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Read to Me! Preschoolers and Emerging Literacy Skills

Updated: Feb 8, 2021

Young children smoothly transition from the snuggly toddler hearing books read at nap and bedtimes, to a curious preschooler who requests, "More!" At times it appears that asking for more and more books at bedtimes is a child's way of delaying the dreaded end to the day and time to sleep. For some this can be true, for others they are sponges that truly want more. Their emerging literacy skills are exploding, and connections are being made including recognizing pictures and words as symbols with meaning, increasing vocabulary, patterns, letter recognition, letter sound correlations, and so much more. The simple task of opening a book and turning the pages and reading the text from left to right introduces children to important early skills.

Have you ever wondered or worried when your preschooler begins writing letters backwards or in a perfect mirror image? They have not yet learned that written words when read start from left and move right: This skill develops with time as do writing skills. Reading and pointing out where you start to read the words and allowing your child to follow along with your finger supports directionality and tracking.

Introducing children to being read to is important, but so is having them "read" books independently. At school I called this Quiet Book time and children 3-5 years would look at books after finishing their snack. Many children in the beginning would insist a teacher read to them or that they didn't know how to read, but with encouragement to look at the pictures and retell the story to themselves, children began to embrace this time alone or with one or two peers looking at a book. Even children who never picked up a book on their own during free choice times began to snuggle with a book, and you could watch as their eyes and mouths moved while "reading". Start your own Quiet Book time and model reading to yourself as your child reads to themselves. Modeling this independence and appreciation for a good book will support not only early literacy skills, but also important life skills.

When choosing books to excite and build upon this time of explosive learning, I have always provided both fiction and nonfiction books to young learners. We discuss the difference between the two and how one is imaginative while the other teaches facts (not real versus real). I also build upon important skills by doing related activities. Below is a list with some of my all time favorites. Happy reading!


The Book with No Pictures by B.J. Norvak Dial Books 2014

You might think a book with no pictures seems boring and serious. Except . . . here’s how books work. Everything written on the page has to be said by the person reading it aloud. Even if the words say . . . BLORK. Or BLUURF. Even if the words are a preposterous song about eating ants for breakfast, or just a list of astonishingly goofy sounds like BLAGGITY BLAGGITY and GLIBBITY GLOBBITY. Cleverly irreverent and irresistibly silly, The Book with No Pictures is one that kids will beg to hear again and again. (And parents will be happy to oblige.)

When I initially saw this book, I was unsure of how the kids would react to it, but they and I loved it. I loved it so much it was my go to book for gifts. This is a book that has a fun play with words and rhyming sounds. The children can then create their own simple book with black and white contrast text and make up silly words that rhyme. This is a great introduction to reading early chapter books which involve less visuals such as My Father’s Dragon to older preschoolers one chapter at a time.

One by Kathryn Otoshi KO Kids Books 2008

Blue is a quiet color. Red’s a hothead who likes to pick on Blue. Yellow, Orange, Green, and Purple don’t like what they see, but what can they do? When no one speaks up, things get out of hand — until One comes along and shows all the colors how to stand up, stand together, and count. As budding young readers learn about numbers, counting, and primary and secondary colors, they also learn about accepting each other's differences and how it sometimes just takes one voice to make everyone count.

This is a great book to use with young children to address bullying like behaviors and how to advocate for yourself by standing up to a bully. Create a community agreement where the class brainstorms what behaviors make children feel safe, and what behaviors are appropriate versus unacceptable.

I Wish I Were A Butterfly by James Howe illustrated by Ed Young HMH books for Young Readers 1984

This book tells the story of a young cricket who wishes he was a butterfly after being told he is ugly by the frog that lives at the edge of Swampswallow pond. As he walks to visit his friend, The Old One, the cricket voices his wish to a variety of insects. Special traits are introduced about each species he meets. In the end, the cricket’s friend, a spider, helps him to see that he is special and convinces the cricket to play her a song while she rebuilds her web. As he plays a song, a butterfly flies overhead and states, “I wish I were a cricket”.

After reading this book, children can be introduced to non-fiction about insects and backyard insects can be brought into the classroom for observation. Crickets can be purchased at a pet store and added to a habitat. Children can write a journal entry. I wish I were a __________, but I’m glad Im be because ____________.

Big Al by Andrew Clements illustrated by Yoshi Atheneum Books for Young Readers 1997

Poor Big Al! He just wants to make friends. And in the whole wide blue sea you can't find a nicer fish. But because Big Al is large and scary-looking, the little fish are afraid to get to know him. What can he do? He tries everything he can think of -- from disguising himself with seaweed to burrowing under the ocean floor so he'll look smaller. But something always goes wrong, and lonely Big Al wonders if he'll ever have a single friend. Then one frightening day, when a fishing net captures the other fish, Big Al gets the chance to prove what a wonderful friend he can be!

Make a class book where each child illustrates and dictates a way for Big Al to disguise himself so that he does not look as scary. Children can also create fish prints by painting a rubber fish mold ( or a real fish. They can write the word fish and draw a picture of the animal.

Inch By Inch by Leo Lionni Harper Collins 1995

This favorite classic picture book introduces children to a winning, winsome inchworm who can measure anything under the sun, from a robin’s tail to a toucan’s beak. When a hungry nightingale threatens to eat him for breakfast unless he can measure her song, the inchworm will have to cleverly solve the dilemma. This is a whimsical and sweet picture book that asks, “Can a song be measured?”

Place a variety of bird and insect related materials (feathers, nests, audubon chipping birds,etc.) in the science area for children to study and explore. Provide rulers and/or inchworm sorters for children to use to measure items in the classroom during free choice times. Introduce these measuring tools first at meeting time, and ask children to measure a song that the teachers sings/play. Can it be measured?

Non-Fiction Books

Little Kids First Big Book of Bugs by Catherine D. Hughes National Geographic Society 2014

PEEK INTO the world of bugs with this delightful introduction to Earth’s insects and other little creatures. Brilliant photographs illustrate every fun-filled page, introducing young readers to dozens of insects and bugs, from honeybees and butterflies to giraffe weevils and crickets.

Provide a variety of materials including real-life and toy specimens in the science area. Include magnifying glasses and additional reference books for children to explore and use. Use a microscope to look up close at butterfly and dragonfly wings.

Tracks, Scats and Signs (Take Along Guides) by Leslie Dendy Cooper Square Publishing 1996*

Become a nature detective with this illustrative, engaging and fun Take-Along-Guide. You may not know where to look, or what to look for, but animal signs are everywhere and this guide will help you learn how to read them. You'll learn how to spot and identify common clues that 17 wildlife species leave behind in the woods, in the fields and along ponds.

Use this book as a reference and have children create their own track book with black ink pads, stamps, and have them draw related illustrations. Take their books outside and look for tracks in the snow or mud. Take large life form animal tracks ( and push into white model magic. Have children then paint when dry.

*This is a series and all are great

Trees, Leaves & Bark (Take Along Guides) by Diane Burns Cooper Square Publishing 1995*

An introduction to trees, leaves, seeds, and more! This book Invites young naturalists to spot and learn information about trees including if they are deciduous or conifers (evergreens). Young children will also learn to identify different species based on their leaves, bark, and seeds. Fun activities are suggested to build upon the concepts introduced in this early field guide.

Have children decorate a lunch size paper bag, and then go outside and collect leaves, bark, sticks, etc. Bring these inside and use this guide and other reference books with magnifying glasses to identify what types of trees the items came from. Create a collage with materials and have children write labels beside the items.

*This is a series and all are great

Because of An Acorn by Lola M. Schaefer and Adam Schaefer Illustrated by Frann Preston-Gannon Chronicle Books 2016

Because of an acorn, a tree grows, a bird nests, a seed becomes a flower. Enchanting die-cuts illustrate the vital connections between the layers of an ecosystem in this magical book. Wander down the forest path to learn how every tree, flower, plant, and animal connect to one another in spiraling circles of life. An acorn is just the beginning.

Have children collect 10 acorns each. Use this as a counting activity to illustrate counting and grouping by tens. Separate acorns with holes and those without. Ask children to hypothesize what made the holes. Open up the acorns with a nutcracker, and empty contents onto a tray. Look inside. Acorn weevils drill holes in the acorn and lay their eggs. The grubs are the larvae that have hatched and eat the meat of the acorn before transforming into their pupa stage.

A Log's Life by Wendy Pfeffer Illustrated by Robin Brickman Aladdin 2007

In this fascinating book, author Wendy Pfeffer and illustrator Robin Brickman introduce readers to the life cycle of a tree. The informative, lyrical text is complemented by stunning, three-dimensional paper sculptures that showcase the forest ecosystem, inspiring readers to take a close look at the trees -- and logs -- in their own backyards.

Go outside and lift up logs. What do you see? Place the sow/pill bugs/woodlice, millipedes, salamanders, worms, etc. on a tray and observe how the animals move. Hypothesize about what they eat and why they are under the log and not walking on the ground. Create mazes for the animals to navigate and observe what they use to sense obstacles in their way.

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