Effective Practice Guides

Print and Alphabet Knowledge: Do


Try the following practices with preschool-aged children. Use as much of the child’s home or tribal language as possible. Find out how home visitors can put these practices to work with families.


  • Draw children’s attention to different features of print in books and other materials in the environment (e.g., in English and many other languages, print is read from left to right and top to bottom; picture books have a front and back cover, title, author, and illustrator).
  • Provide different kinds of print in the environment (e.g., menus, brochures, magazines, bus or train schedules), and in children’s home or tribal language when available. Explain what they are for, how they are read, and how they are used. Encourage children to use them in their play.
  • Read a variety of alphabet books, like those with connected text and those with only a letter and several pictures on each page. Bring key features of the books to the children’s attention (e.g., a letter on each page and pictures of those things whose names begin with that letter).
  • Use printed names to label children’s cubbies, cots, or other personal items such as backpacks or water bottles. Add photos to support children who are just starting to notice printed materials.
  • Use children’s printed names during transitions and other learning experiences to name letters and sounds and point out interesting things about letter-sound relationships. For example:
    • Some letters can stand for more than one sound, and letter names in one language may sound different than the same letters in another language (e.g., the letter /r/ in English is pronounced like the word “are,” and the letter /r/ in Spanish is pronounced “eh-rray," with a trilled /r/ sound).
  • Name letters and sounds and point out interesting things about letter-sound relationships in other written words that are meaningful to children (e.g., mommy, papa, abuela, names of siblings and pets, print on food boxes, words in favorite books).

Home Visitors

Home visitors can support parents in identifying, adapting, and trying the practices listed above during home visits and group socializations. Here are more ideas.

  • Talk with parents about their child’s experiences with print and alphabet letters as well as their own. Keep in mind that some children and families come from rich oral language traditions but have little experience with print (e.g., some languages use non-alphabetic writing and some are not written down). Knowing this information can help you and parents plan print and alphabet experiences that are appropriate for the child, build on the child’s language and literacy background, and support the child in learning English.
  • Work with parents to identify environmental print (e.g., food labels and boxes, mail, coupons, traffic signs, stores, restaurants, billboards) they could use to help their child learn how print is used and about letters that make up the words. Share ways to make these discoveries fun and enjoyable for the child.
  • Share alphabet books and those with predictable patterns that are part of your program’s lending library or that can be found in the local library. Demonstrate ways parents can use the books with their child.

[1] California Department of Education, California Preschool Curriculum Framework Volume 1 (Sacramento, CA: California Department of Education, 2010), 140–145, Alphabetics and Word/Print Recognition, http://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/cd/re/documents/psframeworkkvol1.pdf [PDF, 8.8MB].

[2] National Center on Early Childhood Development, Teaching, and Learning (NCECDTL), "Planned Language Approach: Book Knowledge and Print Concepts" (Washington, DC: Author, 2019), https://eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/pdf/no-search/dtl-pla-book-knowledge-print-concepts.pdf.

[3] National Center on Early Childhood Development, Teaching, and Learning (NCECDTL), "Planned Language Approach: Alphabet Knowledge and Early Writing" (Washington, DC: Author, 2019), https://eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/pdf/no-search/pla-alphabet-knowledge-early-writing.pdf.

Topic:School Readiness

Resource Type: Article

Last Updated: December 3, 2019