This table summarizes the seven stages of emergent reading and how caregivers can support the development of each stage.

Stage Approximate Age What Happens? How Can Caregivers Help?
1. What is a book? Birth-2 Children perceive differences between books and toys, learn to enjoy books, appreciate story time with caregivers. Frequent lap reading. Keep books within range of children’s interests. Never force reading. Store books separately from toys and model caring for books.
2. Learning how books work and responding to books 1-3 Children manipulate books, learn where to begin reading, turn pages, and move parts of books. They label pictures and actions and respond by pointing, vocalizing, and moving their bodies. Point out characters, objects, and actions in pictures. Encourage children to demonstrate receptive language by pointing and expressive language by naming objects. Promote movement with stories and dramatization.
3. Listening and participating 2-5 Children enjoy and learn from repetition of stories. They begin to use dialogue, follow the sequence of a story, and repeat playful language. Use interactive language and expand on what children say about pictures. Leave off words at the end of lines to see whether the child fills in the phrase. Model use of book vocabulary-in new situations.
4. "Reading" by inventing stories for pictures 3-5 Children first make up stories related to pictures in books; second, focus on individual pictures, then follow actions in pictures; third, use dialogue; and fourth, give a monologue retelling the whole story. Encourage children to spend time alone with books, perhaps at naptime, in the car, or at bedtime. Listen to their retellings and make comments to help them move toward the next stage of retelling. Point out letters and words that support their retellings.
5. Story retelling combines focus on print, pictures, and memory 4-6 Children are developing concepts about print and words. They combine strategies of using picture clues, knowledge of story structure, and print when retelling stories. Continue to read aloud and help children gain meaning from stories. Go back through books after reading once and point out letters, words, punctuation, and so on. Help children find letters and words they know in context.
6. Focus on letters, sounds, and words during reading 5-7 Children focus on reading words, using what they know about phonics and word recognition. Comprehension may suffer for a while when children attend to the elements of language. While children are focused on the parts of language, adults can help them maintain interest in the meaningful parts of reading by talking about stories and participating in dramatization or related music or craft activities.
7. Coordinate knowledge of print and story conventions 5-8 Children use a variety of reading strategies to gain meaning from print. Prediction and use of background knowledge support reading. Even though children are becoming independent readers, it is important to read books aloud that are at a slightly higher level than they can read independently. Model strategies that they may be ready to try and demonstrate your own reading processes.

Source: Adapted from Early Childhood Language Arts (2nd ed.) by M. Jalongo, 2000, Boston: Allyn & Bacon; and “Children’s Emergent Reading of Favorite Storybooks: A Developmental Study” by E. Sulzby, 1985, Reading Research Quarterly, 20, pp. 458–481.