Four-year-olds are building their knowledge of written language. They want to know what words in their environment say, and can recognize many letters. By the end of this year, many children understand that letters represent the sounds in spoken words and may associate some letters with their sounds. Most children also are capable of writing some legible letters, and know that writing goes from left-to-right and top to bottom.

Phonological Awareness (awareness of sounds)

  • Increased conscious awareness of rhyme and beginning sounds. Child becomes skilled in generating more words that rhyme or that begin with the same sound as a word spoken by an adult. By the end of this year, many children can easily generate a series of 4-5 rhyming words and name 4-5 words that begin with the same sound. They can also isolate the beginning and ending sounds in words, and can form words by blending initial consonant sounds with vowel and consonant sounds that follow (e.g., (sh--op) shop, (c--at) cat, etc.). Some children are able to use this awareness of sounds to create invented spellings of words they wish to write. For most children, it is easier to separate a single consonant from the beginning of a word than to separate consonant blends that begin a word (e.g., "fl-", "pr-", etc.).
  • Developing an awareness of sounds can be encouraged by frequent exposure to nursery rhymes, songs and poems that contain rhyming words, and by adults explicitly labeling these as "rhymes" for the child. Adults can also point out words that begin with the same sound, sound out words for the child, and play games with rhyming words and words that begin with the same sound.
  • Oral vocabulary size indirectly affects a child's ability to break words down into sounds and segments. A larger vocabulary requires the unconscious mental storage of words in segments when a number of words sound alike (e.g., slip, slap; clap, clip; string, strong). This apparently makes it easier for a child to develop a conscious awareness of speech sounds, and then detect and manipulate these in words.

Book Knowledge and Appreciation

  • By the end of this year, many children know that the names of the author and illustrator are on the cover of the book, along with the title of the book. Holds a book right side up based on knowledge of the proper positions for objects pictured.
  • During this year, many children pay attention to fairly long stories that are read skillfully with expression. Most children this age lose interest if a story is interrupted by questions from adults. Discussions are tolerated better after a story has been read.
  • Almost all children have memorized several, familiar, predictable text books, and can recite these, word for word, using pictures to prompt recall.
  • By the end of this year, many children can retell fairly long, familiar stories. They get events in order, and provide considerable detail. Organizing thoughts and summarizing are not yet highly-developed skills in most children this age. As a consequence, a child may go back and fill in details, and may take a while to formulate thoughts when retelling a story. 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.
  • Many children ask all kinds of questions, and make evaluative comments about characters' actions (e.g., "That wasn't very nice!"). Children become better able to respond to questions for which little information is provided by the text, and to which children bring less personal experience.
  • During the year, begins to connect specific authors with specific books, and to recognize multiple books by the same author.
  • Further development of appreciation of different kinds of books. Knows to seek out information in non-fiction books. By the end of this year, children have a good understanding of fiction and non-fiction, and of fantasy fiction versus realistic fiction.
  • 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. Shows strong preference for familiar books when using books independently, but may also show interest in books that have not been read aloud. May request visits to the library to get books if library use has been encouraged by adults.

Print Awareness and Concepts

  • During this year, begins to base judgments about "wordness" based on specific graphic elements used, rejecting as words any string that contains anything other than letters. By the end of this year, most children know that numbers are not letters. Some children begin to see that space separates printed words. Many children know that there are two forms of each letter — uppercase and lowercase.
  • Many children begin to ask where in a book a word they have heard read aloud appears. They also ask what words in their environment say. When children attempt to read print they see in the environment, or pretend to read favorite stories, most follow lines of print by sweeping their finger from left to right and from top to bottom of a page, but do not point to individual words. By the end of this year, a few children use their fingers to point word for word as they read text in familiar predictable books.

Copyright 2002-2007 Public Broadcasting Service. Reprinted from with persmission of the Public Broadcasting Service.

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