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Making Connections: An Explanation of Print Awareness

Print awareness refers to a child’s understanding of the nature and uses of print. Knowing how to handle a book and noticing that there is print everywhere are the beginnings of print awareness, and you can begin to teach your child this early literacy skill from birth.

Four ways to develop print awareness in very young children are by talking, reading, writing and playing. When you are talking to your child, maybe while walking through the grocery store or waiting for a meal in a restaurant, point out print wherever you can: on boxes, labels, signs, menus and so forth.

While reading to your child, occasionally point to the words in the book so that she knows that you are reading the text and not the pictures.

Writing also helps children learn that print has meaning. Write a note to your toddler and then read it out loud to him. Ask him what he would like to say to you and write that down as well. He will begin to understand that communication can occur through printed words as well as verbally.

Including board books in playtime helps teach your child how to handle a book and turn the pages, as well as exposing her to even more printed words.

More Activities to Build Print Awareness:

  •  Make an Environmental Print Book

Take pictures of signs that are common in your child’s world (for example a stop sign, speed limit sign, exit sign). Print them out and make a book that you and your child can look at and talk about.

  • Use real product boxes in pretend play

The next time you use the last of the Cheerios, remove the plastic bag from the box, shake out any leftover cereal dust and use clear tape to tape the open end shut. Reinforce the edges and corners of the box with tape as well. Add this to your child’s pretend play to expose them to familiar items with print.

  • Label things

Label familiar items throughout your home with clear, large print to help your child understand how words can tell us the names for things. If you want to avoid sticking labels directly to the door/window/refrigerator/etc., you can always write or type the words you plan to use on index cards and put clear contact paper over the cards. You still label things, but you can avoid sticky surfaces when you choose to take the labels off.

Print awareness is a skill that is actually very easy to teach your child from a young age. Perhaps it’s something you’ve already been doing without even realizing it. Just remember, pointing out printed words to your child is an important building block in their path to future literacy, so try to take the opportunity to do so whenever you can.

mother and child reading

Korie is part of the Library’s Early Learning BLAST Outreach team. Her favorite children’s authors are Kevin Henkes and Audrey and Don Wood. She enjoys making sensory bottles, taking long walks through small neighborhoods and ‘80’s era fantasy films.

Looking for examples of print in your environment? Check out the book, Signs on the Road.

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