In this series we are going to go in depth on the first three stages of literacy development, emergent, early, and transitional readers. If you missed the overview of each stage, start here.

This post is going to focus on the second of these three stages, early (also known as alphabetic) readers and writers. Your child is in this stage from about 5-7 years old. Keep in mind that the ages I give you are just an average and your child may be older or younger depending on development. Use the information as a guide and a place to start, but focus on your child’s needs more than age.

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literacy development alphabetic readers

literacy development activities

What is an early reader?

  • Alphabetic readers are beginning readers.


  • They have a basic understanding of letters and sounds and know that letters make words.


  • They also begin to write alphabetically in this stage. Rather than drawing scribbles or shapes to portray meaning, they being to use letters.


  • In the beginning you may just see strings of letters, but as your child moves solidly into the alphabetic stage of reading you will begin to see your child using sounds to spell words. At first, this will be mostly consonants. Like spelling cat, ct, but as your child develops more in this stage, vowels and other more sophisticated spellings will be used.


  • Alphabetic readers will read out loud as they work to sound out words and it is usually a labored task. Comprehension will suffer because of the hard work it takes just to figure out the words, but it is still a good idea to talk about the story together. You may want to let your child read a story a few times before working on comprehension for that story.


  • In this stage, your child will use lots of different strategies to figure words out, including sounding out, picture clues, length of word, meaning, and the first letter.


  • The main focus for kids in this stage is often phonics, repetition, and patterned text.

literacy development activities

How will you know if your child is an early reader or writer?


  • You will know your child has moved out of the emergent reader stage and into being an alphabetic reader as soon as they do less pretend reading and try to sound out the words.


  • You will start to notice a major shift in your child’s knowledge of phonics and phonemic awareness. Rather than just saying letters and the sounds they make, you will see your child start to put those sounds together to read words. It is a magical stage of reading. This is why first grade was my absolute favorite grade to teach when I was in the classroom.


  • Your child’s confidence will begin to grow quickly, but at first he or she may get discouraged easily and say they can’t read if they don’t know the word right away. Be patient. It can feel overwhelming for a child because reading takes so much effort at this point. Sounding out every word is strenuous and may often cause your child to give up too quickly.


  • You will also hear your child reading out loud during this stage, which will give you an excellent idea of what area of literacy development he or she is still struggling with.


What should you do with your early reader or writer?

  • Encourage lots of practice. Start to move more of the actual reading to your child when you read together, but make sure you still continue to read and model as well.


  • Choose one thing to give pointers on if you want to instruct your child when reading. If you nag about every little mistake, your child will quickly lose the desire to read, which is the last thing you want.


  • Make reading fun! Find new books to read, purchase books your child will love, and try to choose books that your child can read independently. An independent level book is a book that your child can read with 97% accuracy.


  • Continue learning new vocabulary with your child. Go new places, read nonfiction texts, and have lots of conversations.


  • Play more phonemic awareness games, practicing putting sounds together to form words and breaking words apart into sounds.


  • Let your child practice writing words. He or she can write down the grocery list, label things around the house, or practice writing down simple sentences. Don’t expect perfect spelling. Instead, look for your child to use sounds and help stretch words out as needed.

early reader

  • Start practicing handwriting with your child. My very favorite program for young kids is Handwriting Without Tears. This program teaches kids how to form each letter using just lines and curves and uses easy phrases and songs to help them remember how to form each letter. It is super engaging and easy for children to master. Handwriting practice not only helps your child form letters correctly with ease, but also builds fine motor coordination.


  • Start practicing spelling patterns. I highly recommend looking into Words Their Way. This program builds a good foundation for every stage of literacy development.


Some incredible resources for you!


ABC Mouse is also an excellent resource at this stage. Your children will love the fun activities, creating an avatar of themselves, and earning prizes along the way. You can try it for 30 days for free with this link.


Epic is my favorite online reading library. They have over 25,000 amazing titles, including early chapter books. They also have the option to allow your child to listen to the story read aloud. The words are highlighted as your child listens so your child can easily follow along. It’s an incredible resource at an awesome price. You can try it free here.


These are my favorite early readers for children at this stage. The text is leveled and the pictures are amazing. Plus, your child will learn a ton from the nonfiction texts. Check them out here!

early reader early reader early reader