Reading books and introducing your little one to new words each day by talking frequently to and with your child from birth helps develop his early reading and literacy skills. Language and vocabulary development in early childhood, from birth through the toddler years, is directly related to later school success.
In preschool, children learn to recognize and name all 26 uppercase letters and some lowercase letters (lowercase letters are harder to learn at this age). They also learn to recognize their own first name and how to print it, along with other letters and meaningful words. Preschool children begin to develop a connection between letters and sounds and learn the sounds that letters make. They develop literacy skills through exposure to lots of conversation with others, as well as other types of oral and written language like songs, rhymes, word games, and words and symbols on signs and buildings all around us. Pictures, play, and the printed word combined with oral language help preschoolers begin to build their understanding of words and meaning.
You can help build language and literacy every day at home. Create a world of words, where your child is encouraged to talk, to ask questions, and to explore their understanding of words and language in new and different ways. Starting early will give children plenty of time to develop and practice this skill on their own over time.
Here are 6 activities you can do at home to build preschool-ready language and literacy skills in fun and creative ways:
1. Be a reading role model from day 1. A love for language, reading, and books starts at birth, and it starts at home, so encourage this by talking with your child and reading all kinds of books to him every day. We know that children who have parents that are frequent readers are also frequent readers. Create a warm, cozy experience by sitting together in a favorite place and looking at picture books together, pointing out words, and talking about what's happening in the books you're reading. Ask questions about the stories and illustrations like: "What is this?" "What is this character doing?" "Oh my goodness, what just happened?" "What do you think will happen next?" "What color are the flowers in this picture?" "Which truck is bigger than the other?" and discuss your child's observations and thoughts.
2. Sing lots of songs and recite nursery rhymes – this makes language learning fun and entertaining, and you'll be modeling the pleasure of language and words. Nursery rhymes, songs, and poetry are key parts of preschool reading. Preschoolers first learn that speech is made up of sounds, syllables, and words indirectly from listening to stories, nursery rhymes, poetry, and conversations.
3. Reinforce letter-learning by having your child play with letter refrigerator magnets, reading all kinds of ABC books, and singing "ABC songs" together. Preschoolers often find it easier to "write" letters with their fingers. Help your child practice forming letters by making a sand tray. Fill a shallow cookie sheet with a layer of clean sand (or cornmeal, flour, etc.). Show your child how to "draw" the letters of his name with his fingers. Say the sounds of the letters as you make them. Shaping letters out of play dough, cookie dough, pipe cleaners, popcicle sticks, and all kinds of fun materials will give your little one lots of playful practice with letters.
4. Look at the beginning sounds of words in your everyday lives. Point out letters wherever you see them – on cereal boxes, road signs, and in the supermarket. Say the letter, point to it, and sound out the letter sound. Actively engage your children in the language of everyday tasks to build vocabulary – while you are cooking, cleaning, shopping, playing with them – associate your words with their objects and actions. For little ones, it is bonding time and fun to repeat alongside you.
5. Make time for rhyme games. Play a game in which you take turns saying words (both real and silly), thinking of as many rhymes for a set of words as possible.
6. Include dramatic play. Children exercise their imaginations, practice their communication skills, and learn the subtleties of spoken language in dramatic play and dress-up games. Have hats, scarves, other clothing items and bags, purses, and accessories easily available in a basket or box for dress-up play. Children will make up characters and "act out" scenes based on everyday situations, as well as fantastical ones. The language they use and experiment with is all part of building their vocabulary. Play with them and extend their ideas by asking simple questions based on the world/scene they are playing out.
Most importantly, keep it playful. Play is how little ones learn and it will send the message that stories, words, reading, and learning are fun.
Here are some more resources and ideas for building preschool-ready literacy skills:
- Play Alphabet Detectives
- Play Alphabet Boot Camp
- 5 More Ideas for Learning ABCs
- ABC Pop! Activity
- Alphabet Snack Time
How do you play with words and letters and build preschool-readiness reading skills with your little one? We'd love to know.
Share your ideas with us on the Scholastic Parents Facebook page and let's continue the conversation!