Principles for supporting early learning and literacy

Last updated:  25 March 2024

This section outlines the key principles for supporting early language and literacy learning that underpin the Early Learning and Literacy Framework.

These principles are:

  • engagement
  • community-building
  • intentionality


The success of all learning experiences hinges on the engagement of learners. This is why engagement is a prerequisite for the effectiveness of early literacy sessions.  

Library staff must therefore find ways to engage participants in these sessions and any other early literacy initiatives. This includes creating a welcoming atmosphere for the session filled with positive affect and encouraging active participation during the session.  

Young children learn best when they are engaged in play and positive interactions with peers and adults. A routine that includes a welcome and a goodbye song as well as a recognisable structure can also help children and caregivers develop a sense of predictability that allows them to more fully and confidently participate in storytime on a regular basis.  

As early literacy sessions aim to encourage borrowing and the engagement of families in literacy practices beyond the walls of the library and beyond storytime, library staff need to foster such a strong engagement with the library and with reading that children and their families carry that engagement into their homes.  

To achieve this goal, library staff need to develop strong familiarity with their local community:  its social, cultural and linguistic composition, the proportion of families with young children in it, and the presence of other, formal and informal, services for children and families.

Community building

Public libraries’ efforts to promote early literacy in the communities they serve can be greatly enhanced by building and maintaining two types of communities:

  • a community of library patrons and readers who value early literacy and the library as an informal and freely accessible educational context
  • a community of peers/colleagues who:  
    • understand what is involved in supporting children’s learning at public libraries, and consequently value the work of the library staff involved in such efforts; and/or  
    • can provide feedback on existing early literacy initiatives and collaborate to create new ones.


As educators, library staff need to be intentional in their resourcing, design, delivery and evaluation of initiatives to support early learning.  

This includes seeking and targeting funding opportunities for providing quality library services for children and their families, building variety into the children’s library collection and the books or other resources (e.g. props, music, display and advertising materials, science kits) selected or developed for children’s programs.

Central to intentionality are four foundational, and interrelated, principles for providing quality learning experiences:  

  • having a deliberate and age-appropriate focus
  • scaffolding
  • differentiation
  • and reflexive practice.

Deliberate and age-appropriate focus

For early literacy sessions, library staff can benefit from having a deliberate focus on one or two specific early literacy domains [link] when planning and presenting each session. To be able to do that, they need to develop and apply knowledge about both the learning objectives for children and the strategies library staff as educators can use to help children work towards these objectives.  

The planned objectives for children as well as corresponding strategies that library staff as educators can adopt to supporting early learning need to be age-appropriate, reflecting an understanding of early language and literacy development.  

To support library staff in this task, this toolkit includes a list of objectives for children’s learning, and corresponding strategies educators can use to support these objectives for each of the early literacy domains identified in the framework:

  • phonological awareness
  • alphabet & letter knowledge
  • concepts of print
  • oral language and vocabulary
  • background knowledge
  • print motivation.


Scaffolding is based on the understanding that children’s knowledge and skills are built incrementally and require the support of more knowledgeable or experienced others. Applying this principle involves carefully evaluating what children already know or can do — or in the case of libraries, the knowledge and skills children in a target age group can reasonably be expected to already have — and then planning to use modelling strategies (such as repetition) and other support (e.g. props that can help children learn new vocabulary) to allow children to build on their existing knowledge and skills.


Differentiation captures the need to cater for the different levels of knowledge and skills that children bring to the learning context. This is why in their planning, skillful educators include strategies to support learners who find a planned activity difficult as well as strategies to extend the learning of those who may find that same activity too easy.  

Educators may break down the activity into smaller steps and include more repetition to support those who find the activity too challenging, while adding to the challenge for those learners who find it too easy. In some cases, educators may provide a completely different task for learners who are struggling with or excelling at a given task. In addition to diverse knowledge and skills, educators also need to consider how they may engage learners with diverse interests. This is also essential for promoting engagement in learning.  

The session planning template encourages library staff to carefully consider both scaffolding and differentiation as it asks them to plan how each session would unfold and how they may provide additional support to some/younger children while extending the learning of other/older children.

Reflexive practice

Educators who are intentional in their support for early learning engage in reflexive practice. They engage in self-reflection and actively seek feedback from others on the effectiveness of the design and delivery of the learning experiences they provide. They then draw on the findings of this evaluation process to improve future learning experiences.  

Library staff are encouraged to engage in reflexive practice, in three key ways:  

  • to source information about the community their library serves, reflect on what it means for promoting early literacy in that community using the community analysis template and include such information in the professional development of new library staff
  • to consider and make notes about the best ways children in the library’s community can be supported to achieve age-appropriate learning objectives across the six literacy domains  
  • to reflect on the success of each early literacy session they have designed and/or delivered, and to consider the implications of this evaluation for future planning.