Category Archives: Language & Literacy

Experiment in pre-writing skills


Pour flour into a deep dish.
Your child can draw shapes and letters in it easily.
Tip: don’t walk away to do dishes while your child is playing with this. (Good thing we own a dust buster…)


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.)

Other ways to help kids learn about reading and writing

  • Make books together – make photo albums, or cut pictures out of magazines. For older kids, they can dictate a story – they tell it, you write it out, then they can illustrate the pages.
  • Look at photo albums together and tell stories about the people and activities shown.
  • Talk about symbols – 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.
  • Practice writing, drawing, painting, 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 (see picture at bottom of the post for what this looks like when my 3.5 year old does it… )
  • 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 characters could have.
  • Sing songs and play rhyming games – these slow language down so it’s easier to understand, and are easy 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:


How to Read to a Child

[This is my third post on early literacy. Look here for how to get your child excited about reading, and here for info on developmental literacy and what types of books are best at each age, and here for other ways to build literacy skills.)

How to read to a toddler or preschooler

  • Turn off the TV or radio, and settle in to read.
  • Often we snuggle next to our kids for reading. Make sure that sometimes you sit face-to-face. Your child can learn more from you and the book if he can see your expressions.
  • Show them the cover before reading – ask them to guess what the book will be about.
  • Let them turn the pages – don’t stress if they miss a page.(Note, younger toddlers do best with board books. By three years old, they should be able to manage turning pages in a regular book.)
  • Run your finger along the words as you read – that reinforces that print goes from left to right.Or point to the words that they might recognize as you read. If you’re reading a book that repeats some of the same words on every page (“but where’s the cat?”) point them out on each page as you go along.
  • Define new words and explain new ideas as you come to them.
  • If a book has no words, or you don’t like the words, make up your own! Tell a story based on the pictures, or point to pictures on a page and ask your child to tell you what’s happening.
  • Talk about the pictures. Label what’s in each picture (“there’s a pig and a cow in front of the barn”). Talk about what’s happening in the picture (“the duck is splashing in the puddle”). Point out familiar things (“he has a toy train just like you do” or “her bedroom has some of the same things your room has… see. there’s a bed, and a table, and a teddy bear.”)
  • Make it sound dynamic: Use different voices for different characters; read at different speeds (some stories are slow and gentle, others fast and rollicking); play up the emotional tone – are characters happy? Scared? Silly? Angry? Show it with your voice.
  • Try singing a book. Some books are perfectly designed for singing.
  • Ask questions about what’s happening in the story, ask how characters are feeling, ask them to guess what will happen on the next page. Later in the day, ask them about the book you read, and talk about experiences your family has had that are like what you see in books.
  • Think of a book as a conversation starter. Beyond what’s on the page, you can ask about other things in the book, or help your child connect what’s in the book to her everyday experiences.
  • It’s OK if toddlers wander around while you read – they can still listen while moving.
  • Enjoy reading – let your joy shine through!


Collection of fabulous articles on building literacy skills at


Child Development and Early Literacy

[This is my second post on early literacy. Look here for tips on how to get your child excited about reading, and here for how to read to your child, and here for other games and activities that build literacy skills]

Developmental Stages of Literacy

12 – 18 months: can hold or carry books, look at board books independently, points to pictures in the book, may gaze at one book for a long time, or may switch between books quickly

18 – 24 months: may carry a favorite book around; will hold books and pretend to read; may want you to read the same book over and over. When you read favorite books, your child may say some of the words and phrases with you

2 – 3 years: can learn to turn pages in a regular book, names objects in pictures, may recite parts of books from memory, starts to relate what they’re reading about in books to their life experiences

3 – 4 years: understand that words on a page have meaning, begin to recognize letters, might recognize some words, enjoy longer stories, can guess what might happen next, like to discuss stories, can easily turn pages

What kind of books do kids love?

Young Toddlers (12 – 24 months): choose sturdy board books with only a few words on each page. Look for simple rhymes and predictable text (e.g. a repeating phrase that appears throughout). Look for simple pictures that match the text. They like books about things they see and do in their day-to-day lives, like eating lunch or going to the park, more than fantasy or books about exotic experiences.

Toddlers (2 – 3 years): Choose books that tell simple stories. Pay attention to what your child is passionate about – animals, trains, dinosaurs – they’ll love books about that. Look for non-fiction on topics like shapes, numbers, letters. Choose books with rhythm, rhyme, and repetition. Lift the flaps. (These are my favorite books for toddlers.)

Preschoolers (3 – 5 years): Children are able to enjoy longer stories, and stories about things outside their daily experience. You can choose non-fiction books about simple ideas like telling time, counting, opposites, and also about anything they’re excited about – planets, sports, kittens…

Aim for a mix of familiar books and fresh ones – kids love to hear the same book over and over – the familiar is comforting and repetition helps them learn. New books introduce new ideas and new things to fall in love with. At any reading session, offer multiple books and let them choose.

Source for developmentally specific recommendations:

Getting Ready to Read is a short booklet on helping your child become a confident reader. (It also includes lots of great tips for language development and development in general.)

Sources for book recommendations for each age group:

Lists of recommended books are available on websites for many library systems or in person at the library. Check out some here: and here

I often look at these lists for ideas, then go to Amazon to read reviews of the book to learn more. (Then back to my library website to put the book on hold. We read 15 new books a week – we couldn’t afford this habit if we bought all those books!)

Another great collection of resources and recommendations is:

Here is a printable handout on Literacy for age 2 – 6  and one on Pre-literacy for toddlers. Find more handouts on my Resources for Parent Educators page.

Getting Your Toddler or Preschooler Excited about Reading

This week’s theme is Early Literacy – what we can do with our babies, toddlers, and preschoolers to lay the foundation for learning about reading and writing. [Check out these posts for developmental stages of literacy, how to read to a child, and games and activities that build literacy skills.]

Building early literacy skills does not mean teaching your toddler to read a book. Formal instruction at this age is not developmentally appropriate*, and may be counter-productive, if your child comes to think of reading as a difficult and burdensome task.

Early literacy should instead be focused on creating an environment where books are so cool and the ability to read is so amazing that your child just can’t wait to learn how. Librarians call this “print motivation.” Here are some things we can do to foster this enthusiasm:

  • Model how powerful reading is. Point out to your child how helpful it is that you can read the instructions on how to cook food or assemble toys, how much you enjoy reading friends’ news on Facebook, and how whenever you want to do something new, you can learn how by reading. Point out the words that are all around us – signs, menus, etc.
  • Model reading as something you do for pleasure. Whether you read books, magazines, newspapers, or blogs on your tablet, let your child know how much you enjoy it.
  • When you read to your child, make it fun! Choose books you will enjoy reading.Choose books that are about the things your child loves – whether they’re passionate about chickens, trucks, gardening, building or splashing in puddles, there are books about it, and reading about things they are excited about will help them be excited about reading.
  • Literacy is a social process, which happens in relationships with family, caretakers and teachers. There’s a wonderful connection that happens you snuggle up with a book, give your child your full attention, and you enjoy sharing an experience together. (When your kids are too old for snuggled up story time, you can still enjoy books together. Try listening to audio books in the car on the way to school, and talking about them over dinner.) This together time can be a big motivator for spending time with books.

When and where to read

Don’t just save books for in the bedroom at bedtime. Have them scattered around the house, in the car, the diaper bag and so on. Share books every day – at breakfast, naptime, the grocery store, the doctor’s office, when you arrive at a class or meeting early… show that we can always enjoy a book, anytime, anywhere!

It’s OK to read for just a few minutes at a time – don’t worry if they don’t want to finish a story. They may flip through several books quickly or glance at one, then want to run off to play. On the other hand, if they want to read a book slowly, lingering over one page, going back to it over and over again, don’t feel like you need to rush them.

Resources for books and songs to get excited about:

King County library has a collection of lyrics to songs and rhymes AND videos of librarians singing them (so you can learn the tunes):

Brooklyn Public Library’s site includes great literacy tips, book recommendations, and lyrics for lots of children’s songs:


* Note: I’m saying that formally teaching reading by using textbooks or formal lessons or flash cards is not necessary. Expecting your child to read at a young age might end up being frustrating for them and disappointing for you.

However, some kids naturally learn to read at a very young age. For example, with my son, we just used the tips I’m sharing this week for creating an environment with lots of great books and fun reading times. We didn’t “teach” him to read, and didn’t expect him to read. But, he learned anyway! He could read basic words before he turned three, and now at three and a half, can easily read books that are written at a kindergarten to first grade level.