How to Teach Your Toddler to Read: Print Awareness



Have you observed your toddler picking up his or her favourite bedtime story and turning the pages? While they may not be able to read, their ability to pick up a book facing the right way (i.e. title in front and the right way up) and turn the pages are the beginnings of literacy. 


Before a child can read, they must first understand how a book works. This understanding is known as print awareness or the concept of print. (Note: Print refers to the text). 


Print awareness is formed when the child understands how books work and how to handle one. This can include the ability to hold a book correctly and turn its pages and an awareness of how letters, words are arranged in the book to produce a story or convey a message.


Most children develop print awareness long before they start school because books are all around them.  Books and magazines are lying in the house. They see signs when you take them shopping. There are menus on the table where the family goes for a meal. Their toys come in boxes or have labels. Children learn by observing and mimicking grownups. So, the more you expose your toddler to print, the quicker they will learn to read and write.



If you know the key concepts of print awareness, you will know how to guide your child to develop this awareness. 


 The key concepts of print awareness are:

  • Understanding that print has a message
  • Understanding about the orientation of a book (i.e. the layout. Which is the title or beginning and which is the back or ending)
  • Understanding the direction of text (i.e. the text is read from left to right and top to bottom)
  • Handling a book (how to hold a book the right way up, how to turn pages one at a time and from left to right)
  • Awareness of alphabets or letters
  • Awareness of books, letters, words, spaces and how these come together to form a story


1. Teach your child how to handle a book first

The more opportunities your child has interacting with a book, the quicker they will develop print awareness. 

A good place to start is to help your child become comfortable with handling books.  Teaching the organisation of a book includes explaining the title, the author, the cover, the back cover, the top and bottom of the book, and how letters and words are arranged.  

The next time you read a bedtime story, let your toddler hold the book with you.  Introduce the story by pointing and reading out the title and the author’s name.  You can even play a game with them by asking them to bring the book to you or asking them to point to the title and the author.  

Explain the layout to your child in simple words: “This is the start of the book…”, “We are going to start reading from the top…”.  “This is the title.” “The author’s name is…” Be sure to point to what you are saying. 

Show your child how to turn the pages as you read. You can get them to turn the pages for you. If they cannot turn a page at a time, help them. When you come to the end of the book, explain to them that the story has ended and close the book.

Find opportunities to introduce how books work to your child. When you are at a restaurant, let your child hold the menu. Show them how to turn the pages from start to end. In the library, encourage your child to choose what he or she wants to read.  Read and point out titles, author’s name, cover and so forth to them. 

With practice, your child will soon master how to handle a book.

Upside-down book game

Upside-down book game


What you will need:

A favourite storybook



Deliberately turn their favourite book upside down and pretend to read it to your child. Your toddler will immediately recognise that you are holding the book the wrong way up because the images are upside down.


If your child is not saying anything, then point it out to them. ‘Oh, dear!  This book is upside down!  Let’s turn it to the right side up.’

2. Teach your child about print awareness

Letters, words, sentences, paragraphs, capital letters, punctuation and spaces are a lot of concepts for a toddler to grasp but if you keep reinforcing this, they will pick it up.  Remember, a child learns by mimicking, so, the more we show them the quicker they will acquire the skill. 



As you read to your child, point to the letters and words. Tell them you are starting from the top. “We start reading from the top…” Move your fingers left to right as you point to each word. 

At the end of a sentence, say: “Oh, we’ve reached the end of the sentence.  Let’s start the next sentence…”


Point out punctuations to them. “Here’s the full stop.  That means the sentence has ended…” Point out capital letters. “This is a big ‘J’… it is the start of a new sentence…” 


When your child can recognise letter sounds, you can try tracking or voice to print technique to reinforce learning.  Find a book with little text.  Read the story to your child making sure you point to each word as you read. Then get your child to point to the word as you re-read the text. 


Teach them to tell the difference between pictures and words. Point to a picture and say: “This is a picture of a billy goat…”, “This is the word ‘billy goat’. 


Make it more fun by asking your child to point to letters, words, and pictures while you are reading. 

Nursery Rhyme Reading Game


What you will need:

Chalkboard, easel, or whiteboard

Marker pens or chalk

A fun pointer (get creative and make your own pointer from a drinking straw, a colourful ruler, a fairy wand, a glow stick, and others)



Write the nursery rhyme onto the chalkboard.  Draw a funny cartoon.  Put in capital letters, punctuations and spacing.  Start singing the rhyme with your child.  Point to the words.  Explain about capital letters, spacing and punctuations.   Point to the picture you have drawn.

Repeat by asking your child to point.  Make it more fun by turning into a ‘Spot the alphabet or spot, punctuation or capital letter’ game. 

Parents play such an important role in helping our kids read and write.  We hope you have found this article useful.  Feel free to write to us.  We’d love to hear from you – whether it’s to tell us about your kid’s reading progress or to ask us for advice.   


The teachers of Top Kidz

TopKidz ‘Back to Basics’ 3R’s programme is an effective and systematic approach to teaching literacy and numeracy.   Designed by teachers and early childhood instructors, our programme follows closely the standards set by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment & Reporting Authority (ACARA).  Our programme is open to all children aged 2 to 11 years’ old. We offer a range of flexible classes including childcare, day classes and after school classes.

For more information about our ‘Back to Basics’ programme, please visit our website here


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