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Typical and Atypical Language Development

Early Childhood Literacy Strategies
Literacy Activities
Influence of Family and Culture on Literacy
Structure of Language
Typical and Atypical Language Development
Emergent Literacy Development
Emergent Literacy Strategies
Research Based Practices
Favorite Links
About Me
My Qualifications
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How is my child developing?

Typical Language Development:
Children in the Emergent Literacy Stage of Development are about 3-5 (some say 7) years old or Pre-Kindergarten through First Grade. 
They are learning Concepts about Print:
* we read words, not pictures, but pictures help us understand the story
* letters make up words, words make up sentences, sentences can turn into a book. 
* we read from left to right
*there is a front cover and back cover to books
Children are learning that they can read for entertainment.
They are writing symbols for sounds they hear (phonemes)
They are learning sight words (words that don't follow the rules)
Keep in mind that children develop at different rates.

Atypical Language Development:
Atypical Language is the opposite of everthing on the left of this page.
"Connie Juel (1998) has shown that nearly 90% of the first graders who were behind their peers in reading were still in the bottom group four years later; but by them, the distance between them and the average readers was immense" (Gillet, 2000, p.23).

Stages of Development:

From birth to age 3, most babies and toddlers become able to:

  • Make sounds that imitate the tones and rhythms that adults use when talking.
  • Respond to gestures and facial expressions.
  • Begin to associate words they hear frequently with what the words mean.
  • Make cooing, babbling sounds in the crib, which gives way to enjoying rhyming and nonsense word games with a parent or caregiver.
  • Play along in games such as "peek-a-boo" and "pat-a-cake."
  • Handle objects such as board books and alphabet blocks in their play.
  • Recognize certain books by their covers.
  • Pretend to read books.
  • Understand how books should be handled.
  • Share books with an adult as a routine part of life.
  • Name some objects in a book.
  • Talk about characters in books.
  • Look at pictures in books and realize they are symbols of real things.
  • Listen to stories.
  • Ask or demand that adults read or write with them.
  • Begin to pay attention to specific print such as the first letters of their names.
  • Scribble with a purpose (trying to write or draw something).
  • Produce some letter-like forms and scribbles that resemble, in some way, writing.

From ages 3-4, most preschoolers become able to:

  • Enjoy listening to and talking about storybooks.
  • Understand that print carries a message.
  • Make attempts to read and write.
  • Identify familiar signs and labels.
  • Participate in rhyming games.
  • Identify some letters and make some letter-sound matches.
  • Use known letters (or their best attempt to write the letters) to represent written language especially for meaningful words like their names or phrases such as "I love you."

At age 5, most kindergartners become able to:

  • Sound as if they are reading when they pretend to read.
  • Enjoy being read to.
  • Retell simple stories.
  • Use descriptive language to explain or to ask questions.
  • Recognize letters and letter-sound matches.
  • Show familiarity with rhyming and beginning sounds.
  • Understand that print is read left-to-right and top-to-bottom.
  • Begin to match spoken words with written ones.
  • Begin to write letters of the alphabet and some words they use and hear often.
  • Begin to write stories with some readable parts.


Sources: Gillet, J.W., Temple, C. (2000). Understanding Reading Problems: Assessment and Instruction (5th Ed.) Addison, Wesley, Longman, New York:NY. Tompkins, G. (2006) Literacy for the 21st Century: A Balanced Approach (4th ed.) Prentice Hall, Saddle River: NJ. p.97.  The U.S. Department of Education: