Allow me to get on my soapbox for a moment: literacy is extremely important.
I taught college composition for four years in graduate school and I saw first-hand how important literacy is to a student’s long-term college success. Students with high literacy and goal-oriented succeeded in the classroom, whereas students who struggled and did not take advantage of the opportunities provided for them inside and outside the classroom did not do as well.
Without going down the rabbit hole of the American educational system both past and present, I recognized that a student’s success correlated with their literacy levels. Those with high literacy knew when they struggled and came to me for help. Those with lower literacy levels tended to not recognize it or rejected any outside help I offered them. I had several students with lower literacy levels (or were afraid to reveal how literate they actually were) who sought extra help from me.
Those were always my favorite teaching success stories. They turned their failing grades into high passes. The look of accomplishment and pride they gave when meeting at the end of the semester informed me that they would find college would be less of a struggle now that they could apply what they learned in my classroom across the courses.
Seeing the importance of literacy informed how I would teach Jai as a parent and encourage him when he finally became a student. I want Jai to know how to work through a problem and to seek help when he gets stuck.
What is Literacy?
Originally it was defined as the ability to read and write effectively. But like all words, over time it’s expanded to include how we interact with language and information both in conversations and what we read. At its core, literacy is critically thinking through information presented to us and analyzing it to determine what to do with that information: accept as fact/opinion or rejecting it as misinformation.
Literacy is struggling to maintain relevancy, but there are ways to ensure it remains important in how we teach our children. It’s never too late to encourage literacy with a child, but because I have a toddler, I am going to focus on the fun activities that promote literacy between the ages of 12 months and 36 months.
Literacy: Not Just Reading
When I thought about literacy, I thought it was just sitting down with Jai and reading to him, working through flashcards, and getting him to memorize numbers 1-10. But when our local library branch handed me a sheet of paper of literacy activities we could do with Jai, I realized that it was so much more than reading and memorization.
Some of the suggestions on the sheet:
- Make songs up about our day
- Make animal noises
- Play with blocks or other building activities
- Adopt a stuffed animal and discuss care
- Talk about what’s going on around us
- Discuss the current weather and the forecast
- Look for family shapes in everyday objects
Literacy is about encouraging Jai to make real-world connections with stuff we read in his books. When we are out and run into some ducks, I remind him that they are like the ones in a particular book we’ve read multiple times. As he properly identifies animals, shapes, and objects he sees outside of the books, I encourage those connections being made and make sure to ask more questions about them. Then when we encounter that object in a book, he gets excited about being able to identify it on his own.
At this point, it’s about introducing Jai to literacy concepts (numbers & letters) on the level he can understand: play and fun activities. By creating a fun foundation on how to recognize and apply these concepts, it will help him make stronger connections when the time comes to memorize his numbers and letters. The final step towards mastering literacy will be to draw on those early connections and do the following: assess, evaluate, and draw his own conclusions based on his previous experiences and the new information.
Our Favorite Literacy-Based Activities
Right now, Jai is into artwork. He loves the tactile nature of the paint, making a mess, and seeing how his actions impact paper. He also loves to eat and explore the world outside our home.
Following his lead, I
Painting Letters & Favorite Objects
Large cookie tray with a lip
Art paper that fits inside cookie tray
Non-toxic, washable paint
Variety of paintbrushes
Tray to place paint (we use paper plates)
Smock or old clothing to get dirty
- With the art paper and permanent marker, draw the upper-case and lower case letter of choice. Starting with letters in a child’s name is a good start rather than starting at the beginning of the alphabet.
- Surround letters with the child’s favorite objects that start with that letter (rather than the first thing that comes to mind). Jai loves identifying ants, apples, and (air)planes for “A”. This tailors the activity to what they already know.
- With the masking tape, tape the paper inside the cookie tray so it doesn’t move or shift when they paint.
- Get the child set up in the area you want them to work with their smock.
- Going through the paint, one-by-one, identify the color of the paint and ask the child to choose their colors. With the colors they’ve chosen, set it up on the plate/tray for them to work.
- Sit with them and help them paint, but let them get as wild with the colors as they want (embrace the mess), provided they keep the mess contained on the tray. If some stray paint makes it on the work surface, it should be easy to wipe up.
- Identify the objects you’ve drawn for them and emphasize the first letter of each object and point to the letters you’ve written on the sheet.
Make a Dish from a Favorite Book
A lot of children’s books have some sort of food in them: eggs & ham, sandwiches, or noodles. I selected a book from the library about Kimchi that turned into one of Jai’s favorites for the week.
I can’t count how many times we’ve read this story to Jai in the past two weeks. “Kimchi! Kimchi!” is a frequent request Jai makes when he sees the book on the top shelf. At the back of the book, and I recognize this is unusual, they have a recipe for Kimchi pancakes to make for little ones. I wanted to make the pancakes for him since he loved the book so much.
We have a grocery store chain that specializes in Asian foods near Jai’s grandparents. So Jai and I went up there to grab lunch (they have some restaurants in the store) that had Kimchi and pick up a container of Kimchi for later. He had a blast eating all the different foods they had available to eat at the restaurant and sample around the store.
As we went through the store we tried to identify anything new or unusual to Jai, especially if he pointed and asked about it. I tried to related unfamiliar items to more familiar ones to help his understanding.
Following the recipe in the back of the book, I made him some pancakes with Kimchi. Once finished, I sat down with the pancakes, the book, and Jai to read the story and show him the pancakes when it came up in the story. Jai is a fan so I may need to write the recipe down so I can make it again once we return the book.
Finding a recipe based off of a favorite book is easy to do with the internet and a fun experience to make the story more “real.”
I’ve already done one literacy-based post on activities you can do with toddlers and books. Follow this link to activities with toddlers that tie into some popular kid’s books.
Here are some more resources for fun literacy activities:
- National Association for the Education of Young Children Literacy Activites
- Teaching Mama: Pre-school Literacy at Home
- Getting Ready to Read
- Rasmussen Pre-School Literacy Activities
- No Time for Flashcards Literacy Activities
How do you teach literacy in your household? What worked for you? What didn’t work? Leave your thoughts, suggestions, and experiences in the comments below.
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Featured photo credit: Michelle Melton Photography