6 Ways to Build Toddler Literacy Skills

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Help your toddler gain important literacy skills with these fun games and activities.

6 Ways to Build Toddler Literacy Skills

A toddler’s brain is ready to learn. They’re like sponges, soaking up so much information about the world around them. Little ones learn best through play. So here are six fun activities designed to build toddler literacy skills. Your child may not realize she’s learning, but her brain will be!

1. Hide the Letter

My absolute favorite toy for teaching the alphabet is a foam letter mat. We’ve used ours so often over the years. If you don’t have one, I highly recommend purchasing one. Here’s what they look like:

You can find one on Amazon by clicking on the picture above (aff. link). For playing with toddlers, you want a letter mat with these specifications:

  • Letters pop out of the frame
  • Large tiles (12*12 instead of 6*6)
  • Pieces snap together to form boxes

My toddlers (and preschoolers and early elementary kids) love just free playing with this toy. It’s great exposure to the alphabet. Here’s my current youngest just playing with some letters from our mat. The letters are large and chunky, and perfect for little hands to hold onto.

Build toddler literacy skills through play!

When it’s time for a guided game, I have the kids remove the letters.

Then, I have them go in the other room and I hide all 26 letters. When I’m done, I call the kids back in and ask them to find letters.

As they find each letter, they have to also find the frame it goes in. This helps them learn to closely look at each letter’s shape. I say the name of the letter they found, and help put it together if needed. Then they find another one.

Once all the letters are returned, we assemble the mat and sing the ABC song before picking it up. There are tons of activities you can do with this mat, so feel free to get creative!

2. Read Aloud

I’m sure you knew this one would be on the list! That’s because reading aloud is a fabulous way to build toddler literacy skills. It works great for older kids too!

Pick a book, snuggle up with your child, and get reading. But, don’t feel limited to reading the actual words on the page. You can if you want to, but I’ve found my toddlers don’t always have the attention span for that.

Instead I:

  • Point out pictures and work on vocabulary
  • Practice turning pages
  • Talk about what’s happening on the page
  • Summarize the story
  • Use the pictures as a building point for telling my own story
  • Make fun noises for all the vehicles, animals, and other things we see

The kids love reading together, because even if they pick the same story over and over again, we can change it up. It’s lots of fun!

3. Sing Silly Songs

Songs are a huge part of literacy development, because they’re so easy for kids to memorize. You can sing silly songs on the road, before bedtime, or in the bathtub. You don’t need any materials, so you can sing them anywhere!

Here’s a post I wrote on the benefits of singing silly songs. It also has my recommendations for some songs.

Toddlers can easily join the fun, even if they can’t talk yet. They can bounce to the rhythm, laugh at mommy being silly, and clap. While they’re playing, their brains will be taking in a different way to use words.

4. Name Play

Your toddler’s name is important. In fact, a child’s name is typically one of the first words they learn to read independently. Help you toddler become familiar with his name by:

  • Saying the name in a high voice, a low voice, and a gruff voice. See how many different ways you can say it.
  • Playing rhyming games with his name
  • Writing his name on pictures he draws
  • Having a special shelf to put toys or books that’s labeled. Point to this label each time you clean up. “It’s your name. Your things go on your shelf. Let’s look at the letters in your name.”
  • Singing the letters in your child’s name: S-I-M-O-N that spells Simon!
  • Building his name out of play dough

Just find ways to incorporate the name and the letters into your everyday play.

5. Point Out Logos

Just like many ancient civilizations used picture symbols to represent words, our companies today do the same thing. Toddlers can begin associating symbols with words quite early on in their life. It’s a great first step to reading.

After all, when you read, you just associate a symbol (letter) with a sound. Then you put them together to make a word.

So point out logos when you’re on the road. As your toddler gets a bit older, let her help pick out items at the grocery store. You can point to the symbol representing the brand you want, and let her help get them from the shelf.

As you go into each store, look at their logo. Pretty soon your child will remember that Wal-Mart has a yellow sun, Target has a red target, and the gas station has a shell. You can even make it a game to see who can find the logo first.

Then find logos in the newspaper and let your child color them. It’s a great activity when you need a few minutes of time.

6. Talk

Talk to you toddler about what you’re doing. Don’t feel like you have to dumb it down–use words even if you know your toddler doesn’t understand yet. That’s how we build vocabulary. By listening to others talk.

So share what you’re cooking for dinner. Talk about each step. It can feel sort of like a monologue at first, but as your child grows the conversation will become more of an actual conversation.

Talk about the clothes you’re setting out for tomorrow, and why your child needs to wear warm clothes. It’s the middle of winter after all! 😀 In the car, talk about the road signs and the traffic signals. Point out the bus stopping to pick up kids or the man walking the dog on the sidewalk.

Just talk.

Let your child play and create some narrative. “Oh, you’re making me soup in your kitchen! I’m so hungry, it’ll taste delicious! Do you think you could add a little pepper for me?”

Don’t worry about sounding crazy–it might feel weird at first, but your child will benefit!

Building Toddler Literacy Skills Isn’t Difficult

But, it does take time. Spend a few minutes each day purposefully working on these early language skills. Your child will be a better learning because of it!

What are your favorite ways to build toddler literacy skills? I’d love for you to share in the comments.