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Difference Between Early Literacy Skills & Reading

By Cara Batema ; Updated April 18, 2017
Book handling is an early literacy behavior.

The difference between early literacy skills and reading is that literacy skills are the abilities needed for individuals to become successful readers. Early literacy skills lead to good reading skills. Language, writing and reading skills are all learned together, and they are learned even in infancy.

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Early Literacy Skills

There are six major early literacy skills--vocabulary, print motivation, print awareness, narrative skills, letter knowledge and phonological awareness. Vocabulary refers to the ability to name things. Vocabulary is developed by naming objects around children and reading both fiction and nonfiction. Print motivation is a child’s interest in literacy materials like books. The term narrative skill is a child’s ability to understand stories and describe events. For instance, a child being able to describe a weekend trip is narrative skill. Letter knowledge refers to a child’s capability of recognizing letters, naming letters and associating each letter with a sound. Phonological awareness is the ability to identify the sounds that make up words, which includes the capacity for hearing and creating rhymes. Reading differs from these skills in that reading requires children to be able to put letters and words together in meaningful patterns.

Early Literacy Behaviors

Early literacy skills can begin in infancy, and one common behavior is handling and manipulating books. A baby holding and chewing on a book is an early literacy behavior. Later book handling behaviors include turning pages. Children will also begin to pay attention to pictures in books and may point at and eventually name familiar pictures. Story comprehension is another early literacy behavior. A child imitating events or characters from a story is an example of this behavior. Children may also babble along with a book or follow along with the printed words.


The term early literacy skill does not refer to teaching very young children to read. Reading is a task that is not developmentally appropriate for young individuals. In fact, forcing young children to learn formally how to read can be a negative and frustrating experience that children may associate with in the future. Positive interactions and experiences with speaking and literacy materials are an ideal approach to learning how to talk, read and write.

Preparing Children for Reading

Exploring books, listening to stories, singing nursery rhymes and gaining vocabulary are all building blocks that lead to reading skills. Parents and caregivers can encourage early literacy skills by reading books with children on a daily basis. Making reading an enjoyable experience is important for a child to maintain interest and desire to learn. Using voices for different characters, talking or singing about pictures and events in the story, allowing children to turn pages and pointing at the words on the page also encourages early literacy. Naming pictures and objects helps with vocabulary. Rhyming and making sounds promotes phonological awareness, and encouraging children to tell stories improves narrative skills.

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About the Author

Cara Batema is a musician, teacher and writer who specializes in early childhood, special needs and psychology. Since 2010, Batema has been an active writer in the fields of education, parenting, science and health. She holds a bachelor's degree in music therapy and creative writing.

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