I am so glad you have come to this post! Literacy development is one of my favorite topics to teach. I couldn’t fit everything I wanted to say in one post (I would have lost you long before you got to the end!) so I split it up into a series.

In the 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, you may want to start here.

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Literacy development activities

emergent reader

Literacy Development: Emergent Readers and Writers

This post is going to focus on the first of these three stages, emergent readers and writers. Your child is in this stage from birth until 4-5 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.)

What is an emergent reader?

An emergent reader is someone who is not yet reading or writing and therefore emerging as a reader. This step is critical to literacy development and often overlooked. What you do during this stage will lay the foundation for your child’s reading.

Communication plays a huge role in literacy development.

As an emergent reader or writer, language development is key. The more your child interacts with new vocabulary and starts to understand that words carry meaning, the sooner your child will be able to speak, read, and write.

As your child gets a good command on spoken language, you will notice your child telling stories, having more complex conversations, and “pretend reading” books.

Encourage lots of reading.

Read together often and take outings to the library to foster your child’s budding interest in literacy.

Emergent readers are just starting to understand what books are and how they work. As you read together, point to each word. This will show your child that the words and letters on each page have meaning and that you are not just telling a story, you are reading a book.

Your child is constantly learning new things during this stage of literacy development.

In the last post of this series, I shared the staggering statistic that “90% of brain development happens before the age of 5”. This should come as no surprise to you if you think about all the foundational things you learn before you even start school. And so many of these foundational tasks play a role in literacy development. Listening, speaking, tracking, muscle coordination, fine motor coordination, vocabulary development, comprehension, sequencing, and so much more.

literacy development activities

How will you know you have an emergent reader?

  • You have an emergent reader from the time your baby is born until somewhere into the preschool years.
  • Reading and talking to your baby and young child are the first steps in him or her becoming a reader and writer.
  • Your baby will begin to babble, make more distinct sounds, imitate words, use other methods of communication, until finally you hear that first word. All of these steps lead a child to becoming a reader in the early stages of emergent literacy.
  • You will see your child begin to recognize rhymes, alliteration, syllables, and other patterns in text.
  • He or she will also start to recognize some letters and sounds, starting with consonants and short vowels. (The short vowel sounds are ‘a’ like in hat, ‘e’ like in hen, ‘i’ like in hit, ‘o’ like in hot, and ‘u’ like in hut.)
  • All of the things your child is learning about language and how to use it are signs that your child is an emergent reader.

What can you do with your emergent reader?

The very best thing you can do for your child during this stage of literacy development is to read, read, read and talk, talk, talk!

At even the earliest ages, your child will benefit from hearing your voice.

  • Talk to your child as if they understand every word you’re saying. Resist the urge to use baby talk. Tell your child what you are doing, like a play-by-play, while you cook dinner, pick up, or do other daily tasks as your baby watches.


  • Limit the amount of tv you have on during your child’s waking hours, especially as background noise. Although your child will hear language, it is too hard for your child to distinguish the different conversations and just becomes distracting to real communication from you. There are some TV shows or movies that are entertaining and exciting for young kids. You do not need to completely do away with TV, but use it intentionally.


  • If your child has a favorite book, give in to his or her request to read it over and over again. This may be extremely frustrating to you, but it has unbelievable benefits to your child’s literacy development.


emergent reader


  • Play games with letters and sounds. Doing phonemic awareness games during this stage is very helpful for your child and they are easy to do. Say a sound and try to come up with as many words as you can that start with that sound. Or say a word and ask your child what sound the word starts with. You can do this with middle and end sounds too. Keep the words short, cvc words, and ask your child to tell you all three sounds. Or tell your child three sounds and ask your child to put them together into a word.


  • Play with magnetic alphabet letters on the fridge or a cookie sheet.


  • Get out scrabble tiles to play with.


  • Sing a lot of songs, nursery rhymes, and do finger plays.


If you have an emergent reader, start with a few of the activities listed above and check out the list of resources below.

ABC Mouse– If your child is 3 (or you think they are ready) to about 8 years old, ABC Mouse is fantastic. This program is highly engaging and the lessons are jam packed with great stuff for emergent readers. The best part is, children as young as 3 can navigate the program themselves and get lots of valuable independent practice while you cook dinner, ride in the car, or have some quiet time. They offer a FREE 30 day trial and if your child loves it as much as mine do, you can sign up for a very affordable yearly plan. Get signed up here.

Epic– Epic is an online library of kids books. The collection is amazing! They are not books you will have never heard of. There are over 20,000 of the latest titles that your children will recognize and love. This is one of my favorite resources we use at our house and I always recommend it to teachers and other moms. You can try it for FREE using this link.

My favorite leveled readers for emergent readers– These leveled readers are my absolute favorite. And although your young reader may not quite be ready to read yet, these are still awesome. The level A texts have picture clues that will make reading easy for your emergent reader. Building confidence at this stage is just as important as teaching the skills. Watch your child start to feel like a reader immediately with these little texts! 

emergent reader emergent reader emergent reader