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As an early childhood educator, you play a crucial role in capitalizing on the window of opportunity each child has to build early literacy skills.

Keep it natural and keep it fun!

A child’s best learning happens during everyday conversations and play. During fun everyday activities, there’s so much you can do to maximize the early literacy learning of all children in your early childhood setting, whether they’re typically developing, falling behind, or are second-language learners.

Use the tips and resources below to get started.


Build children’s critical thinking

To truly understand the stories they hear, children need to use their critical thinking skills. These are skills like problem-solving, predicting, explaining and evaluating, and they are what allow children to “read between the lines” to figure things out that are not actually stated in the book. Encouraging this kind of thinking early in children’s lives will prepare them for understanding the books they’ll read on their own later.

Here are some tips or promoting the E’s and P’s of critical thinking: Explain, Evaluate, Predict, Project and Problem-solve:

Talk to children about why things happen and encourage them to draw on their existing knowledge and reasoning skills to come up with explanations, as well as the reasons for their conclusions.
Have the children pretend they're going on a trip to the desert and tell them they have only one suitcase to bring with them. Ask each child to name an item they'd put in the suitcase and explain why they think it will be important in the desert.

Encourage children to offer opinions about their own preferences and the relative merits of different objects, events and experiences.
Show the children the Sports section of a newspaper and point out the different sports that are mentioned. Ask the children which sport they think is the hardest to play, and ask them to explain their reasoning.

Make comments and ask questions that encourage children to make plausible predictions about what will happen next.
When introducing a new book, talk about the title and the illustrations on the cover, and ask the children what they think might happen in the story. Make sure to include a follow-up question like, "What makes you think that?"

Encourage children to project or put themselves into other’s minds with questions like, “How do you think he feels?”, “What do you think she’s thinking right now?” or “Why do you think he wants to do that?”
Encourage the children to take on pretend roles and think about how their pretend character feels and what they might do. For example, "Oh no, Little Bear, your chair is broken! How does that make you feel?"

Take advantage of daily opportunities to encourage children to solve problems. Help the children to describe the problem and draw on their knowledge and experiences as they think of alternative solutions and decide on the best option.
While on a walk, point out a problem and encourage the children to think of a solution. For example, "There's a lot of litter on the grass around here. What do you think could be done to stop people from littering here?"

Read more about critical thinking

Build children’s vocabulary

Children with rich vocabularies have an enormous educational advantage. Many studies show that vocabulary is the best predictor of reading comprehension at the end of grades 2 and 3, and that vocabulary growth is directly linked to overall school achievement.

To effectively build children’s vocabulary, you need to “Shoot for the SSTaRS”! Click the button below to learn how to use this fun strategy from Hanen’s ABC ad Beyond™ Program for Building Emergent Literacy in Early Childhood Settings.


Book Reading Checklist

Print off this checklist to see how you’ve been sharing books with children and what other things you might do to maximize their learning.

Hanen Book Nook

Get fun tips for using popular children's books to build children’s early literacy skills.


Shoot for the SSTaRS: A Strategy for Teaching Vocabulary to Promote Emergent Literacy
Learn more about how you can build children’s vocabulary during everyday conversations and activities.

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Teaching Children to Think: Meeting the Demands of the 21st Century
Learn more about the evolving role of early childhood educators and what governments around the world are doing to increase the focus on critical thinking.

Read article

Guidebooks and other helpful tools


ABC and Beyond: Building Emergent Literacy in Early Childhood Settings
Gain practical, research-based strategies for using everyday conversations and activities to promote the six building blocks of literacy: oral language, vocabulary, story comprehension, language of learning, print knowledge and phonological awareness.

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Learning Language and Loving It: A Guide to Promoting Children’s Social, Language, and Literacy Development in Early Childhood Settings
Gain a comprehensive set of strategies for working with young children (birth-5) to increase their participation in social interactions and expand their language and emergent literacy skills during everyday activities and conversations.

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ABC and Beyond and I’m Ready! combo pack
Extend children’s literacy learning into every part of the day with these complementary literacy-building resources. While ABC and Beyond is tailored to educators in early childhood settings, I’m Ready! is written just for parents in straightforward language and with home-based examples for helping parents build their child’s early literacy during book reading and everyday activities.

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Online trainings

Making Book Reading a Time for Interaction and Conversation
Gain concrete strategies for sharing books with children in ways that promote developmentally appropriate emergent literacy skills, such as joint attention, narrative comprehension, and literal and inferential language comprehension.

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Make Words Sparkle for Preschoolers and Kindergarten Children
Learn how to make vocabulary instruction a natural part of shared book reading and everyday conversations with children. Get tips on how to select target words, highlight and convey the meaning of new words, and provide opportunities to use and hear new words in a variety of contexts.

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I'm Ready: Coaching Parents to Prepare Their Preschooler for Literacy Success
Drawing on content from the Hanen guidebook, I’m Ready! How to Prepare Your Child for Reading Success, this e-Seminar shows professionals how they can support parents to nurture their child’s early literacy during shared book reading and everyday activities and conversations.

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