Functions of Print

Children need to understand that print is meaningful in their daily lives and has many functions. For example, young children can learn that print gives us information—such as directions to a friend’s house, how to bake a cake. They can learn that print helps us solve problems, like written instructions for assembling a toy.

Through exposure to a wide array of books, children learn that print can entertain us, amuse us, and even comfort us. Through experiences with “writing,” children learn to distinguish between drawing and writing. Their scribbling becomes more purposeful, and as older toddlers they make some scribbles that, to their total joy, look somewhat like English writing. In the preschool years they can be encouraged to write (scribble) messages as part of playful activity.


Show children how different sorts of written and printed materials work and give them a chance to imitate. For example, when ordinary texts come into the house—bills, mail, take-out menus, announcements—share some of them with children, pointing out what the print is intended to do. “Now I know that you are having a party at school next week,” a parent might explain, after reading a flyer from preschool. Similarly, the day-care teacher can talk with children about flyers and notes being sent home with the children.

When jotting down a shopping list or leaving a note on the table or bulletin board for a family member or another staff person, occasionally explain to the child why you are doing it and what it says. Make writing materials available so that children have the chance to write (or scribble) pretend items like lists, letters, and menus themselves.

Make a point of looking up answers to questions. For example, when deciding what to wear for the day, you and your child can find out what the weather will be by reading the newspaper. “Cold and windy, chance of snow,” reads one father aloud. “We’d better put on our coats today.” When several of the preschoolers are arguing about what kind of dog they saw outside the playground, a teacher can use a book to settle the question.

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