An A to Z of Learning to Read: Print Awareness

An A to Z of Learning to Read, Part 2-Print Awareness. A series by My Little Bookcase

If learning to read is like baking a cake, as I described in the first post of this series, then developing an awareness of print could be seen as the first step in the process. While many of the ingredients for reading are interrelated and can be learned simultaneously, developing an awareness of print is something that can be introduced to young children-even babies- because it does not involve the use of specific skills such as recognising sounds or letters of the alphabet.


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Basically, print awareness is having the ability to recognise symbols (which include letters and numbers) around us and understand that these symbols carry a message.

Some more specific ingredients related to print awareness include:

Concepts of Print (Print Concepts):

The basic components that underpin how text works. Learning to read begins with an awareness of these understandings. Some of these concepts include:

  • — Words are made up of letters
  • — Letters can be presented in uppercase and lowercase
  • — Words are read in a particular direction (From left to right and from top to bottom)
  • — Letters and words have structure (Beginning/First, Middle, End/Last)
  • — Punctuation is used to organise words

Environmental Print:

Is made up of words, letters, symbols and numbers seen in the world around us (e.g. on billboards, shop fronts, magazines, bus timetables etc.)

Prior Knowledge:

Specific knowledge, understandings and skills one gains though all of their life experiences to help them make meaning of a text being read. When reading, children retrieve and apply this prior knowledge to interpret information and make meaning of text to assist them in decoding words.


A mental bank of familiar words, their meanings and pronunciations that form part of a person’s prior knowledge.


1. Read Everyday

There are MANY benefits to reading everyday with children but in preparation for learning to read independently, being read to daily exposes children to print, a range of text types, a wide vocabulary and different uses of language features.  These all help to build an awareness of print, which is the foundation for learning to read. Try these tips for reading aloud.

2. Play and explore the world

Don’t underestimate the power or play and having children in tow when running daily errands. It is these daily experiences that form a child’s prior knowledge, and prior knowledge is what helps a person connect to a story and make sense of a text.

3. Provide your children with independent and unlimited access to books

Providing children with the freedom to personally explore books, in their own way and in their own time, is a rich book experience that will contribute to their pre-reading development. More benefits are outlined in this post about independent access to books.

4. Play with books

Books don’t always have to be read. We’ve compiled some ideas in this post to help your children play with books.

5. Play or craft with newspapers, magazines or pages from old books

6. Have conversations about environmental print

Do this by pointing out relevant signage or by telling your children when you see and respond to signage (e.g. A STOP sign at an intersection, the female sign on a toilet door, or a sales poster at the local supermarket).

7. Make your home a print rich environment

Surround your home with print by labelling parts of your home with signs or labels (e.g. signs on bedroom and bathroom doors or toy drawers), decorating parts of your home with prints, posters and quotes. Your children might even like to make their own signs. You’ll find some inspiration in our posts on book nooks,  writing stations and themed reading corners.

8. Play I Spy or scavenger hunts

Scavenger hunts or games of I Spy can be played to name particular objects (which build vocabulary) or you can help your child build an awareness of print by asking them to hunt for specific environmental print. Try this game of Print Explorers.

Environmental Print Scavenger Hunt Task_ My Little Bookcase

9. Encourage your children to ‘write’ and scribble

Set up invitations for your children to write by supplying them with writing materials. Children don’t need to be able to form letters for this to be a valuable task. When your children have finished ‘writing’, ask them to read or translate their message. This practice will help children to develop an understanding that print carries a message or an instruction. For more information read this post about pretend writing.

10. Write messages for your child

Writing and reading messages to your children (on post-it notes, light boxes, whiteboards or in lunch boxes etc.) will also teach your child that you are using print to convey a message to them (even when you can’t be with them).

11. Start a journal or diary

Help your child to start a journal or diary. It could be a general diary or one for recording a specific event (e.g. first year of school, a holiday or a favourite recipe collection).  Translate your child’s thoughts into the diary or journal, and re-read them back to your child. Again, this project will teach your child that their ideas are being recorded by using print.

12. Involve your child in grocery shopping

Ask your child to help you write a shopping list (you can add pictures as symbols or cut and paste photos from supermarket catalogues). At the shops, ask your child to help you search for items on the shelf (They might match pictures/photos from the list with items on the shelf or they might start to recognise logos and branding)

Print Awareness Shopping_ My Little Bookcase

13. Involve your child in cooking

This will help your child to understand that the print in cookbooks provide instructions. Alternatively, you could invite your child to play with cookbooks. We have compiled a list of beautiful children’s cookbooks. for language and literacy products

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About Jackie Small of My Little Bookcase

An A to Z of Learning to Read: Print Awareness


  1. Kate said: On July 20, 2015

    Some great tips here Jackie – I have a child who finds this challenging and there are so many tactics! We’ve been playing eye spy but spelling the whole word. Thanks for sharing

  2. Kate said: On July 24, 2015

    I love these ideas! My kids are always pointing out letters they see when we are out and about. Yesterday my 3yo daughter pointed at an upper case R in the word hairdresser and said P for Me. My eldest was quick to point out that it wasn’t a P because it had an extra stick on it. I loved hearing them discuss the symbols in this way. Rich learning at its best. Thanks for a great post!

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