Introducing Your Children to Early Literacy

When the word “literacy” is mentioned, many tend to associate it just with reading, writing and math skills; but literacy goes beyond these, especially where very young children are concerned.

In the field of early childhood education, literacy has to do with all the ways children communicate meaning, right from birth, before they even learn to talk, read and write. Vital for your child’s overall development, early literacy involves learning about sounds, words and language; it is, indeed, the foundation not just for reading, writing and other academic skills, but also for cognitive development, socialisation, decision-making, problem-solving, independence, and even mental well-being.

Also bear in mind that literacies may vary from culture to culture, as children’s home learning environments influence how they learn to communicate.

With this piece, our aim is to present concrete ideas on how the development of early literacy can be supported in children below school age. In other words, we’re going to highlight some of the activities you can use to introduce your young kids to early literacy, whether they’re babies, toddlers, or preschoolers.

Activities that Promote Early Literacy

Talking Activities

Your children can more easily develop listening and speaking skills if you talk to/with them frequently. You can communicate with them while performing everyday activities. For instance, while preparing a meal you may talk about what you’re doing: “I’m adding some salt now, it will make the rice taste good”; and, while washing dishes, you can talk about the soap, water, or sponge you’re using: “This sponge makes washing plates easy.”

Objects inside or outside the house are also worth naming and talking about: “This is a washer, and we use it to make our cloths clean”; “That is a mango tree, and it grows sweet fruit.”

As often as possible, it is also advisable to use rhyme: “The dog likes to sleep on the rug”; to repeat the sounds your child makes, as they are initial attempts at speech, and repeating these sounds motivates them to make more attempts; and to encourage them to imitate some sounds they hear in nature, such as those from rain, wind, and animals.

Singing Activities

Singing with your children introduces them to rhyme, rhythm and language, as well as provides them with opportunities to improve their listening skills, and express themselves using sounds, words and body movements.

You can start with nursery rhymes such as Baa Baa Black Sheep, the Alphabet Song, and Five Little Ducks; then move on to songs not specifically targeted at children. Bear in mind that kids particularly take pleasure in action songs and rhymes with repeated gestures, noises and words.

As forms of communication, songs and music in general empower young children to explore and develop literacy through the use of rhythm, phonological awareness, vocabulary, story-telling, patterns and sequencing. Singing activities also enable kids to create meaning and express their feelings, thoughts and ideas in several symbolic ways.

Reading & Book-Based Activities

Reading and book-based activities promote children’s early literacy in several ways. As you read to your child, their ability to listen and understand is enhanced, and their potential to link words to sounds increases. 

Equally as significant is the fact that reading with children is a sure way of helping them build a vocabulary.

Not sure what kind of books are best for young children? Those with colorful illustrations, rhyme, rhythm and repetition are up there.  Also, touch-and-feel books or lift-the-flap books are suitable, especially for babies and toddlers.

But don’t just read to your kids – give them opportunities to participate as well, such as by turning the pages and pointing out pictures that interest them; and even acting out parts of the story you’re reading.

Drawing & Creative Activities

Children early literacy activities

Beyond being a source of entertainment to them, drawing and other artistic activities help young children develop fine motor skills, improve hand-to-eye coordination, develop concentration, enhance their creative imagination, and express their thoughts/feelings.

There are countless drawing and creative activities you could set up for your children.

After providing them with the required materials such as coloured pencils, crayons, markers, or even charcoal, you can encourage them to draw and colour common household items such as cupboard, chair, TV, etc.

You can also tell them to trace simple objects, or some part of their body (such as their hand or feet); paint on a chalkboard with water; create forms with differently coloured marbles, shells, etc.; or “smush” colours (shake two different coloured paints in a clear, zip-top plastic bag together) to create a new colour; and so on.

Scribbling or Writing Activities

early literacy activities children

Writing activities don’t just promote early literacy in children, for instance by making them understand the role words play when it comes to communicating information, but they also help them to improve their fine motor skills, just like art activities do.

Fun writing activities you can engage in with your children are many. You can supply them with birthday cards and allow them scribble their name on same; give them plastic alphabet pieces (or letter manipulatives) and encourage them to replicate written words; provide them with a sheet of paper and let them trace alphabet or number pieces; or help them write a letter/note to their friend by holding and guiding their hand to form words.

Play Activities

Play enables young children to interact not just with their peers but also with adults, using forms of communication that are symbolic, such as body movements, gestures, speech sounds, and printed pictures or words. 

Children also get opportunities to make up stories, act out parts, and associate characters with specific actions or events, thanks to forms of play like pretend and role play.

As a result, play activities – especially when they are designed to extend language and communication through social relationships – serve an important role when it comes to introducing children to early literacy.

By frequently creating chances for your baby, toddler or preschooler to engage in such activities as we’ve discussed so far, you’re laying a good literacy foundation, and there’s no doubt that they will achieve a level of literacy adequate for their age and overall development.