Understanding the Four Basic Aspects of Literacy in Preschool: Writing, Reading, Speaking & Listening

In preschool, literacy commonly refers to classroom strategies that help children learn to read, but there is actually much more to it than that. While reading is certainly an important piece of the literacy puzzle, it is not the only piece. It is also important to consider children’s writing, speaking and listening development along with reading. All of these things come into play when designing a literacy program for preschool learning. Introducing children to print, as well as teaching them to become effective communicators and listeners are all important steps to preschool literacy achievement.


The best way to introduce children to the written word is to provide them with a print rich environment. Picture books, signs on familiar classroom items and labeled spaces in the classroom are all ways to include print in the classroom. Also, providing places to write as well as plenty of time to do so will go far in creating a strong literacy foundation in writing for preschoolers.

When children first begin to experiment with print, their creations may look like scribbles, but look closer and you will see that these scribbles may have certain characteristics of print. For example, if you watch a child create print, he may begin printing from left to right and move from the top of the paper to the bottom. Or, his writing may resemble some of the shapes one uses to make letters. As children become aware of the movements and shapes necessary to create letters, they will begin to create print that looks more like mock letters and less like scribbling. This usually happens sometime between a child's fourth and fifth birthday.

Children often learn to write the letters in their names before any other letters. Providing children with plenty of practice writing their names through journal activities, sign in activities and other writing plans will help them develop and hone these skills.


Many preschools use a phonics based curriculum in order to introduce children to reading. Phonics is simply the relationship between letters and the sounds they make. Introducing children to letters in this way helps them learn to read by pronouncing letter sounds individually and learning to blend them together to make words.

Children are usually not ready to read until close to their fifth, or even sixth, birthday. The very first thing children learn about reading is that traditional English print is read from left to right and starts at the top of the page and goes to the bottom. From there, introducing letter sounds through phonics and letter recognition games will all contribute to the knowledge base children need to become lifelong readers.


By the time many children enter the preschool years, adults will be able to understand about 75% of the child's expressive language. While many preschoolers boast an impressive vocabulary that far exceeds the language they were able to produce only a year ago, they will often confuse the words or speak without using the proper verb tense. These speech quirks are normal and nothing to be too concerned with. The more appropriate spoken language and grammar a child is exposed to, the more likely he will pick up on the nuances of proper speech and begin to follow suit.

Often, preschool children stutter or hesitate when speaking. This is because their minds often work faster than their mouths are able to form the correct letter sounds, which creates a stop or a hesitation in the throat. Remind children to speak slowly and take breaths at the end of sentences before continuing again.


Contrary to the beliefs of some, listening is not something children are born knowing. Listening skills develop with practice and maturation. Many preschoolers are capable of listening to long stories as well as recall and recite information they remembered from the story. Others may have difficulty sitting still and processing the information given to them. These wide range of attention spans are expected in a preschool setting, and are not cause for concern.

Preschoolers must be taught to be effective listeners, and often the best way to practice listening skills is through activities and games that exercise these important skills. Try whispering directions to children to force them to use their keen listening ears and follow simple steps. Play games such as Telephone to exercise both children's expressive language and listening skills. Explore the outdoors and have children list all of the things they can hear outdoors when they are quiet.

Paying attention to and planning activities in these four areas will help children grasp the literacy basics. In preschool, children are forming the foundation for their later school years. Give them the positive introduction to school they deserve by incorporating the concepts outlined here into your classroom.


  • “Understanding Children”; Judith Schickedanz; 1993
  • “More Than The ABCs”; Judith Schickedanz; 1994