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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 aboveĀ (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.

InsteadĀ 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! šŸ˜€ 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.

Telestrations is a fun family game! Here are some easy adaptations to allow early readers and writers to play too.

Adapting Telestrations for Early Readers & Writers

I recently picked up the game Telestrations at Goodwill. Thankfully, all the pieces were there, and it was ready to play.

For this game, you start with a word and draw it in your sketch book. Then the next person looks at what you drew, and writes down what they think you drew. You continue taking turns guessing and drawing, passing the sketch book to the left each time.

Here’s what it looks like (affiliate link…):

It’s a fun game, but does require a bit of adaptation to play with younger children. Here’s how I make it work for my family.

The Youngest Is Teamed Up

When my four-year-old wants to play, she and I team up. I tackle the reading and writing, and let her do the drawing. That’s her favorite part.

I also pass the two toddlers each a dry erase marker and a sketch book. That keeps them entertained while the rest of us play!

Pick Any Word on the Card

The original rules in TelestrationsĀ call for rolling the die to see which number word on the card you draw. This causes a problem when you’re playing with early readers. They might not be able to read that particular word.

Here's how we adapt the rules of Telestrations to make it accessible to early readers and writers. So we allow each player to pick any word, from either side of his or her card. If a young reader can’t read any of the words, we let them draw again.

Everyone loves being able to pick the word. My teenager likes it, because she can pick something she actually would like to draw. The early readers like it because they get to be in control of deciding which word they can read. It’s a win win!

Use Invented Spelling

When my younger players write down what they think someone else wrote, they aren’t allowed to ask anyone how to spell a word. They have to say the word, and just do the best they can.

This keeps the game going more smoothly, and makes them practice listening to each letter. It’s a fun way to practice!

You Can Ask for Reading Help

Because of the invented spelling, we’ve had a few instances where we just can’t figure out what was written. There are also cases when an older player wrote something as a guess that an early reader can’t read.

So when we play, you can ask the person sitting next to you to help you read. You just have to ask politely and not shout.

We Don’t Keep Score

There are directions for scoring in Telestrations, but we don’t worry about keeping score. Right now, we’re playing for fun. We typically play two or three rounds and call it good. It’s fun for everyone, even without a “winner!”

We All Share

Once we reach the end of a round, everyone takes turns sharing the pages in their sketchbooks. This lets everyone practice their speaking skills, and we all get a good laugh out of the way the word changed through words and pictures.

Have You Played Telestrations?

I love board games, and I was happy to add this one to our collection. It’s one we’ll get a lot of use out of. Have you ever played this one? I’d love to hear your family rules and adaptations in the comments.