Five Essential Skills Needed for Childhood Literacy

The Literacy Project strives to secure a better future for children by helping them improve their literacy skills. Literacy skills simply refer to the skills a child needs in order to read and write. The most essential of these include:

  1. Phonetic awareness
  2. Vocabulary
  3. Print awareness
  4. Spelling
  5. Storytelling

This post will share why these five skills are so important for childhood literacy as well as some ways you can help to improve these skills with your children at home. We hope that by sharing this information, The Literacy Project will further its mission to remove the impediment of illiteracy from the lives of children.

Phonetic Awareness

Phonetic awareness is the perception of how a word sounds. When a child begins to recognize different parts of a single word, they are developing their sense of phonetic awareness. Often this skill will begin to develop naturally during the course of childhood. For your child, this might happen just by listening to their parents, teachers, and others in their surrounding environment.  

Although this skill naturally begins to develop for many children, it is important to continue building upon it as your child grows. Here’s why: when a child is able to break down a word into individual sounds, they are more likely to become strong readers and writers. This is because they have learned how to sound words out. This gives them a huge advantage when they come across a brand new word. Help them use this phonetic approach to sound it out and they’ll grow their vocabulary in no time.   

How to enhance this skill:

  • Practice rhyming words and creating poems with your child. This helps to teach your child that rhymes depend on words that end with the same types of sounds.
  • Read books to your child that employ a lot of rhyming such as Dr. Seuss’s The Cat In The Hat or One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.
  • Practice singing with your child. Song lyrics are often broken down into individual syllables and sounds.
  • When you read together, practice sounding out unknown or tricky words. For example, kangaroo sounded out turns into kan-ga-roo.


Vocabulary is composed of all the words in a particular language. And having a large vocabulary is crucial for reading comprehension. Consequently, having good vocabulary skills can mean the difference between a strong reader and poor one. This is why it is so important to start working on learning new words with your child early on in their literacy journey.

Children who struggle with reading often lack a strong vocabulary. They see reading as a difficult chore because they are unable to grasp the meaning behind the words they are reading. This struggle can be avoided by helping your child improve their vocabulary skills at home.

How to enhance this skill:

  • Read out loud to your child and read frequently together; especially picture books that show the definition of the word behind the picture.
  • Point out new words or objects to your children and explain their meaning.
  • Have lots of everyday conversations with your children; this is a great way for them to pick up on new words and have the opportunity to ask you about them.
  • Participate in fun vocabulary games often! Check out our recommendations in our recent blog post: Why Learning New Vocabulary Improves Literacy.

Print Awareness

One of the most important literacy skills a child can develop is print awareness or an awareness of words and books. Children who notice the printed word around them are more likely to develop a love for reading and writing.

A curiosity about books is something to encourage. For example, it’s important to show your children how to correctly hold a book, which way the pages turn in a book, as well as which page to start and finish on. Once they get familiar with books, you can bet that a love for reading the words inside them will follow.

How to enhance this skill:

  • While reading a book together, help your child to hold the book in the proper upright position and point out the words on the page.  
  • Bring attention to printed words wherever you go by pointing them out on street signs or on restaurant menus for example.
  • Practice letting your child turn the pages of books: board books and textured books are great for this and for engaging your child’s curiosity.
  • Visit the library and have your child pick out a book for themselves; this way they can see lots of books and they’ll get excited to read them!


Dedicating time to spelling and letter recognition will help your child succeed when it comes to literacy. The benefit of having strong spelling skills is similar to that of phonetic awareness; your child will be able to break down large words into smaller parts, in this case, individual letters. Knowing their letters and being able to spell out difficult words is an essential reading skill that will help your child become a stronger reader and writer.

How to enhance this skill:

  • To start, have your child practice spelling their own name. Then move on to other names or places.
  • Practice spelling out words that might have irregular spelling like “night” or “dye”.
  • Read books together that focus on spelling such as Alphabet books.
  • Download structured spelling apps that turn spelling practice into a fun game.
  • Hold practice spelling bees and have a prize for the winner!


Since the dawn of spoken language, people have told oral stories. These stories served as entertainment, but also as a way to teach important lessons to future generations. So of course it’s quite natural for your child to begin developing this important skill on their own.

Storytelling makes the list because it is crucial to reading comprehension. Have you ever noticed how engaged you are in a story as you retell it? That deep level of engagement is why this skill is so essential. When your child is able to describe events or retell a story they’ve been exposed to, they are drastically increasing their reading comprehension level. Furthemore, storytelling is a great way to keep your child motivated in the reading department; after all, everyone loves a good story.

How to enhance this skill:

  • Tell plenty of stories to your child and encourage them to think of alternate endings or alternate events that take place in said stories..
  • Get creative by asking your child to think of what happens next in a story. Encourage them to think creatively and tell their version of the story to you.
  • Read a book that contains only pictures (no words) together; encourage your child to think of a backstory behind the pictures you come across.
  • Have conversations with your child about your day and share any events that occur, ask them to share stories from their day too!

Children need all 5 of these skills to help them flourish during their literacy development. By using some of these helpful tips, we hope that your child meets with reading and writing success. For more information on childhood literacy, visit our blog.

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