Games and Activities that Build Literacy Skills

[This is my fourth post on early literacy. Check out my other posts on how to get your child excited about reading, and  info on developmental literacy and what types of books are best at each age, and how to read to a toddler.)

Reading books together, anytime and anywhere, is a powerful way to teach the joys to be found in books, and the power of literacy. There are also lots of other hands-on ways to build reading skills.

  • Make books together – make albums with family photos or pictures cut out of magazines. For older kids, they can dictate a story – they tell it, you write it out, then they illustrate the pages.
  • Look at family photo albums together and tell stories about the people and activities shown.
  • Explore letters: Practice drawing, painting, or writing with a stick in the sand or the mud. Make letters with play dough or pipe cleaners. Have them work with puzzles made of letter shapes. Play with alphabet refrigerator magnets. Look for apps for your touch screen device (tablet or phone) that let them practice tracing letters. Draw letters on paper and have your child trace them


  • In addition to letters, talk about about symbols in general – you could make a calendar and come up with symbols to remind them of what happens each day. Or a weather chart. Or a chores chart.
  • Act out stories that you have read, or do puppet shows. Tell the story as written, or imagine what would come next, or what other adventure those characters could have.
  • Sing songs and play rhyming games – these slow language down so it’s easier to understand, and easier to memorize. Later, try memorizing a story and telling it over and over.
  • When they ask you a question, show how you would look up the answer.
  • Visit the library often. Make it a special time in your week’s schedule.
  • Take them to story time at the library or bookstores. It’s typically free, weekly or monthly, and lasts 30 – 45 minutes. Expect to sit on the floor with your child and help him stay focused on the stories. This is great for literacy and language development – seeing other kids and parents excited about books, listening to the librarian’s voice (kids learn language better when they hear a variety of people speak it), and singing songs together. It’s also great practice for school – having to sit still and pay attention to an adult other than your own parent is important. Before going, let your child know what to expect, and what behavior you expect of her (sitting down, being quiet) to increase your chances of a good experience. Learn more here:

Check out fun books about the Alphabet:

  • Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. YouTube. I love the rhythm of this book, and it’s a fun rollicking read-aloud that I never tire of. The letters are just characters in a story: “A told B and B told C, I’ll meet you at the top of the coconut tree.”
  • Kipper’s A to Z by Mick Inkpen. YouTube. Most ABC books just have different unrelated ideas on each page as they go through the alphabet. I like that this book has a storyline that runs throughout. They find an ant and put it in a box, then a caterpillar they put in the box, then the duck who is too big to fit…
  • Dr. Seuss’ ABC. YouTube. YouTube sung to Banana Boat song melody. Has the great read-aloud rhythm and fun pictures you’d expect in a Dr. Seuss book. I also like the fact that on several pages it goes back to remind you of all the letters in the alphabet that came before the one you’re on.
  • The Little Red Cat Who Ran Away and Learned His ABC’s. YouTube This is a wordless book, but you can engage kids in a story-telling exercise as you read it: “What animal did he see next? Will that animal chase after him too?”

Some alphabet books are really all about increasing your child’s vocabulary:

  • Eating the Alphabet by Ehlert has lots of different fruits and vegetables for every letter. YouTube
  • L M N O Peas, YouTube, uses words for lots of jobs and hobbies: dancers, drivers, eaters, electricians, explorers, farmers and friends.
  • A is for Angry. (YouTube)

Some books allow kids to have a tactile experience of the shape of the letters:

I like Alpha Block, YouTube, which has cut outs of the letters. Think Touch Learn ABC has raised letters the children can feel. If Rocks Could Sing, YouTube, shows rocks shaped like each of the letters. Somehow looking at pictures of rocks gives me a sense of what that rock would feel like in my hand. This book could also send you on a quest of finding rocks that look like shapes, objects, or letters.

Note: Many ABC books are too advanced to be understood by kids just learning the idea that an alphabet exists and that the different shapes of letters have meaning. For example, Take Away the A is a great book for kids who can already read – like first or second graders will get the jokes – like “without the N, the moon says Moo”. Z is for Moose is good for kids who already have a lot of familiarity with the conventions of alphabet books. A is for Salad would be fun and silly for kids who know how things are actually spelled, it would make no sense for kids who don’t – when it says B is for Viking, and you have to look to figure out what in the picture of a beaver in a Viking hat starts with B. On Creature ABC, you have to know some about reading to be able to guess the answers.

9 thoughts on “Games and Activities that Build Literacy Skills

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  5. ritusundaram

    Great ideas! Love the idea of looking at photos together. My LO is a bit over 2 and he loves to look at photos and ask all sorts of questions about what he sees!
    Also reminds me that I need to make or get some puppets for my LO!

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