Five ways to introduce literacy to a toddler

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I really wanted to name this post “Five ways I am introducing literacy to my toddler,” but that made the title too long. Although I was a teacher for eight plus years, teaching English as a Second Language and/or French and incorporating my love for literacy with students along the way, I make no claims to be an expert.

I’ve had a lot of time to work with students and try many different activities to varied degrees of success. I’ve never worked with toddlers to teach any sort of literacy skills, although I’ve read, studied, and applied many different theories regarding language and literacy development. I feel sufficiently qualified to play around with language and literacy with Mon Cœur (MC).

The five ways I am exposing MC to literacy, below, are what I’ve found works for us – it’s fun for the both of us and it’s teaching her about literacy along the way.

The Alphabet

Ah yes, the alphabet. Such an obvious choice! We love to sing the song, we read alphabet books, we take alphapup on walks…

MC’s love for the alphabet goes back to when we got her first alphabet book and were beginning potty training. We always stock books in the bathroom to keep her entertained, and so we kept the alphabet book in there.

It was her top choice for about two months before we cycled books out. We would sing the alphabet and I would point to each letter on the inside cover. Then we would read each letter, point to it and look at the corresponding animal – with Eric Carle’s colorful illustrations- on every page.

After a few weeks of reading this book, MC would burst into the alphabet song by herself. The alphapup also helped her learn the alphabet, as she would walk him he would sing the alphabet and she would chime in.

Reading

Another evident choice of activity to expose toddlers to literacy. Hello. Let’s dive a little deeper, though.

We love story time at home and the library. We probably read about ten books a day. Aside from reading books and talking about the pictures and stories found in those books, we like to read other (real-world) literature.

On occasion, MC receives a card or letter in the mail and I read those to her. Sometimes, when we have a lot of housework to do, I will make myself a list and I will make MC a to-do list, too. I read it to her and let her choose what she wants to do first. We check things off as we complete them and re-read the list as we go.

When we are out and about and I want her to heed an instruction, it is often conveniently noted on a plaque. So I will go up with MC, and pointing to each word as I read it, let her know about a certain rule for where we are.

For example, in the Paris Catacombs, I wanted to make sure she didn’t touch anything. Conveniently, there was a sign mentioning the same wish, “You are invited to not touch anything and not smoke in the ossuary.” That’s quite an invitation. So I read it to MC, and we talked about the symbols too before entering into the catacombs.

Any time I have an opportunity to read her a sign that gives her a behavioral cue, I like to read it to her. She appreciates the signs, and it’s not me telling her she can’t do something; it’s the expectation of the place where we are for all people, including me.

“Writing”

We do writing two different ways. Sometimes MC wields the pen and makes her scribbles. Then I ask for the pen and simply say, “What did you write here?” and I write exactly what she tells me.

I make an honest effort to create my to-do list for the day every morning over coffee, and MC often wants to help me. Other times I’m making Chouchou’s lunch (or dinner) and I ask her to write a note to put in his lunch box. She makes the scribbles, then tells me what she wrote and I write it verbatim.

I also like to do dictated stories with her. We like to get the stickers and a sheet of paper out. She will make a scene using the stickers and then I will ask her to tell me the story. I ask the names of each person, animal, and character, and then I ask her to tell me a story. Sometimes I have to ask her a question or two to keep the story going, and then I read it back to her. Then she chooses where to hang it so we can see it and read it later.

Letter exposure

I am in the process of making a little nook in the corner of our living room for MC – right now it’s just a couple of file cabinets and a bench…it’s a bit of a hot mess, but I have dreams for this space.

The file cabinets are perfect because they hide a bunch of my school resources and they are also the perfect spot to put magnetic letters so we can “play” with the letters of the alphabet.

We’ve played with the letters a bit, I’ll ask her what she wants me to spell, and I’ll make words like “horse” or “Bingo,” depending on her focus for the day.

We haven’t really done a lot of practice with matching letters to their name, putting the alphabet in order, etc (I haven’t made that a priority yet) so I am not really pushing that. Instead she sees the forms of letters, and we focus on color, shape or size and sort a couple of letters at a time according to one of those themes. Later, we will look at the letters, I will orient them correctly and point and say the name of the letter.

Additionally, I recently rediscovered a learning toy a friend had given us – Leapfrog’s Fridge Phonics. This is a handy little toy which teaches her the name and sound of each letter in a sing-songy, can’t get it out of your head rhythm.

It also doubles as a simple puzzle for her – she has to insert the letter piece in the correct orientation so that the toy will tell her the letter and sound of the letter.

Name games

MC has her full name down pat, thanks in part to a bedtime book we read – On the Night You Were Born, and bedtime prayers. When she first said her full name unprompted I was surprised. Then I remembered how we would repeat her name every night when reading the book. I decided to run with it.

One of the easiest ways to start with literacy awareness, learning letters and simple spelling is by using her name. It’s a word every child is invested in – their own name, so it makes it high-interest.

I have her name written on a slip of paper on the file cabinet and she uses the magnetic letters to match each letter of her name. The other day, I wrote her first name on her table, and then I cut up her name into individual letters. Then, making it into a “game” for her, I placed each letter in an Easter egg. She had to open the eggs and match the letter in the egg to the letter in her name, on the table. We’ve only been doing this for a couple of days now, but she matched letters quickly and accurately even the first time, and now she is starting to recite letters (not necessarily correct ones!) when she opens the egg and “reads” the letter card. Sometime in the near future, we’ll get the letter stamps out and let her stamp her name, matching each letter.


These five foci on literacy are helping to expose MC to the world of reading around her, in bite size chunks, without being pushy, and instead being playful. These stepping stones show MC the relationship between print and speech and are building on her alphabet knowledge, concept of what writing is and the many purposes of reading (for pleasure and for information).

All of these reading experiences are paying off, as she is exhibiting emerging reader signs. It is so rewarding to watch her and share in the experiences with her. She pretends to read our magazines (holding the magazine and flipping pages as we would), she reads simple, repetitive books from memory (Like Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?), and she’s even begun to read and recognize book titles when she’s choosing books to be read to her.


If you have any questions about the tips above or want to share any ways you expose your toddler to literacy, I’d love to read in the comments section!

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