Literacy is an important aspect of every person’s life. Like it or not, it determines the success of individuals way beyond school, simply because literacy is everywhere and life is just a continuous process of learning, reading and adapting new things. Having said that, every parent would love to give their kids a head start when it comes to reading. But more than learning the technicalities of phonetics and sight words, the important thing to establish in toddlers and babies as young as 6 months old (as young as they can sit independently) is the love of reading, the love of books. And an effective way of doing this is to make literacy activities for toddlers a pleasant, happy experience, preferably doing activities with lots of snuggles and bonding time with mum or dad.
This list of everyday literacy activities for toddlers are simple and easy to do. They are mostly little things you can do in spurts of 5-10 minutes within your busy day. They may seem overly simple, but never underestimate all the information your little toddler takes in. In these young precious years, their brains act as a sponge, absorbing every little language and sensory experience in their environment. But best of all, your little one will love the attention and enjoy the interaction with mom or dad.
1. Talk, talk, talk.
Have moments in the day where you bring your toddler – or your baby – up close and babble away. Your little one will love watching your lips move and listening to your voice. Soon, your baby will babble right back, attempting to make conversation. At this point, allow your baby to make these babbling noises and take turns ‘speaking’. Later on, your little one will learn to say the right words to communicate her needs and feelings.
2. Song and Rhyme.
Singing nursery rhymes and jingles allow toddlers to learn to hear and match words that sound the same. These activities build vocabulary and create an awareness of alphabet letter sounds, which will be very important in learning to read, write and spell.
3. Signs and Words.
There are signs and words all around us, like the STOP signs on the road or a PUSH sign on the doctor’s door. Making your child aware of signs in the environment helps them to recognize letters and words. They then begin to recognize symbols that are important to them, such as letters in their own name, the word for their street and the signs on shops they pass often.
4. Read, read, read.
We cannot stress enough the importance of reading to your child. Reading to your baby at the very earliest age (in my experience, as early as 3 months old) makes a baby feel warm and safe. Very young babies like books with lots of rhythm and rhyme, as the repetitive sounds soothe them. They may touch, smell and maybe even chew the book. Eventually, they will learn to hold the book the right way up and to turn the pages. And even later, they will learn how a book and particular stories work. There are wonderful classic toddler books out there, so offer your child a variety of books and stories, then soon enough your little one will begin to recognize the kind of story and to predict the words and the action that will come next.
5. Pretend Reading is Reading.
Make up stories within the book through the pictures. Toddlers are able to decipher the message of a book through its pictures even before learning to read. Doing this broadens your child’s imagination as well as encouraging him to speak and express his thoughts.
6. Describe things and group them together.
You can do this outdoors with leaves, twigs, rocks or even bring out different sets of toys (blocks can be sorted according to color or size), or everyday items such as table utensils (forks, spoons, etc.). Describing physical attributes, looking at the similarities and differences of particular objects extends a child’s vocabulary. This helps children develop their language and their ability to classify, sort and group things, which are both pre-literacy and pre-numeracy skills.
7. Letter Writing.
Involve your child in letter writing, whether you may be sending a written Christmas card overseas or whether you are typing a short email. By doing this, they become aware of letters and words, and at the same time, they learn that there are different ways that messages can be sent from one person to another.
8. Receiving Messages.
Just as important is involving children in letters we receive, particularly in the mail. When we talk about mail we’ve received, children learn that written language can carry a message. Of particular interest would be cards from loved ones during special occasions, such as a Christmas card from Grandma or Aunt so and so. Later on, they will learn to differentiate between cards or letters from family and friends, and that of advertising mail and bills.
9. Draw and Scribble.
As early as your toddler is interested in pencils and crayons, allow her to experiment – to doodle, color, create their own ‘artwork’. Letting them scribble helps them to learn to write. Later on, they will learn that certain letters create words when put together, and that writing words together carries a message. Read Young Children Need to Scribble.
10. Talk while watching TV.
Resist the temptation of making the TV your babysitter. Sit down and watch with your kids, even for just a short time, and at the same time, talk about what’s happening. Why? Because you want your child to think, not just watch. Also, encourage them to join in the games and songs, because that keeps their bodies and minds active, as they learn things they can do away from the TV.
11. Make lists.
When we write in front of the kids and talk to them about it, they learn that writing carries information and helps us remember things. This helps the child recognize different kinds of writing – a list goes down the page, while a message from someone goes from left to right.
12. Look through catalogues together.
Children love to look at catalogues and choose things they’d like to own. With the help of an adult, point out the prices, which allows them to recognize numbers. At the same time, you are subtly teaching your child the value of money and that things cost money. As an added bonus, hopefully they will eventually become aware that advertising tries to sell them things.
These are just some of the everyday literacy activities for toddlers. And as we stressed in the beginning, our goal is to help toddlers love reading, love books, love learning. In this way, they grow up to see the importance of literacy in the world around them. Maybe you have more everyday ideas on how to boost literacy in toddlers. We’d love to hear your thoughts.