Why Are Labels So Important For Early Readers?

Labels. What’s the deal? Why are they important, especially in younger kids? 

I always knew they were important, but I was able to witness firsthand just how impactful it can be for children. 

In my daughter’s room, we have labeled many of her everyday objects. 

My daughter’s dresser of clothes
The magnetic chore chart on our back door of daily tasks my daughter does
A close up of the magnets for the chore chart
Her favorite puzzle that I added labels to

For each of these items, she has a visual of what exactly the object is or contains. If she pulls out her bin with socks, she knows it has socks. 

On her chore chart, when she sees the picture of the t-shirt, she knows it means she needs to get dressed. 

At 2.5 years old, she cannot read, yet words are present on each of these objects. Are the labels just for me? Absolutely not. At first glance, she didn’t pay much attention to them, just the pictures, but as time went on she started noticing the words and letters. 

“Mom, this says pig.” she would tell me while she held the pig puzzle piece up. 

“It says…. Dishwasher.” when she would move her magnet to “done” after helping me with the dishes. 

Eventually, she stopped focusing so much on the picture and started focusing in on the words.

A study was once done on kids being read picture books at an early age. It tracked their eyes to where they were looking on the page during the story. Kids who did not know how to read yet focused solely on the pictures for the entire story, paying very little attention to the words. Kids who had a very basic foundation skill of words and reading but could not read yet went back and forth between the words on the page and the pictures, trying to put the two together. While kids who could read focused mainly on the words and less on the pictures.

By putting these words and pictures in front of her, I’ve given her the opportunity to see the connection of words with objects and it took very little effort (or even teaching) on my part! She loves to look at each label and read them to me. Most of the time she doesn’t say it exactly right as it reads, but the purpose is that she’s trying. 

She’s gained confidence in her ability to read, it’s not something that’s just for older kids and adults. 

She’s putting together that letters grouped together can create words. 

She’s gathering that words have meaning and can represent objects. 

She’s recognizing familiar letters in the words and seeing them put to use. 

Is she actually reading? No. But she’s laying down the crucial foundational skills she needs to get there. 

And we’re getting there with one simple, simple aspect added to her day- Labels. Never underestimate the power a labeled object can have on an early reader.