

Reading to your child, using a large range of vocabulary, providing drawing materials, spending time playing games and singing are all simple things you can do to help your baby, toddler or preschooler develop their literacy skills.

At Explore & Develop, educators focus on using language in all its forms. We strongly believe that singing, talking, reading and drawing with children of all ages is crucial and will lay the foundation for spoken and written communication to emerge.

Read on for some simple ways to help support your child’s literacy development at home across the core areas of:

  • Communication
  • Reading
  • Writing


Oral (spoken) language forms the foundation for literacy, as children begin to understand the meaning of words and sounds. This is when phonological awareness begins to develop.

A child’s understanding of spoken words will later translate to understanding written language, therefore making them more competent in decoding different texts.

Language learning begins at birth and there are many ways families can support this.

Babies to toddlers:
  • Copy the sounds and facial expressions your baby makes. Speak slowly and emphasise the rise and fall of the sounds. Talk to them often from day one.
  • Sing with your child, even if you are just making up the words. Sing nursery rhymes if you can as they teach rhythm, rhyme and repetition.
  • Talk about everything you are doing and point out interesting things you see around you, including words to describe emotions.
  • Have fun with words that rhyme and words that describe a sound, such as animal and vehicle noises.
  • Listen to your child. Respond to your toddler’s questions but avoid jumping in with the answer all the time. For example, if your child asks, ‘What’s that over there?’ You could say, ‘What do you think it is?’
Preschoolers to school-age:
  • Play rhyming games such as ‘Can you think of words that sound like ball?’ Hall, fall, small etc.
  • Play games such as ‘I Spy’ using the first letter of a word or a colour.
  • Talk about the past and future – things your child can recall and activities they are looking forward to.
  • Share stories at mealtimes, make up stories at bedtime, sing songs and have fun with silly language!
children's literacy development


Children will begin to read by looking at the pictures, pointing out and naming familiar objects, noticing patterns such as rhythm and rhyme and then later, recognising letters and words in the text.

Lots of experience with books from birth will help them on their journey with reading.

Babies to toddlers:
  • Read aloud with them every day. When reading books, make the animal sounds, be animated, have fun!  They will learn that books are pleasurable.
  • Point out objects and actions in the pictures, to teach them  that words are coming from the page.
  • Very young children are sensory learners, so choose ‘touch and feel’, ‘lift the flap’ and board books as well as books with repetition.
  • Encourage your child to dramatise the actions in the book such as hopping like a kangaroo.
Preschoolers to school-age:
  • Point to the words as you read them, to teach them that English is written from left to right. If they are ready, you could also ask them to find a familiar letter in the words.
  • Choose different types of books, such as factual books that can answer questions about topics they are interested in. This demonstrates that books provide information, plus gives them opportunities to problem solve and advance their vocabulary.
  • Ask them questions about the story. ‘What was the story about?’ or ‘Why do you think he did that?’ or ‘What would you do in that situation?’
  • Involve children in reading rhyming books by encouraging them to finish the sentence.
  • Point out words found in places other than books – such as on street signs, food packaging labels, public transport and posters at the shops.
  • Clap syllables of words.
  • Invite your child to make their own story book. Encourage them to think of a storyline, create illustrations and write their words down for them.
  • Read your child at least one book a day, give them books to enjoy by themselves and take them to the library from time to time.  Above all, this stage is about showing them that reading should be fun.

“The fire of literacy is created by the emotional sparks between a child, a book, and the person reading. It isn’t achieved by the book alone, nor by the child alone, nor by the adult who’s reading aloud—it’s the relationship winding between all three, bringing them together in easy harmony.”

Mem Fox


Before a child can learn to write, they first need to begin making marks such as scribbles, lines and circles with a range of materials.  There is no rush and you can support each step of the process in many ways.

Babies to toddlers:
  • Provide babies and toddlers with many opportunities to paint with their hands.
  • Provide drawing materials such as chubby crayons, markers and pencils and give them time to explore them independently.
  • Make marks in the outdoor environment using chalk on the pavement, fingers and rakes in the sand, sticks in the dirt or water with paintbrushes on the fence.
  • Show an interest in the marks your child makes. Comment on the patterns and colours they have used.
  • Provide them opportunities to paint with brushes both inside and outside, on the floor and at an easel. Compliment them on their effort and display their work with pride.
Preschoolers to school-age:
  • Encourage drawing with a range of materials and begin to introduce new ones such as finer markers, triangular pencils, charcoal and oil pastels.
  • Add drawing opportunities during play, such as adding a book to their their doctor set or a notepad next to their toy phone.
  • Invite them to write their name on birthday cards, even if it is an unrecognisable mark.
  • Involve them when you are writing a shopping list.
  • Encourage them to talk about their drawings with open ended questions, for example, ‘Tell me about your drawing’. This allows them to describe their marks and symbols in their own way. Even better, write their words down for them and then read it back to them.
  • Invite them to write their name on their artwork, even just their first letter. Or with their permission, write it for them while they are watching.
  • Provide materials to play with that have letters on them, such as alphabet puzzles, letter blocks, magnetic letters on the fridge and magazines for cutting.
  • Invite your child to make their own book with illustrations and write some words if they are ready.

We hope you have lots of fun using some of these simple tips and activities to help build your child’s early literacy skills.

For more helpful articles and advice, visit our Resource Library here.

If you’d like to find out more about how we can help support your child’s early literacy skills, contact your closest Explore & Develop Service. All of our Services are owned and operated by local early childhood experts, who are onsite daily and committed to your child’s safety and development.

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Department of Education & Training (2022). Belonging, Being, Becoming – The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia v2.0.

Explore & Develop Transition to School Program Booklet

Fox, M. (2001). Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever.

Mielonen, A. & Paterson, W. (2009). Developing Literacy through Play. Journal of Inquiry and Action in Education 3(1).

Phillips, L. & Harris, P. (2017). How to encourage literacy in young children (and beyond) –

Raising Children Network – (Developing Literacy/Literacy Activities)

Strickland, D. & Riley-Ayers, S. (2006). Early Literacy: Policies and Practice in the Preschool Years. National Institute for Early Education Research. Issue 10.