Ten ways to instil a love of literacy

Dr Sue Allingham | June 2024

Instilling a love of reading at an early age is the key that unlocks the door to lifelong learning. I’m Dr Sue Allingham, and I’d like to share ten ways to encourage a passion for literacy throughout the day.

For the love of literacy

My granddaughter is twenty-one months old. Watching her literacy skills grow and develop is fascinating. But what do I mean when I say literacy? That seems to depend on two things: the age of the child, and whether they attend any type of education provision.

Child interacting with teachers hands

Taking a quick look online, you’ll find the definition of literacy throws up a basic statement of “the ability to read and write,” but then develops this as “knowledge of a particular subject, or a particular type of knowledge.” Compare this to the definition from the National Literacy Trust as: “Literacy is the ability to read, write, speak and listen in a way that lets us communicate effectively and make sense of the world.”

However, I think the skills have been listed in the wrong order and surely, reading and writing should come after speaking and listening. I see my granddaughter chat away while sitting with a book, very happily creating her own story from what she sees. She is yet to learn that speech can be recorded in print or with a pencil or keyboard.

My granddaughter is not yet two years old, and she is excited by finding out new words for things, and playing with how they sound. She reads book after book, pointing out pictures, chattering away about them and giving them sounds. It is increasingly clear that there is a real danger of this sort of joy being lost as she, and all children like her, start in the education system. When children are still playing with literacy, how relevant is it to start thinking about phonics?

Keep an open mind

This made me reflect. Of course, learning phonics is an important skill that has an essential place, but the teaching will fall on stony ground if the foundations and joy of literacy are not already in place.

Julie Fisher, author of Starting from the Child: Teaching and Learning in the Foundation Stage describes the role of adults in contributing to the “cognitive jigsaw.” 

“The construction of this personal cognitive jigsaw has many parallels with the construction of the traditional wooden puzzle.  At first, the pieces of the cognitive jigsaw are picked seemingly at random. Sometimes the piece fits straight away; sometimes it is turned round and round – with astonishing patience – before the fit is finally made.

“It is the skill of the educator to be aware of the pieces of the jigsaw that the child already has in place and whether or not they have been fitted together correctly.

“The teacher, whether an adult or another child, needs to be informative without being imposing.  Disaffection occurs because the initiative has been taken away from the learner and the construction no longer makes sense.”

Child painting at table with teacher

My ten tips

So here is my list of ten ways to instil a love of literacy. This applies to families and teachers alike and to children of all ages. 

  1. Remember that literacy is everywhere 
    Literacy skills are not just part of one set session or lesson, they are part of everyday life.  For example, when out for a walk my granddaughter points at everything, wanting words.  She then rehearses what she has learnt – ‘tree’ and ‘car’ for example. This can easily be continued as children get older.  Think about how children love the names of dinosaurs, the parts of the solar system, or the vocabulary of their favourite game or sport. 
  2. Notice what interests the child 
    Do the children have time to play and develop their ideas without adults directing? Take time to think about when to step in and when to step back and let them develop and follow their interests.
  3. Enjoy a chat 
    Even the youngest children enjoy a chat. Chatting and discussion encourage vocabulary and build confidence. Have fun and talk about anything and everything.   Even a nonsense chat about nothing in particular can boost literacy skills. Make up stories and enjoy the use of words and language along with the children. 

    Children and teacher looking at a book
  4. Talk about what you are doing no matter how mundane  
    Even everyday chores and activities can generate conversations.  Walking down the street, shopping, cooking and cleaning are all great conversation starters. 
  5. Point out labels, signs and notices 
    Two of my sons started to point out brand names and car badges before they were three years old.  Reading is everywhere in the environment.  It’s all about noticing things and making links to prior knowledge – that cognitive jigsaw.
  6. Point out what you can hear 
    Listening is such a key literacy skill.  What do we really hear? And remember, if there is always background noise, like a TV or radio, it can stifle conversation.
  7. Work on gross motor skills 
    Don't worry just about tripod grip and letter formation. Encourage lots of energetic physical activity to develop both gross and fine motor skills. Unless a child is physically confident, they will not feel as secure as they might with all the skills of literacy.
  8. Share whatever you are reading or writing 
    Even if it is just a list, cookbook, or catalogue, what you are reading will model to the children that what we say can also be recorded. This then links to more knowledge. Fill your home with lots of things to read and share, it’s a brilliant way for children to explore literacy.
  9. Have resources that can be lined up, or sequenced 
    These resources can be anything, natural or manmade. Notice particularly how the children use wooden blocks. Early childhood scholars believe that symbolic/fantasy play develops children’s social skills, basic mathematical abilities, early literacy concepts, and behavioural self-regulation. Through sorting and sequencing, children of all ages are involved in play that boosts the skills of representation and even sentence structure.
  10. Enable the child to be the expert 
    Literacy is not something that is learnt in discrete blocks (silos). It is part of everything we do, and should be part of everything the children do too, both at home and at school. Let the children lead the conversation and show you their interests: they are the experts! 

Boy at table interacting with teacher standing next to him


In England we are required to teach to the Statutory Framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) 2024 to the end of the Reception year, and the National Curriculum from there on. Literacy is increasingly being driven by phonics, handwriting and decoding and I acknowledge the pressure educators are under to follow that. However, what I have shared are ways to balance this out.

We must enable the child to be an expert in whatever they are interested in and encourage them in developing a love for literacy early on. This way we will support their future learning, and their future lives!


Communication & Language, Literacy, Book Corner
All ages
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