Literacy Development in Children

Literacy Development in Children

The Stages of Literacy Development in Children 

Literacy is a process by which one expands one’s knowledge of reading and writing to develop one’s thinking and learning to understand oneself and the world. This process is fundamental to achieving competence in every educational subject. Lacking basic reading and writing skills is a tremendous disadvantage. Early literacy skills not only enrich an individual’s life, but it creates opportunities for people to develop skills that will help them provide for themselves and their families. The early years are crucial for literacy instruction and early literacy development.

Language and early literacy development are some of the major domains of early childhood development. They involve the development of the skills used to communicate with others through languages (language development) as well as the ability to read and write (literacy development). An example of language and emergent literacy skills in childhood learning is to speak the native language of one’s parents and read basic words of that parents’ language, which helps to build oral language skills.

Phonological Awareness

Phonological awareness includes many specific skills related to hearing and interpreting sounds in isolation, words, and sentences. Phonological awareness is one’s sensitivity to, or explicit awareness of, the phonological or sound structure of words in one’s language; it involves the ability to notice, think about, or manipulate the individual sounds in words. Children must be able to hear individual sounds in words, pull apart individual sounds in words, and blend separate individual sounds into whole words. They must be able to do this with and without written letters or graphemes. Research overwhelmingly indicates that phonemic and oral language awareness is a skill critical for emergent readers. Deficient development of phonological awareness can be a critical diagnostic sign of dyslexia or a reading disability.

Newborn to 6 months

Some authors believe language, phonology, and literacy skills development begin in utero. Studies have shown that moms who talked, sang lullabies, played soothing music, and read to their unborn children, responded to them. Right from birth, babies are listening, looking, and learning. Early on, they are cooing and making gurgling sounds and listening to sounds. At 4-6 months they’re making sounds and combining sounds, producing vowels, and beginning to babble. So from newborn to 6 months find and enjoy those everyday moments when you can talk,  sing, read and play, play, and play some more together.

6 to 12 months

As they get a little older, around 6- 12 months, so much is going on in the newborn’s world. They respond to people with basic sounds and recognize their names. They begin to copy sounds from other people. They are getting ready to ambulate and explore their environment, putting almost everything into their mouths, they’re saying their first words. We expose them to those thick cardboard books or material books, we sing rhyming song games to them. We continue to play and encourage them to explore their worlds. We incorporate early reading time into their busy schedules. Expose them to cloth and board literacy reading materials, books with baby faces, bright colors, nursery rhymes.

12 to 24 months

At 12-24 months their vocabulary is beginning to take off. They are saying words and combining 2-3 words, they are beginning to respond to others’ requests, they communicate with gestures, and by 18 months are beginning to use more words than gestures to communicate. We expose them to picture books getting them to point to vocabulary, imitate/name objects and actions, and continue those song games of simple vocabulary and repetition. Reading time is beginning to last a little longer and offers another way to explore their worlds and environment.

24 to 36 months

At 24-36 months their vocabulary is exploding. They can form phrases and short sentences, repeat and use many words by others and can hold “conversations.”  They are asking the “why’s and “what’s that?’ We start reading to them simple stories and expose them to those- can you find books or “I Spy.” They want to listen to the same book over and over. They can begin completing sentences and rhymes in the stories. Their attention and imagination are growing rapidly. Keep using books in daily activities. Expose them to rhyming books, picture books that tell stories, and search and find books.

3 to 4 years

At 3-4 years that child is listening longer, recites whole phrases from books, is beginning to detect rhymes, is learning letter recognition, is beginning to notice words and pictures that begin with the same sound, may even pretend to read to dolls or stuffed animal friends. The child, who is beginning proper early childhood education, wants to know what happens next in the stories. Young children want to listen to made-up stories when looking at picture books or make up their own versions! Expose them to picture books that tell longer stories; counting and alphabet books.

4 to 5 years

At 4-5 years of age, that child can speak in clear sentences. They can understand verb tense (e.g. past vs future), and begin to recite more complex things like their personal information. The child is listening even longer, re-telling stories, recognizing letters and numbers, rhyming, learning letter names, and sound. Let your early readers see you read, ask your child to tell the story to you, and let them point out the letters in their own name. Expose them to fairy tales and legends, books with long stories and fewer pictures.

6 to 7 years

At 6-7 years, children begin to map letters to their corresponding sounds, effectively bridging the gap between print awareness and spoken word. Their reading comprehension skills advance, allowing them to weave simple stories and comprehend the layout of printed text. When confronted with new words, particularly those of single syllables, they are able to apply their phonetic knowledge to sound them out. This exciting period marks the transition from an emergent reader to an early reader, a key stage in their reading development.


Authors believe that by the end of Kindergarten, one’s phonological skills should be mastered. So, what if it’s not? What is this thing called Dyslexia? Dyslexia means difficulty with words. It is an unexpected and persistent weakness in the ability to read, write, and spell in the presence of average or above average intelligence and with the provision of effective classroom instruction. Contrary to popular misconception, dyslexia is not characterized by letter or word reversal,  although dyslexics do exhibit reversals in many cases. Students with dyslexia have trouble recognizing, manipulating, and learning speech sounds or phonemes that correspond to the letters of the alphabet. A problem with phonological awareness is the core deficit of dyslexia. Students with dyslexia have difficulty making rapid and accurate associations between speech sounds and letters for reading development and spelling.

Dyslexia is a life-long disability but can be improved greatly with specific instructional methods. Most people who work with dyslexics subscribe to treatment programs called multisensory, structured language instruction. These methods work for dyslexics but must be implemented intensively by highly trained teachers or professionals.

Students with dyslexia do not intuitively learn the rules and codes of the English language. Reading programs that require them to internalize the structure of the language through exposure and memorization of words are not successful.  Memorizing spelling lists is usually not an effective way of teaching spelling to dyslexics. These students do respond, however, when teaching is direct and explicit,  the content is carefully sequenced, each new skill is taught to a level of mastery and automaticity before moving on to the next skill, and all skills are cumulatively reviewed regularly. Early reading and spelling should be taught simultaneously,  covering the same concepts, so they will reinforce each other.

Practice Makes Perfect

When it comes down to it, many children, especially those with literacy development issues, could benefit from speech therapy or pathology. There are many physical therapy offices that offer this type of therapy for children, which can improve and excel their development and literacy skills. Find a location today for the best rehabilitation physical therapy option near you!

Article by: Wendy T. Harris, MS CCC-SLP/WDP

General Booth Clinic 

Wendy comes to SPT4Kids/IvyRehab as a seasoned speech-language pathologist who specializes in evaluation and treatment for Literacy, and is currently a certified Wilson Dyslexia Practitioner. She received her Bachelor of Science Degree in the area of Communication Sciences and Disorders in 1983 from Old Dominion University. While working in a local school system, she became actively involved with Operation Smile and served on two medical missions as a speech pathologist to the Philippines and then Africa providing pre-op and post-op care for patients and their families with cleft lip and palate. In 1991, Wendy graduated with a Master’s Degree in Speech-Language Pathology from Old Dominion University. Shortly thereafter, Wendy worked for a local children’s hospital where she obtained extensive experience (23 years) working with children with a variety of disorders within the inpatient population (for five years) including oral/motor feeding and development in NICU and Level II Nursery, conducted modified barium swallow studies with radiology for dysphagia population, as well as treating inpatient children for a variety of communication disorders following prematurity, traumatic brain injuries, stroke, and other medical diagnoses. Wendy continued treating children in the area of oral-motor/feeding, articulation, language, fluency and voice in the outpatient arena and for the past several years has specialized in evaluating reading and spelling disorders was a trained provider of the Wilson Reading System. Wendy additionally enjoys working with the adult population providing services for disorders including swallowing/feeding and oral motor skills and communication disorders following stroke, dementia and traumatic brain injury. Wendy is committed and passionate to her patients and families developing and providing functional meaningful and functional services for each individual’s needs.

The medical information contained herein is provided as an information resource only, and does not substitute professional medical advice or consultation with healthcare professionals. This information is not intended to be patient education, does not create any patient-provider relationship, and should not be used as a substitute for professional diagnosis, treatment or medical advice. Please consult with your healthcare provider before making any healthcare decisions or for guidance about a specific medical condition. If you think you have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately. IvyRehab Network, Inc. disclaims any and all responsibility, and shall have no liability, for any damages, loss, injury or liability whatsoever suffered as a result of your reliance on the information contained herein.

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