Narrative Skills

Narrative skills are a child’s ability to tell a story and understand how they work. Through exposure to books and reading, children become aware that stories have a beginning, middle, and end. Being able to tell a story or describe an instance in order helps a child develop reading comprehension skills. Often times, caregivers will say that their child hears the same book fifty times and then memorizes the words so they can “read” the book. This is a perfect example of developing narrative skills! Being able to recall details and word order is very important for any future subject they may learn in school.

To support this skill at Winona Public Library, we fill our space with toys that encourage imaginative play. Our dress-up clothes encourage children to recall what they know about each of the professions represented and act them out in appropriate ways. The play kitchen and food encourages children to recall how they’ve seen adults cook in their lives. What goes in the oven? What pieces of the kitchen are hot and require the potholder? They can take down orders, remember them, and deliver food to their friends and caregivers.

This skill is one of the most fun to practice. Any time you play pretend or tell stories, you’re encouraging the building of narrative skills. Here are five simple strategies for home:

·   Narrate play time. If your child is playing with a dinosaur, “What kind of dinosaur is that? Does he have lots of friends? Where’s his favorite place to find food?”

·   To build on the above, when asking questions to open a dialogue with your child, try to avoid questions that can be answered with a “yes” or “no.” Ask who, what, where, when, why questions.

·   Tell the “story” of bedtime to help them learn sequencing. First it’s bath, then brushing teeth, then books, then sleep.

·   Ask your child what their favorite part of the day was. This will not only create a special time for you to share together, but it will also give them an opportunity to reflect and recall instances from their day.

·   Read sequence books together. These are books that add a new link to the chain on each page, such as, “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.” For other titles, check out this book list.

As with any other skill, interaction with adults and caregivers is one of the most effective ways for a pre-reader to improve. Anything can be a chance for narrative skills if you use your imagination! Going through the car wash? Tell a story about the pink and purple foam running down your windshield. Enjoy the time with your child and incorporate these skills where you can, but just know that even a regular conversation is invaluable when it comes to building reading comprehension. For more information or guidance, please visit the Winona Public Library. Our friendly staff is always ready to help you navigate the path of early literacy (and beyond).

Print Motivation and Print Awareness

Print motivation is a child's interest in and enjoyment of books and reading. This is supported when a child is given the opportunity to choose their own books. Children who have a choice in what books are read to them are more likely to want to learn to read and to keep trying, even when it is hard.  Print awareness is the understanding that print and oral language carries meaning. An example of this would be when your child sees the golden arches and knows it’s McDonald’s, without being able to read the word.

To support these skills at Winona Public Library, we have labels in each of our sections that have both words and pictures, so pre-readers are able to figure out what is in that section, even if they don’t know the words quite yet. Being able to discern the characters or topics shelved in the section makes it easier for children to choose their own books to check out. We encourage children to pull books off the shelf, get them in their hands, and really look at them. This may mean more re-shelving for us, but the benefits of autonomy in book selection far outweigh the time it takes to re-shelve a few books.

There are a number of ways you can incorporate these skills in your everyday life. Here are five simple strategies for building both skills:

·   When you’re driving or walking around town, point out logos or pictures. Ask your child what they think that image means.

·   Write uppercase and lowercase letters on a piece of paper. Have your child draw lines to match each upper and lowercase letter. An easy printable is located at the end of this post.

·   Read a book with repetitive or predictable text. Paired with illustrations in picture books, they will be able to help read based on the repetition as well as the pictures in front of them.

·   Create signs for every room in the house together. Whenever they enter that room, they’ll begin to associate the letters in the word to the place.

·   Read a wordless picture book to have them tell you a story all on their own.

The joy a child feels when they are able to connect the dots and figure out a new word is the first step on a journey to developing a lifelong love of reading. Children’s reading skills are developed throughout their lives by the caregivers and adults who surround them. Show your child that you enjoy reading time as much as they do. For more information or guidance, please visit the Winona Public Library. Our friendly staff is always ready to help you navigate the path of early literacy (and beyond).

Use one of these free handouts to practice this skill at home:

Matching Worksheet

Sight Word Scavenger Hunt: Cut out the pictures, hide them around the room, and have your child check off each word they find.

Upper and Lower Case Matching

Phonological Awareness

Phonological awareness is the awareness of speech sounds, such as rhyming and syllables. This skill helps to build on the vocabulary a child already possesses. If they know how one “-at” word ends, such as bat, then they will be able to use their knowledge of that sound to read other words, such as cat or hat. What’s unique about this skill is that its development continues long past the typical early literacy stage. Once taught how to utilize this skill, children can implement it in their reading as they grow from early reader books to chapter books and beyond.

The best way to build this skill is by hearing words out loud. Sometimes words that rhyme don’t look exactly like each other, but their sounds are very similar. Here are some simple strategies to practice at home:

·   Write two columns on a page. Each column contains one word that matches a word in the other column. Have your child draw a line to connect the two rhyming words.

·   Put out items on the table. Ask your child to choose the item that rhymes with whatever word you say.

·   Take a look at items around the room and clap together how many syllables each word has. You can switch it up to tap your toes, slap your knees, or jump with each syllable.

This skill can sometimes be one of the most difficult. It’s not as easy to illustrate at times, and it can feel more like drills or exercises rather than fun. One of the best ways to curb that feeling is to incorporate movement and music. Dancing out syllables, acting like animals, jumping to the beat of a nursery rhyme can all be fun ways to bring rhyming alive. For more information or guidance, please visit the Winona Public Library. Our friendly staff is always ready to help you navigate the path of early literacy (and beyond).

Use one of these free handouts to practice this skill at home:

Ice Cream Rhyming

Rhyming Match

Letter/Image Match: Cut out the pieces and have your child match each picture with the letter it starts with.


Vocabulary can be described in its most basic sense as “learning new words.” Words and their meanings are a foundation for literacy development and reading comprehension. It’s kind of like the old adage, “You have to learn to walk before you can run.” This skill is strongly supported when a child is read to daily by an adult in his or her life. This could be reading books together at night, reading the names of items at the grocery store, or even simply talking aloud about what you’re doing.

To help support our youngest learners, the Winona Public Library hosts two storytimes per week that include carefully chosen picture books, complementary songs & activities, and a craft at the end that brings everything together. Throughout our storytimes, we build a dialogic reading conversation. This means that we create a dialogue out of what’s happening in the story rather than simply reading the page word for word. This brings about an awareness of vocabulary, predictive knowledge, and narrative skills.

There are a number of ways you can implement vocabulary development at home. The best part about building vocabulary is that it can be done anywhere. Start with these five simple strategies and build as you go:

·   Open a conversation about what’s going on at that moment. Example: “Time to put your shoes on! First the left foot, then the right foot. Look at all the colors you have on your shoes. Can you name them all for me?”

·   Play telephone. Pretend to talk on the phone with your child. Have a conversation about anything and don’t be embarrassed if someone hears you. This builds their vocabulary and their imagination.

·   Open a book and point to items on the page. Example: “What animal do you see on this page? Right, a big bear! Where do you think he lives? Does he look happy or mad? Does he sleep all winter or stay awake? What do you think his favorite food is?”

·   Gather random objects from around the house (seriously, even a paper towel roll is great). Put them out on the table and play a game of “I Spy” with your child. If they don’t know the word for something, slowly sound it out with them.

·   Take a walk together and talk about what you see. Example: “That tree is a maple tree. Did you know its leaves turn yellow and orange when it starts to get cold? It’s so much taller than the tree next to it! I wonder if that tree is older than the other ones. What do you think?”

Don’t stress yourself out about practicing vocabulary every day. One of the most effective ways to build literacy skills is to simply spend time together. For more information or guidance, please visit the Winona Public Library. Our friendly staff is always ready to help you navigate the path of early literacy (and beyond).

Use one of these free handouts to practice at home:

Word puzzles

I Spy

Letter Knowledge

Letter knowledge is knowing that the same letter can look different, as well as knowing that each letter makes a sound. When putting the letter sounds together, children are able to “sound out” the full word. This is a foundational skill needed for reading full words and sentences.

To support this skill at Winona Public Library, we place large letter tags in each of our book sections. These tags indicate the first letter of each last name or character in that section. When a child wants to find the Pete the Cat books, we ask what letter “Pete” starts with, emphasizing the sound of the letter P. Then we search for that letter together.

Letters, shapes, and colors are everywhere you look! The best way to build a knowledge of what each letter sounds like is to say these letters out loud. It helps your child develop a sense of the different sounds each letter can make, and it helps them correlate the shape of the letter with the sound. Here are some simple strategies to incorporate at home:

·   Children are most often interested in the letters that spell his or her name. Take the first letter of your child’s first name and talk about other objects that start with that letter.

·   Point out items while driving, walking, or shopping and ask them to say other words that start with that letter. It helps to emphasize the first letter. Example: “There’s a b-b-building. What else starts with the letter B?”

·   Point out and name different shapes, colors, and letters in books you read. The book doesn’t have to be strictly about shapes or colors. You can find them in any illustration.

·   Write a letter in large print on paper. Give your child a set of small stickers and have them place the stickers along the lines, so they can get used to the shapes each letter holds.

·   Point out the shapes in each letter. All letters can be torn down to basic shapes: circle, triangle, rectangle, square. Knowing the shapes will make it easier to recognize the letters in print.

Conversation is key for this skill. A child can see letters and know they make a word but have no idea what it sounds like if they never hear it out loud. The English language can be really hard sometimes. Letters can sound different depending on what other letters are near them. Help your child realize these differences by speaking them aloud whenever possible. Don’t feel bad if you kindly correct their pronunciation of a word. This helps them to understand different letter sounds while also building a trust that their caregiver will help them navigate the world around them. For more information or guidance, please visit the Winona Public Library. Our friendly staff is always ready to help you navigate the path of early literacy (and beyond).

Use one of these free handouts to practice this skills at home:

Alphabet Flashcards

Fine Motor Skills Worksheet