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Child Development Tracker: Literacy From Age 3 to 4

— PBS Parents
Updated on Feb 18, 2011

Three-year-olds are learning their letters, but may also refer to numbers as "letters." They notice print in the environment, and may ask what it means. They also realize that print in books tells a reader what to say. During the year, scribbles begin to appear more like letters, and children may string several of these "letters" together to form mock words. They become aware of the uses for writing, and may dictate words for adults to write down.

Phonological Awareness (awareness of sounds)

  • Increases ability to identify individual sounds and separate syllables in spoken language. During this year, becomes more consciously aware of rhyming words in nursery rhymes and predictable text books. By the end of this year, may comment about words in familiar books and poems that rhyme. Also, becomes more consciously aware of words that begin with the same sound, and begins to comment about similarities in beginning sounds heard in familiar nursery rhymes and predictable text books. By the end of this year, many children can judge correctly whether two words spoken by an adult do or do not rhyme, and do or do not begin with the same sound. Most children can clap the syllable segments in their own names.
  • What adults can do to nurture sound awareness in children of this age: expose them frequently to nursery rhymes, songs and poems that contain rhyming words; explicitly label rhyming words as "rhymes" for the child; point out words that begin with the same sound; and play games that encourage children to identify rhyming words and words that begin with the same sound.

Book Knowledge and Appreciation

  • Uses knowledge of the pictures on the cover of familiar books to choose the books that he or she wants adults to read. Goes through a book from front to back, page by page. Holds a book right side up based on knowledge of the proper positions for objects pictured. Understands that illustrations carry meaning but cannot be read.
  • During this year, many children show an increased ability to pay attention to stories that have characters and events with whom they can identify. Many children like to hear the same story read many times, often more than once in one sitting, and repeatedly over weeks or months. Children ask questions about what happened and why.
  • Attention to stories is greater if stories are read in the child's native language, and if children have adequate oral vocabulary and language skill. Attention is also greater when stories are read with great expression, and when there are few interruptions for discussion.
  • Many children memorize the text to simple predictable books that they hear often, such as Brown Bear, Brown Bear, and recite these texts, word for word, using pictures to prompt recall.
  • By the end of this year, many children can retell, by paraphrasing, simple stories they have heard multiple times. They relate critical events in correct order, but may leave out some details or focus on favorite or remembered parts. In addition, children improve their abilities to predict what happens next in a story (using illustrations and prior knowledge as a guide). They also begin to understand the literal meaning of plays, poems and stories and may act out stories in dramatic play.
  • Children ask "who," "what," "where," and "why" questions, and become better able to respond to "why" questions posed by adults if the answer is fairly obvious (e.g., the emotion of a crying character in a story is correctly labeled "sad"). Shows some uncertainty when responding to "how" and "when" questions.
  • Recognizes many books by their covers and knows what story is in them, but usually does not link specific authors to specific books.
  • Begins to understand that some books have stories, other books have information and still others have poems. Begins to understand that some stories are "pretend" (i.e., fantasy), and that events could not happen in the real world.
  • Interest and enjoyment of books is highly variable, depending on availability of books and whether adults spend time sharing these with children in positive ways.
  • May choose books from among things available to entertain self, draw pictures based on stories, etc. Shows strong preference for familiar books when using books independently.
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