Literacy in Early Years

Literacy is the capacity, confidence and disposition to use language in all its forms. Literacy incorporates a range of modes of communication including music, movement, dance, story telling, visual arts, media and drama, as well as talking, listening, viewing, reading and writing. Contemporary texts include electronic and print based media.

In an increasingly technological world, the ability to critically analyse texts is a key component of literacy. Children benefit from opportunities to explore their world using technologies and to develop confidence in using digital media.

BELONGING, BEING, BECOMING the Early Years Learning Framework for Australia – Learning Outcome 5: Children are effective communicators

Being capable, confident and disposed to using language in all its forms is essential to living a successful life. From successfully acknowledging an acquaintance down the street to structuring and presenting a proposal to land a big job, language is everywhere and it’s an unavoidable part of life. From the moment a child is born they are communicating. From letting out their first cry to express their disapproval of being born, to learning to express themselves with crayons on their bedroom wall, to standing on a stage, singing and dancing at the end of year concert. Having the capacity, confidence and disposition to use language in all its modes will help your child excel through these challenges and the uncountable challenges they will face during the first five years of life, and into the future.

In an increasingly technological world, the ability to critically analyse texts is a key component to literacy. Children are accessing technologies such as YouTube and Netflix on Smart TVs, game consoles like Nintendo Switch and Xbox One, and apps on phones and iPads from a young age. The trouble is that generally, they are left to their own devices (literally) and no one is around to help children critically analyse the texts that they are being exposed to. Technology can be an educator’s greatest tool for helping children explore their world and analyse texts. This requires educators to have a knowledge of the technologies available to them and skills to use them effectively in their practices. Using these technologies helps children explore and make meaning of the world around them. It’s also an encouragement for families to spend time with their children on technology to help then discuss and analyse the texts they are exploring.

It is essential that language is seen as so much more than just talking, reading and writing. Language is simply a formulated expression of ideas that others can understand and make meaning of. Generally, it is words, but idea’s can be expressed through music, visual arts, dance, drama and so much more. Language skills grow as children are given opportunity to express themselves to others. As children are given a voice others have opportunity to see and hear them, and then understand them. Learning to express themselves in ways that others understand and learning how to understand others helps children to explore the world.

Let us explore some of the modes of communication to expand our vocabulary around literacy.


Music has been used as a form of communication forever. Like drums and trumpets in wartimes, National anthems for patriotism and jingles in adds to drive home a message. Music expresses emotion and desire in ways that the mere words cannot. It communicates with the body, mind, and spirit, taking the listener on a holistic journey. Introducing children to the literacy of music in the early years doesn’t just build their understanding of music, it nurtures a love and passion for music.


Movement in language enables us to read intent. A wink or a nudge adds mischief to any suggestion. While a handshake tells the story of honour and respect. But roll your eyes and everyone will know your attitude towards a comment. In early years, we discuss and analyse the language of movement. Like when we say “stop,” we can put up our hand with our palm facing out to show that we want our friend to stop. In our younger rooms we teach children to use sign language gestures to express what we want like ‘eat,’ ‘drink,’ ‘more,’ ‘up’ and others. We also discuss and analyse the meaning of our movements when we hit or kick or push our friends.  


Dance combines many modes of language into a holistic language that transcends oral and written language. Using movements, facial expressions, storytelling, visual arts and music, dance gives us a language that anyone can draw meaning from. Dance can communicate deep things like love and joy, fury and frustration. These are some of the hardest things for children to communicate with words so educators can use dance to help.


Story telling is the art of sharing important information in a creative and memorable story. In Aboriginal Pedagogy story telling is an integral way for cultural histories to be passed down. Story telling is also seen in old nursery rhymes that have expressed morals and ethics across generations. Story telling can communicate lessons that have been learnt over the span of a lifetime in a way that connects them to the children’s current context. In early years this can look like many things; reading books, show and tell, visits from elders, story games like going on a bear hunt and so much more.


Visual arts embody the concept that a picture can say 1000 words. In fact, in our digital world, images are being used to communicate much more than words. Learning the language of images can start from a very young age as we use books with pictures, screens with pictures and printed pictures. We place family photos up around our houses to tell our stories at a glance, we watch TV to learn and entertain, and books with no pictures are becoming few and far between. In early years we help children analyse the images that they see. We also encourage them to create their own images to represent their thinking and experiences. We do this with drawing, painting, collage, box construction and so much more.


Media are the channels that we use to communicate. We communicate with families using digital media like emails, phone calls, online portfolios and so on. Children can learn to analyse texts through media like stories in books and videos on TV. They can also use media like cameras, video games and visual arts to express their ideas and communicate them to others.


Drama and acting makes up a huge part of children’s communication. Drama in role play and small world play allow children to explore new characters and communicate new ideas that they have seen or made up. In early years we create learning environments that promote drama and role play using dress ups, real world implements, creating scenarios from real life like shops and hairdressers, using toy animals, people, cars and so much more.

As you can see Literacy is so much more than talking, listening, viewing, reading and writing. Literacy encompasses all forms of communication. Educators do not need to look hard to find literacy in children play. It is everywhere and it’s unavoidable! So, educators, families and the community need to notice the literacy all around us and help children analyse it, understand it and use it each day. Because, being capable, confident and disposed to using language in all its forms is essential to living a successful life.


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