9 Activities to Encourage Pre-Reading and Early Literacy

Before your child actually begins to read, she'll develop a set of skills known as pre-reading skills. These pre-reading skills are signs of early literacy. Though it may look as though your child is merely playing, she is organizing what she knows about books and language (including words, letters, and sounds) and how they work together to form this magical skill known as "reading." It's fun to work on pre-reading skills with your child through simple, imaginative games and activities.


Read to Your Child

Father and toddler son reading book on living room sofa
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Read to your child! Many libraries and schools display a poster called "Ten Ways to Be a Better Reader." Numbers 1 through 10 simply say "read." There is no better way to introduce your children to words, cadence, fluency, and sequencing than to read to them daily. Read books they choose as well as books you choose. Read at bedtime, but also at other quiet times throughout the day. Visit the library to choose even more books.

Pre-Reading Skills: Print awareness (helping kids make the connection between printed letters and words and the ideas and stories they represent), vocabulary building, print motivation (interest in reading, in books, and in how they work)


Remake a Picture Book

Buy an inexpensive second copy of your child's favorite picture book (you can usually find one at a thrift store) and separate the pages from the binding. Have your child recreate the story from memory by putting the pages in order.

If you think he's up to the challenge, you may even want to cut the text from the illustrations (if the book's design allows this). Then see if he can match the text with the pictures. He may not be able to read the words, but if you've read the book together enough times, he may recognize the look of the words for each page.

Pre-Reading Skills: Sequencing (being able to tell a story in order), print motivation


Look at Environmental Print

Environmental print refers to the signs, logos, symbols and words that children see everyday and recognize without being able to read them. For example, few children need to be able to read to recognize that the Golden Arches means a McDonald's is nearby or that the red octagon on the street corner is a stop sign.

Let your child make her own book of environmental print. Provide newspapers, magazines, safety scissors, glue, and a sheaf of blank paper stapled together. She can cut out familiar logos and symbols, paste one on each page, and read you her book.

Pre-Reading Skills: Print awareness, beginning letter awareness


Play with Magnetic Letters

Invest in a few sets of magnetic letters and an inexpensive cookie sheet. At first, help your child learn the names of the letters and what they look like. As he gets a little more comfortable, you can move on to putting the alphabet in order. Eventually, he can sound out and spell small words like "cat" or "bat," or his own name.

Extend the activity by having kids use the magnetic letters as models while they trace letter shapes with their fingers in a tray of sand, dry rice, shaving cream, or something similar. Or the child could try to form letters out of Pla-Doh or by lining up beads, blocks, or small toy cars (whatever interests them).

Pre-Reading Skills: Phonological awareness (understanding that words are made up of different sounds), letter knowledge, spelling


Make a Rhyming Box

This activity is a great excuse to wander the miniatures aisle at your local craft store. Find small items that rhyme, such as a pan and a fan or a shell and a bell. Place about ten sets of them in a shoebox and give it a shake. Have your child open the box and match up the rhyming items.

To extend this activity, you can provide an item that does not have a rhyming match and have your child draw a picture of something that would rhyme with it.

Pre-Reading Skills: Phonological awareness


Practice Sequencing

Though you can buy sequencing cards, it's just as easy to print sets of them yourself (your child can practice cutting them, too). Each card has a picture, and when placed in the right order, the pictures tell a story. You can find sequencing cards to go along with popular picture books or make a set that tells a story familiar to your child.

Once your child sequences the cards, ask to hear the story that goes with them. It may not always be what you expect, but it's fun to see what your child comes up with.

As long as the story and the pictures are in a coherent order, your child is learning that stories have a beginning, middle, and end.

Pre-Reading Skills: Sequencing, narrative skills (the ability to tell a story), reading comprehension


Tell Stories About Pictures

Encourage your child to tell you stories about random pictures. It doesn't matter whether you use a family snapshot or turn to an advertisement in a magazine. Simply ask your child to tell you who the characters are, what they are doing, and why they are doing it. Assure her there is no right answer: what you are creating is a story from her imagination. You can also encourage her by telling a story of your own.

Pre-Reading Skills: Narrative skills, vocabulary


Label Common Objects

Use index cards, labels, or pieces of poster board to print the names of common items in your home. Make two sets, attaching one to the items and giving the other to your child to use for play.

Don't push your child to match the two sets; the idea is to get the child familiar with the look of the words for common items, eventually making the connection on his own. It won't be long before your child is showing you that he recognizes his words from seeing them around the house.

Pre-Reading Skills: Print awareness, vocabulary


Play Word Games

Simple word games let your child experiment with sounds, letters, and words. Try:

  • I Spy: Use language-based clues, such as "I spy something that starts with T" or "I spy something that rhymes with 'duck'." If that isn't enough information for your child, add more details, such as "I spy something that starts with 'T' and has four big wheels" (a truck).
  • Word Families: Take turns choosing a starter word—this can be the "kid" in the family if you like—and then coming up with as many rhyming words as you can. They can be nonsense words, too. Just list words, or invent a whole family: "I am 'frog,' my mom is 'fog,' my dad is 'log,' my brother is 'cog,' my sister is 'wog,' my grandma is 'jog' ... "

Pre-Reading Skills: Phonological awareness, vocabulary

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