The Development of Print Knowledge

Michelle Morgado, MA, CCC-SLP | Speech-Language Pathologist
October 7, 2019

Children start to learn language from the day they are born. As they grow and develop so do their speech and language skills. They learn to understand and use language to express their thoughts, ideas, and feelings to communicate with others. 

During this stage of early speech and language development, children also learn skills that are important to the development of literacy skills (reading and writing). This is known as Emergent Literacy or Early Literacy. This begins at birth and continues through the preschool years.

Early exposure to print

Children are exposed to print (e.g. books, writings on the grocery list) in everyday situations (e.g. home, daycare) well before they enter elementary school. Parents can see their child’s appreciation for print grow as they begin to recognize words that rhyme, scribble with crayons, name some letters in the alphabet, and eventually combine what they know about speaking and listening with what they know about print indicating their readiness to read and write.

The development of print knowledge

Because of the exposure children have to print, their development of print knowledge also starts early.  Early steps for developing print knowledge include:

  • Understanding what symbols mean
  • Making inferences based on the size and length of the print
  • Making inferences based on their unique design
  • Understanding the directionality of print
  • Making connections between spoken and written language
  • Understanding how letters relate to sound

Warning signs

The experiences with talking and listening learned during the preschool years prepare children to learn to read and write during early elementary school years. This means that children who enter school with weaker verbal abilities are much more likely to experience difficulties in learning literacy skills than those who don’t. Children who are at risk for challenges with literacy may exhibit these warning signs:

  • Persistent “baby” talk
  • Absence or lack of interest for nursery rhymes
  • Absence or lack of interest in joint book readings
  • Difficulty understanding simple directions
  • Difficulty learning or remembering names of letters
  • Failure to recognize or identify own name

What can you do?

Children need to engage in learning about learning literacy through meaningful experiences. You, as a parent, can help your child develop literacy skills during regular activities without adding extra time to your day. Show them reading and writing is part of everyday life and can be fun and enjoyable. This can include drawing your child’s attention to print in everyday settings such as traffic signs, store logos, and food containers, engaging with your child in singing, rhyming games, and nursery rhymes and focusing your child’s attention on books by pointing to words and pictures as you read.

Our Reading Therapy program is designed to support children struggling with print development.  Contact us today to find how we can help you and your child.


Dobbels, D. (2007). Using what we know to enhance early literacy programming: An  SLP’s guide to early literacy development & practices [PowerPoint Slides].  Retrieved from:

Roth, F.P., Paul, D.R., & Pierotti, A.M. (2006). Emergent Literacy: Early Reading and Writing Development. Let’s Talk: For People with Special Communication Needs, American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Retrieved from:

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