Print Awareness and Reading Aloud: 6 Ways to Increase Language Development During Story Time

As children enter the preschool years, they enter the stage of emergent literacy, a stage that’s predicated largely upon print awareness. Print awareness involves a child’s recognition of letters as units that somehow carry meaning. Reading Rockets puts it this way: “Children who have an awareness of print understand that the squiggly lines on a page represent spoken language.”

Reading aloud is an exceptional way to built print awareness. Here are a few ways to make story time with your children even more beneficial (and no less fun):

boost print awareness


Check out Jane Mount’s super-cool art, found via Young Gold Teeth


1) Point to the words as you are reading.

This simple act reinforces the notion that the words you are saying are connected directly to the printed words on the page rather than merely to the pictures, strengthening the connection between oral and written communication.

2) Pause so that children can finish familiar sentences.

When children finish familiar sentences on their own out loud, their confidence in relation to reading is boosted; they think, wow, I can do this! even before they are actively starting to try to read. (Just watch their little faces beaming.) In this way, print isn’t something scary, but fun.

3) Read the same books repeatedly.

This allows children to learn the language of a book so that they can finish sentences, and also reinforces the notion of the permanence of print: The same thing happens each time the story is read, in the same way, with the same words.

4) Explain unfamiliar words.

When new words are encountered, explain what the words mean. Alternatively, wait until the story is over and then go back and ask the child to explain the unfamiliar word. You may be surprised to see how much they pick up from context, and discussing words in this way models thinking about words and underlines the idea that individual words are attached to specific meanings.

5) Discuss the story with your child.

Keep it fun, no need to get too “reading comprehension-y” on them. But you can ask them what they think will happen next or what part they liked the best or how certain parts made them feel (bonus: refining their emotional intelligence).

6) Ask them to find certain letters. 

This depends on where the child is on the print awareness spectrum, but a child who is just beginning to connect the spoken (or sung) alphabet to actual printed letters will benefit from pointing to all the Ds, for instance. Keep in mind that children tend to learn the letters of their name earlier than other letters, a phenomenon known as own-name advantage, so start with these.

For more tips, see:
Print Awareness During Read Alouds
Book and Print Awareness: Getting Ready to Read
Suffolk Library: Print Awareness

For more like this on See Mommy Doing, see:
7 Ways to Boost Language Development Simply By How You Respond
How and Why to Correct Your Children’s Grammar
Best Children’s Books: A List of Our Current Favorites


– Turnbull, K., & Justice, L. (2012). Language Development from Theory to Practice (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey. 


Best Children’s Books: A List of Our Current Favorites

best children's books collageAs I made a small pile of current favorite children’s books in front of a friend during lunch today, she compelled me: “you better blog about this,” and so here we are with some books (some of which I think are not necessarily super well-known) that my children and I are loving.

best children's books - trainTrain, by Elisha Cooper. It’s beautifully illustrated with soft and detailed watercolors laid out in a variety of engaging ways. The language is sophisticated in both vocabulary and figurative usage, and the way the story is written makes you feel like you’re being pulled forward, as if you’re on a train…

best children's books - sand cakeOh, this book. Someone showed it to me years ago, while I was in college, and it made an impression then. My daughter brought it home from the library the other day and I was so excited to read it again! It’s unexpected, and it’s thrilling. My 5-year-old and my 3-year-old were both captivated by the story, and we can’t wait (even more) to go to the beach. Get Frank Asch’s Sand Cake. It’s an old classic and an all-time winner.

best children's books - amos and borisThis book is a perfect example of a children’s book that’s just as — if not more — enjoyable for an adult as it is for a child. Amos & Boris by William Steig is the powerful and moving story of an unlikely friendship and the power of an enduring bond between two souls who have experienced something profound together. May I indulge you in an excerpt?

One night, in a phosphorescent sea, he marveled at the sight of some whales spouting luminous water; and later, lying on the deck of his boat gazing at the immense, starry sky, the tiny mouse Amos, a little speck of a living thing in the vast living universe, felt thoroughly akin to it all.

I can’t write about this book with gushing. Thanks to my dear friend Hannah Diller (whom I haven’t seen in, can it be, eight years?), who in addition to cloth diapering and a book I think every woman should have (I’ll write about that soon), introduced me to this gem.

best children's books - night rabbitsNight Rabbits, by Lee Posey is at once soft and tender, sad and strong. The language, gentle as a whisper, envelops you in the quiet world of a little girl who solves a conflict with her father in a way that ultimately tells the story of the things we do for love.

Do you know these? What are your current favorites?

How and Why to Correct Your Children’s Grammar

When we understand the mechanisms behind how children learn and refine their language skills, we can leverage that knowledge into ways to enhance their language development.

The competition model of language development, which posits that “language development draws heavily on the input children hear”  is one theory that we can use to help children develop strong language skills. According to this model of learning, “children acquire language forms that they hear frequently and reliably….” (Turnbull & Justice, 2012, p. 62).

children's grammar

Putting aside for the time being all the esoteric debate about prescriptive versus descriptive grammar and Standard English and dialects, etc., let’s assume that you want your children to speak English “properly.”* Knowing that, according to the competition model, your children will acquire forms of language that they hear frequently, it’s important that they, yep, frequently hear, examples of proper Standard English grammar. (I’m just going to call this “good grammar” from this point, though the phrase is politically charged.)

For sure, they will say things that are incorrect. But as they are exposed to language more and more, incorrect forms are replaced by correct forms. Put succinctly:

In the competition model, multiple language forms compete with one another until the input strengthens the correct representation and the child no longer produces an incorrect form. (Turnbull & Justice, 2012, p. 62)

So this is why we need to correct their grammar: You’re providing the input they need to acquire good grammar. And I hate to say it, but this kind of input is becoming increasingly rare. However, we don’t want to be grammar police with our children either.

Here’s how to gently and effectively encourage our children to learn and employ good grammar:

1)  Model good grammar. 

Since the input children receive is such a huge, if not the biggest, determiner of the kind of language they will speak, it’s crucial that they receive a very healthy dose of exposure to language that is full of proper usage. It’s best if these examples are woven into the language we speak with them, what is read aloud to them, even (perhaps especially) what they watch. So we should be aware of the quality of input and provide plenty of opportunity for exposure to a high standard of language.

2) Correct through gentle repetition.

Correcting grammar doesn’t have to be tiresome to either the parent or the child. In fact, it’s probably best to keep grammar correction low-key and pleasant so that it doesn’t become associated with negative feelings. For example, when a child says something like, “I goed to the store with Daddy,” you can simply repeat the correct form, but within the context and flow of the conversation: “Oh, you went to the store with Daddy?” This input strengthens the correct form. In some situations, sentence construction makes it impossible to model in this way. Take the dreaded, “Me and him went to the soccer game.” In keeping with gentle correction, try something like, “Oh, that sounds so fun. But we say ‘Noah and I went to the soccer game,’ okay? Who won?” The kids tend to take it in stride, and it really makes a difference.

It’s never too early to consider our children’s language development. They start listening to us even while in the womb! Language development is truly a human miracle and in so many ways the foundation for learning and therefore a heavy influencer of success in many aspects not only of communication, but of life itself. My personal belief, and I know there are many who would agree, is that equipping our children with the use of good grammar is giving them a skill that will only serve them well. Let’s do it!

For more along these lines, see 7 Ways to Boost Language Development Simply by How You Respond.


*See, I can’t even help putting that in quotes because of the class I’m taking now about grammar. It reminds me of the feeling I had in my children’s literature class at Berkeley, which, when looking forward to it, I had some kind of dreamy notion we’d talk about Sendak and Lobel and maybe the evolution of children’s stories from nightmarish fairy tales to something more palatable to a modern sensibility. But no, no, no, that class, in addition to requiring us to buy the professor’s mammoth guide to children’s literature (which we never used)  just made me want to stand up and shout : “I’m sorry I’m white, okay????!” I did, however, read Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry in that class, for which I’m grateful.


– Turnbull, K., & Justice, L. (2012). Language Development from Theory to Practice (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey.