Nal’ibali: Signs your child is learning to read

(monkeybusinessimages/Getty Images)
(monkeybusinessimages/Getty Images)

Teaching your children to read and to love reading is a valuable investment in their education. 

This series of family-literacy articles is provided by the Nal’ibali reading-for-enjoyment campaign to support caregivers during and after the national lockdown.

If you’ve been following this series of tips for literacy in the home, you might have noticed that reading and sharing stories with your children is a wonderful way to relax together.

But you may be wondering if these enjoyable times are actually contributing to their literacy learning!

Here are a few signs that your children are well on their way to becoming readers.

Babies test out books by touching, patting, shaking and even chewing them! They love listening and imitating you and will often make sounds and clap their hands to praise your reading efforts! 

Toddlers can often be found turning the pages of a storybook, telling their own story as they go – sometimes even with the book upside down! They’re practising reading and showing you that they understand what books are about.  

Young children often act out stories they know or create their own using familiar story characters. In these imaginary playtimes, children learn about symbols and rules – using a box as a throne, means appreciating how one thing can ‘stand for another’ and ‘being’ the queen means thinking through the royalty rules! 

You may hear your children deepen their language skills by using phrases from familiar stories – for example, saying ‘I’ll huff and I’ll puff, and I’ll blow your house down!’ as you blow on their hot food. 

Children will often retell a familiar story by looking at the pictures. Children often turn the pages of familiar books while looking at the pictures for clues about the words. They may even know which direction the print runs in and might also be recognising the patterns of some words. They are definitely learning to read! 

All of the above are signs that your child is learning to read, but it’s important to note that children develop at different paces, and that is perfectly normal!

For more information about the Nal’ibali campaign, or to access children’s stories in a range of South African languages, visit

You can also sign up for free reading-for-enjoyment training though Nal’ibali’s FUNda Sonke loyalty programme at

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