Before children learn to spell, read, or write, they must learn to recognize written and spoken sounds, manipulate books, and follow text on a page. These skills are collectively known as print awareness.
What is print awareness?
Print awareness—also known as concepts of print—is an emergent literacy skill that develops throughout early childhood. Children who have developed print awareness understand how books function and that books contain words that convey meaning.
The following are print awareness skills that preschoolers need to develop:
- Knowing how to hold books properly and turn pages
- Having the return sweep: the ability to move the eyes from the end of one line of text to the beginning of the next
- Understanding that print is written speech
- Understanding that print can convey information about pictures
- Knowing that books are read from left to right and from top to bottom
- Understanding that print can have different functions (some books tell stories, while others provide information)
- Having phonological awareness: the ability to recognize and manipulate the sounds and syllables of a language to form words
- Having phonemic awareness: the ability to identify and recognize the individual sounds of a language, known as phonemes
- Asking and answering questions about stories during shared reading experiences
- Identifying basic story elements, such as characters, sequence of events, main events, and setting
- Discussing the characters in stories and making predictions about story events
- Retelling stories
- Enjoying experiences with print, having favorite books, and asking readers to re-read their favorite books
- Pretending to read books
Print awareness is not an innate skill. Instead, children learn print awareness by seeing print in their environment, interacting with print materials, and being read to.
Why is print awareness important?
Print awareness is linked to foundational skills, such as decoding, spelling, and reading comprehension, that children need to know as they learn to read.
Teaching children print awareness skills helps them identify print in different contexts and understand that print has meaning. These skills also help children learn to care for books and interact with print in their environment.
How does print awareness contribute to reading proficiency?
Print awareness helps children become familiar with the components and functions of books and other print materials by teaching them that letters and numbers carry specific meanings that are used to share information. Gaining this familiarity in preschool can make it easier for children to learn more advanced literacy skills and can lay the foundation for a lifelong love of reading.
Print awareness in the classroom
You can help children develop their print awareness skills with lesson plans that focus on reading aloud to children and modeling print awareness concepts, such as turning the pages of books, tracking the flow of words on a page with your finger, and pointing to aspects of the book cover, such as the title and author's name. An app like brightwheel's lesson plan feature can help you create thorough lesson plans that meet your state's standards for teaching print awareness.
You can also teach children print awareness skills by incorporating simple pre-reading activities that build their early literacy skills.
Here are some ways you can incorporate print awareness lessons into your curriculum:
- Show children the text of books while reading aloud to them. Point to each word as you read to help the children understand that the print is read from left to right and from top to bottom.
- Point to aspects of the illustrations that relate to the words you are reading. For instance, after reading the sentence "See the dog run," draw the children's attention to the illustration of the dog running to teach them that the words on the page relate to the pictures in the book.
- Include plenty of engaging literacy activities that allow your children to practice the essential skills they need to be successful readers.
- Encourage families to continue print awareness learning with their children at home and in their neighborhoods by pointing out text in books, labels, and street signs. Even though the children cannot read the text, they will learn that it serves a purpose, such as the word "STOP" on a stop sign.
- Teach your children the names and sounds of letters using letter blocks, alphabet puzzles, or magnetic letters.
Print awareness is a prerequisite for all literacy skills that children will acquire. It is important to plan and incorporate pre-reading activities into your day so that children will recognize the significance of print. Introducing print awareness to children early helps to promote interest in reading and lays a strong foundation for life-long learning. Be sure to make your activities inclusive and fun so that children and their families will be excited about exploring the world of print together.