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Why Toddler Parents Need to Know Print Concepts


Written By Gracie Revland
May 18, 2021

Your toddler is becoming older, and you know your reading journey is going to start in the next few years. You might buy them some letter blocks or sing the alphabet song to help them start to learn their letters. There absolutely no harm in this, but there is actually a first step that is more important than Letter Knowledge.

daughter and mom reading children's book

Let me introduce you to my long-time friend, Print Concepts. And guess when the best time to start on it is? Toddlerhood!

A common misconception of parents with young children is that reading readiness comes from solely understanding letters and sounds. As a Kindergarten teacher, it was always a topic at the first parent-teacher conference. Parents would come to me saying their child is ready to read because they know all their letters, only to find out we’d have to back track because they had no concept of print.

Print Concepts come before learning letters and sounds, yet nobody is talking about it. We hear all the time how important it is to read to your toddler and Print Concepts will help you understand WHY.

Below, I’ll explain Print Concepts 101 and 5 easy ways to start to incorporate teaching Print Concepts into you story time.

daughter and mom reading children's book

What Are Print Concepts?

Print concepts are your basic understanding of print and that it holds meaning. It is the base of reading and needs to be concrete before your child starts reading. The more a child is exposed and comfortable with print concepts before reading, the easier it will be for them to start. Over and over again, we have heard how important it is to read to your child. Print concepts are one of the reasons why.

Think about teaching a child to ride a bike.

The first thought is pedaling, but you quickly realize there are other side skills you need to teach, such as steering and balance. Children are often exposed to some of these skills with tricycles or other riding toys, which aid them in learning to ride a bike. Without those prior skills though, riding a bike becomes a lot harder.

Teaching how to read often has the same outcome. You go into it teaching letters and then realize you also need to teach concepts about the book, reading direction, and other aspects of the print concept if they don’t have them yet. Similar to the bike side skills, the more the child is exposed to these things through adults reading to them, the better they are prepared to master it!

mom reading to daughter

Five Easy Ways You Can Teach Print Concepts

Read to your child

You hear how important this is all the time, but reading to your child is their first exposure to understanding print holds meaning.

Point to words while reading

Showing them that you are using those words to tell the story helps them understand that print has meaning.

Return sweep

When you get to the end of a line when reading, show them how you move to the next sentence’s beginning. Return sweeps teach reading direction and expose them to the motions of rolling their eyes from one line to the next.

Point out words vs. letters

Make sure to point out when something is a letter vs. a word. Teaching that words have meaning and that letters are combined to make those words is challenging but essential. (Even move on to sentences if they are getting it!)

Teach parts of the book

Front cover, back cover, title page, spine- Teaching parts of the book help your child become more familiar with a book and navigate one.

When it comes to learning, exposure is critical. These tips don’t need to be drilled into your toddler, but more exposure equals better understanding. So when reading to your child, remember these tips and open up their world to print concepts!


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Gracie Revland

Hi! I’m Gracie Revland •

One of the two mamas who created Supporting Chaos. It's hard to put into words how excited we are to grow this community of support! So all I can say is thank you so much for being here...