Easy Ways To Teach Early Literacy Skills While At Home

When you read or hear the word “literacy”, you probably have the immediate association with learning to read and write when reaching school. You would be correct, but only partially. Although the skill of reading and writing is formally taught in school, there is a lot of learning that goes on long before the child enters grade 1 or even kindergarten. And those are skills that parents can teach in very common activities, at home.


What is literacy?


Literacy is the general ability to send or understand written messages. Of course, writing a note and reading a book are obvious literacy activities, but there is much more. As adults, we might not be drawn to read books. And it is ok. But you are using literacy skills in many other activities:


Checking out the flyers to see what is on sale this week


Writing a grocery list


Reading a recipe


Signing a Christmas card and adding an address on the envelope


Comparing prices on tags while shopping


Dialing a number to call a friend


There are countless other activities we do every day that involve literacy. Did you ever realize that?


Children Will Imitate


Of course, we know that children will copy what they see. Knowing this, it means that all those daily tasks you do that involve literacy can be done in front of your child so they can see you read that flyer, or look at the price tag, or write an appointment on the calendar. You don’t need to perform those tasks away from your child. Show them and explain what you do also. It will help them know how this particular task has a real and useful purpose.


Since they will try to copy you, why not let them have the same supplies you are using? Give them access to pencils and crayons (you can skip the permanent markers, of course), notebooks, flyers, old calendars, price tags (once you took them off your purchases), to-do list pads, old greeting cards, envelopes, etc. Once they see how you use those objects, they will surely try to do the same.


Involve them


For many tasks, you can tell them what you are doing and why (“Let’s make a list of what we need to buy for groceries, so we don’t forget anything” or “Let’s write a note to dad to tell him where we are going”). Furthermore, you can involve them in those tasks; ask them one thing they want you to buy for groceries for example. If you write down an appointment on the calendar, ask them what you could draw with it so they would understand (ex: a tooth for a dentist appointment, an eye for the eye doctor). When you bake or cook with your child following a recipe, point to the words with your fingers, read out loud and ask them to mix, or put in the sugar, or to go get the butter in the fridge.


Play With Them


Of course, some situations where we use literacy skills are not necessarily with a child around. For example, you don’t necessarily want to have your child around if you get a traffic ticket or a parking ticket and you definitely don’t want to create that situation on purpose either! However, you can make up those scenarios if you play with your child. You can be the police officer and give a speeding ticket to one of the teddy bears. Or you can write a prescription for a sick doll. Or how about putting price tags to articles to be sold in a pretend store?


Just like a lot of situations your child has never experienced, pretending is the best way to give them a positive model in a safe environment. Maybe next time, they can give you a ticket or a prescription!


Literacy Involves More Than Words and Letters


Since the definition of literacy is not exclusive to reading and writing words, what else can that mean? Again, you are using literacy skills in many other contexts. Think of how you find the washroom in a mall. You are looking for that familiar icon on a sign. That is literacy, even if there is no word. Finding the arrow to indicate what direction you have to insert something, “reading” signs that let you know if you are allowed to bring your dog or not, following instructions to put that shelf together are also tasks that require you to “read the images”. A lot of road signs also involve icons and arrows but no text.


Look around you. There are countless opportunities to expose your child to literacy at any age. Take advantage of them so they will be even more prepared when the time comes to formally learn to read and write.



10 Literacy Activities You Can Do With Your Child


1- Write a grocery list with your child. Ask them what they suggest, write their suggestion. When shopping, read the list and ask your child to check if you did get those items.


2- Have a large calendar available and write down various events like appointments, birthdays or other outings. Add an image or draw something for your child to “read” it when you are not there.


3- Check your mail with the child. Read that this one is for mom, this one is for dad. Point out if this envelope comes from grandma, or if this one is from the water company, or something else. No need to go into details. And why not add one letter addressed to your child?


4- Make and sign greeting cards. Find various occasions: Valentine’s Day, Easter, birthday, Christmas, etc. Don’t expect your child to sign his or her name correctly yet; even a scribble will be good enough. If needed, write the address on the envelope.


5- Pretend to have a store and put price tags on them. If your child can read and recognize numbers, use them. If not, you can use dots: “2 dots” means $2, or “3 dots” means $3. It is just a written representation and your child might then be able to tell you that those bananas are $3.


6- Make a treasure hunt. Draw the plan of your house or apartment, with some of the main furniture. Hide an object somewhere, and draw arrows leading to the treasure. After a few tries, your child might be able to hide the treasure and write the directions to you.


7- Sort your child’s toys into a few boxes or bins and write labels on them. For example, one box could be for a book, one box for cars and accessories, one box could be for dolls. You don’t need to be organized like a store but you can use 2 or 3 containers, and the label can include the word and a drawing, to make it easier for your child to “read” the labels.


8- Follow a recipe with your child. Not only it will be fun to learn about food and preparation, but it will also keep them busy. If you want, write your own recipes, with a little drawing, for regular dishes you make. You don’t have to use a recipe book.


9- Create a menu out of cutouts from flyers. It is also a good opportunity to talk about different categories of food/dishes like meat, vegetable, drinks, desserts. Once you have those menus, you can play restaurant.


10- Make some road signs to play with the toy cars; draw them (or print them if you find them online) on cardboard, stick them to popsicle sticks and put them in a playdough base to make them stand.


There is no need to insist that your child learns their alphabet or to read before school. Early literacy activities will often give them an opportunity to learn that, without any pressure and in a fun situation.


Although you should still consider reading books with your child on a regular basis, there is so much more than you can do while going about your regular daily activities. If you are a busy parent, you can just use your current routines and incorporate some explanations for your child.



If you want to get some more ideas, Santa has a project to send letters to children throughout the year (not just at Christmas time) where he tells all kinds of adventures that happen in the North Pole with the elves, the reindeer, Mrs. Claus, and the whole village. Every month, those letters also include a literacy activity for your child (and additional information to the parents in a separate letter), whether it is Mrs. Claus’ favorite chocolate chips cookies, instructions on planting carrot seeds, a floor plan of the cottage where Santa went on vacation, and more. New adventures and a new activity every month. Check it out at Letters from the North Pole.

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