A Guide to Emergent Literacy for Parents [+6 Emergent Literacy Activities]

Emergent literacy is a crucial stage in literacy development before a child picks up their first book. This stage encompasses the building blocks of reading and writing that emerge naturally in early life - before formal learning begins. From the babbling of infancy to the scribbles of toddlerhood, every interaction with language and print lays the groundwork for future literacy success. Therefore, understanding and nurturing emergent literacy is not just beneficial; it's essential.

In this comprehensive emergent literacy guide for parents, we will explore emergent literacy skills and offer practical strategies for fostering these skills at home. Whether you're a first-time parent eager to instill a love for books or a seasoned caregiver seeking to enhance your child's language skills, this article will equip you with the knowledge and tools necessary to support your child's literacy journey.

Ready to empower your child to become a lifelong learner, communicator, and creator through the magic of emergent literacy? Continue reading!

What is emergent literacy?

Emergent Literacy Definition: Emergent literacy refers to the skills, knowledge, and behaviors that precede conventional reading and writing. It encompasses a wide range of experiences, interactions, and activities through which children start to understand the functions and forms of written language.

Emergent literacy is one of five stages in literacy development. The five stages of literacy development include:

  1. Emergent Literacy (birth - age 5 or 6)
  2. Alphabetic Fluency (ages 5 - 7 or 8)
  3. Words and Patterns (ages 7 - 9)
  4. Intermediate Reading (ages 9 - 15)
  5. Advanced Reading (ages 15+)

Emergent Literacy Examples

To help make this concept more clear, here are some examples.

  • Babbling and imitating sounds. This is an example of the early stages of oral language development.
  • Recognizing familiar logos or symbols in the environment. For instance, recognizing the McDonald's "M" or a "STOP" sign. This emergent literacy example demonstrates the beginnings of print awareness.

Singing the alphabet song. This is an early example of alphabet knowledge.

Why is emergent literacy important?

Emergent literacy is pivotal in shaping a child's future success in reading, writing, and overall academic achievement. It also provides essential foundations for language development, vocabulary acquisition, cognitive development, social and emotional growth, and a lifelong love of learning. Therefore, understanding emergent literacy is crucial for parents, allowing them to actively support their child's development. Parents can help set their children toward literacy success and lifelong achievement by promoting literacy development from an early age.

Early Literacy/Emergent Literacy - What’s the Difference?

As a parent, you’ve likely come across the term early literacy. Therefore, you may be wondering - are early literacy/emergent literacy the same? If not, what is the difference between early literacy and emergent literacy? 

While these terms sound similar, there are distinct differences between early literacy and emergent literacy. Here’s what you need to know.

Early literacy refers to the broader concept of literacy development in young children. This term encompasses all activities, experiences, and skills related to reading and writing - from birth through preschool. Early literacy includes emergent literacy skills but also extends to more advanced literacy abilities that develop as children grow. 

On the other hand, emergent literacy focuses explicitly on the foundational skills and experiences that precede formal reading and writing instruction. For example, oral language development, print awareness, and alphabet knowledge. In other words, emergent literacy represents the earliest stages of literacy development, starting from infancy and continuing through the early years of childhood.

Understanding the distinction between early and emergent literacy can help parents and caregivers better support literacy development. By focusing on the specific skills and experiences most relevant to each stage, they can help children become proficient readers and writers.

Check out our article - Early Literacy Tips - for helpful and effective strategies for teaching early literacy skills at home.

Now, let’s look at some specific emergent literacy skills.

Parent promote emergent literacy at home with the help of Booka’s emergent literacy guide

Emergent Literacy Skills

What are emergent literacy skills? These skills encompass a range of language and literacy-related competencies that emerge naturally as children interact with oral and written language in their everyday lives. By nurturing these skills, parents and caregivers can help their children develop a strong foundation for literacy success.

Print Awareness

Children need to learn much about how print works before they can read independently. Print awareness (or print concepts) is a key emergent literacy skill that involves understanding the purpose and conventions of written language. It includes understanding that letters make up words, words have meaning, books are read from front to back and top to bottom, etc. Children develop print awareness by handling books, pointing to words, and scribbling with crayons. These activities help them grasp concepts like print's directionality and distinction from illustrations. 

Want to learn more about print awareness and how to teach print awareness at home? Check out our Print Awareness Guide.

Alphabet Knowledge

Alphabet knowledge involves understanding letter names and sounds and recognizing individual letters. Early signs of this skill include pointing to letters, spotting them in logos, and singing the ABCs. Alphabet knowledge is crucial for literacy success, as it empowers children to decode words, spell, and communicate effectively. 

Phonological Awareness

Phonological awareness, or sound awareness, is the ability to recognize and manipulate general sounds in spoken language. For example, the ability to identify rhyming words, segment syllables, recognize alliteration, and separate spoken sentences into individual words. 

Phonological awareness is vital for learning to decode and spell printed words. It is particularly important in preschool, kindergarten, and first grade. Children develop phonological awareness by listening to speech and songs and imitating silly sounds, rhymes, and alliterations.

Phonological awareness is often confused with phonemic awareness and phonics (more on that below).

Phonemic Awareness

Phonemic awareness, or letter-sound knowledge, is the ability to recognize and manipulate the smallest sounds in spoken words - letter sounds. An example of phonemic awareness is recognizing that “fun” starts with the letter F, which makes an “fff” sound. 

Phonemic awareness is essential for decoding unfamiliar words. This essential emergent literacy skill develops once children understand that spoken words are made up of individual sounds. With this understanding, they can start to connect individual sounds with individual letters.

Want to teach your child phonics at home? Explore our guide to Teaching Phonics and discover how to teach phonics, including fun activities.


Vocabulary development is the process of learning and understanding the meaning of words.

A strong vocabulary helps children decipher unfamiliar sentences and is critical for reading comprehension later in life. As they grow, children enhance their vocabulary through conversations, exposure to books, and everyday experiences with people and objects. But, promoting vocabulary growth at home with activities and games is vital.

Story Comprehension

Story comprehension involves understanding that stories follow a sequence of events, with a beginning, middle, and end, and recognizing common story elements such as characters, settings, problems, and resolutions.

It is important that children comprehend these aspects of a story before they can independently engage in reading, storytelling, and writing. Story comprehension begins to develop as children listen to stories read aloud. In addition, understanding the sequences of events in their day-to-day lives (e.g., getting dressed before going outside) can contribute to understanding sequences of events in books.


Inferencing refers to the ability to draw on existing knowledge and employ problem-solving and reasoning skills to fill in the gaps in the text or illustrations. For example, the ability to empathize with characters, relate story events to their own experiences and propose solutions to story dilemmas. 

This emergent literacy skill is essential for children to grasp the stories they hear and later read independently. Even very young children may start making connections between book content and real-life experiences, such as pointing from a cat in a book to their cat. This ability to link story events with real-life occurrences showcases emerging comprehension skills.

Parents and caregivers can help children acquire a strong foundation for reading and writing success by nurturing the above skills. Below are some activities to help promote these skills at home.

6 Emergent Literacy Activities

The fun and engaging activities below are designed to foster emergent literacy skills at home. Best of all, these activities are simple to do using everyday household items!

Alphabet Scavenger Hunt

Embark on an Alphabet Scavenger Hunt by searching for letters throughout your home or yard. Hide letter cards or magnetic letters around the house and have your child search for them. For added fun, set a timer and see how many letters your child can find before time runs out!

TIP: As your child discovers each letter, encourage them to name it and say a word that begins with that letter.

This emergent literacy activity promotes the following skills:

  • Letter recognition
  • Phonemic awareness (letter-sound relationships)
  • Vocabulary expansion

Word Wall

Transform a wall or bulletin board into a Word Wall with your child. Together, brainstorm and write down high-frequency words, family names, or favorite words on index cards or sticky notes. Arrange the words alphabetically or categorize them by theme. 

TIP: Encourage your child to add new words as they learn them, fostering ownership of their growing vocabulary.

This activity promotes the following skills:

  • Sight word recognition
  • Vocabulary expansion
  • Print awareness (i.e., understanding the purpose of written words)

Storybook Charades

Bring storybooks to life with a game of Storybook Charades! Choose a storybook and take turns acting out scenes or characters while the other person guesses the book's name or character. 

TIP: Encourage your child to use expressive facial expressions and gestures to convey emotions and actions from the story. This activity promotes comprehension and enhances oral language skills and creativity.

This fun activity promotes the following emergent literacy skills:

  • Story comprehension
  • Oral language development
  • Narrative skills

Rhyme Time Relay Race

Get moving with a Rhyme Time Relay Race! Write pairs of rhyming words on index cards (e.g., cat/hat, sun/fun) and scatter them around a designated area. Divide into teams and take turns racing to find rhyming pairs. When a pair is found, the child must say both words aloud before returning to their team. 

BONUS: This active game reinforces phonological awareness while promoting teamwork and cooperation.

This activity promotes the following skills:

  • Phonological awareness (rhyming)
  • Vocabulary expansion

Sensory Writing Tray

Create a Sensory Writing Tray by filling a shallow tray with salt, sand, or flour. Encourage your child to use their fingers or a paintbrush to practice writing letters or words in the tray.

TIP FOR ADVANCED LEARNERS: Introduce sight words or simple sentences for your child to write in the sensory tray. This reinforces spelling and sight word recognition.

This emergent literacy activity promotes the following skills:

  • Alphabet knowledge (i.e., letter formation)
  • Vocabulary expansion

Picture Walk

Take a "Picture Walk" with your child before reading a book. Look at the cover and illustrations together, discussing what you see and predicting what the story might be about based on the pictures.

TIP FOR ADVANCED LEARNERS: Encourage your child to narrate the story based on the pictures, using their imagination to create their own version of the plot.

This activity promotes the following:

  • Story comprehension (i.e., understanding story elements such as characters, settings, and events)
  • Inferencing (i.e., drawing on existing knowledge to make predictions based on visual cues)

Promote Emergent Literacy at Home with Booka

In addition to the exciting activities above, exploring picture books and reading aloud with your child promotes emergent literacy skills. The best and easiest way to do this is with the help of a kids book app like Booka!

Booka has hundreds of picture books and narrated stories that your child will love. Plus, the Booka reading app for kids includes books designed to promote these skills, including recommended emergent literacy books for children like:

1. Baa, Baa, Black Sheep - encourages singing and includes rhyming words

2. A Day with a Firefighter - fosters discussion and possible vocabulary development

3. Hoops - helps teach phonics (specifically the long “oo” sound)

Explore these emergent literacy books and more with Booka!

To improve the operation of the service and its interaction with users, we use cookies. By continuing to use the service, you agree to the use of cookies.