Toddlers are very active.  Their early literacy skills can be developed while they are engaged in active play at home, on the playground, and at storytimes.  Talking with your child while they play will provide the opportunity to participate in conversation, build vocabulary, reinforce proper grammar, and develop storytelling ability.

Choose Books Your Child Will Enjoy

Choose books with large illustrations, repetitive phrases, and opportunities for children to make different sounds.

  • Hearing and making animal sounds is a fun way for children to discover the different sounds that make up words.
  • Let your child “read” the story to you.
  • Look at the cover and let your child tell you what they think the story is about.
  • Talk about the illustrations with your child. How does this character feel?
  • Read the books your child enjoys again and again.

Recite Rhymes, Sing Songs

Nursery rhymes are fun to say and sing.  Because they rhyme, they help teach phonological awareness.  Learning this skill will help children when they begin learning to read.

  • Nursery rhymes expose toddlers to words that are not used in everyday speech, which increases vocabulary.  The wider the variety of words your child hears, the larger his vocabulary will be, which will lead to an easier transition to reading.
  • Rhyming is one way children learn to hear parts of words.
  • Singing songs with your child reinforces that words are made of different sounds and, in music, often different notes.

Build Letter Recognition

  • Playing with letter toys, both upper and lower case, will help build letter knowledge and will lead to an easier transition to reading when your child is ready.
  • Point out signs and spell out words. While driving, say “S-T-O-P spells stop,” when you come to the stop sign.  Ask, “What color is the sign?”; “What color are the letters?”; and “How many sides does the stop sign have?”
  • Read alphabet books.  Make sure to show the letters individually, especially the first letter of your child’s name.  It’s okay not to finish the book in one sitting.
  • Sing the ABC’s.

Increase Vocabulary

  • Take time to answer your child’s questions. Use descriptive words and give thoughtful answers.  Children need to hear a word about 15 times before it becomes a part of their vocabulary.
  • Take time to ask your child questions.  You may need to wait 10 seconds or more for an answer. This will help build their vocabulary and their ability to think through a question.
  • To increase vocabulary, describe what you are doing as you go about your day.
  • While playing with your child, communicate using descriptive words and the names of the objects you are using or pretending to use.


Remember! Early literacy is not about teaching your child how to read, but rather building the skills they need to be successful when they begin reading instruction later on. Motivate them by making their experiences with books and reading fun!