Literacy Activities for Toddlers & Preschoolers

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As the mama of a 2 year old, I’m intrigued by the unschooling method of learning. We’re planning to homeschool our children, and I love the idea of their learning being self-led. And especially during the early years, I want much of the learning to be done through play.

However, I also have a deep love of reading. I want my children to experience how the world opens up to them when they understand written language. Books, signs, grocery stores, labels – these all become fascinating sources of stories and decodable information once a kiddo can read.

Unschooling by Clark Aldrich has been my favorite homeschooling/unschooling book I’ve read so far.

At 2, my toddler knows his letters and is working on learning their sounds. He’s done this all through play, mostly independent. No flash cards, no quizzing. This post is to document my though process, and the tools I’ve provided him to teach himself these skills.

Update: at 4, he is reading small words and well on his way to gaining the confidence to read independently. He can read road signs and words in shops, and I often find him sitting and paging through his favorite books around the house.

Unschooling & Early Literacy

Given the dual pulls toward unschooling and my gratuitous excitement for my child to fall in love with independent reading, this has been our approach to learning how to read.

1. First, I wanted my kiddo to recognize that letters are individual symbols & start to remember their names. Toys to help with this:

  • Letter blocks. However, just let them play with the blocks. There is no wrong way to play with them. Stack them, sort them by color, make little houses out of them. As time goes on, your kid will start to learn the names of the shapes just through play “Hey kiddo, pass me the red R” and “I can stack the L on the T but I can’t stack the O on the D!”- stuff like that happens naturally when you stop to sit and play for a few minutes. This is a way for your kid to get comfortable with the letters through play, without any pressure.
  • Reading is obviously hugely important. I love the Dr. Seuss ABC books for this.

2. After figuring out that letters are a thing, then kiddo needs to recognize that the symbols have meaning, then he can start to piece together the shape of the letter, the name of the letter, and the sound that it makes.

  • Reading with you will go a long way. I like to *occasionally* point to the word as a read it for a few pages to indicate that there is a connection between the letters on the page and the story my child is hearing. The Dr. Seuss Alphabet books, and probably other alphabet books, are great for this.
  • I find that pointing out signs, letters, and words in the real world helps a lot at this stage. STOP on a stop sign, the grocery store name on the front of the store. D for DRIVE on the shifter in the car. Crosswalk signs, playground signs. These objects are all around our curious kids, and in my experience they love explanations for what everything means.
  • We love rhyming games. One of your chooses a word, and then you go back and forth naming rhymes. It very quickly devolves into silly nonsense words, which are great fun. But it’s wonderful for helping your kid remember different letter sounds, and also expanding his vocabulary as you find real but uncommon words to rhyme.

3. Keep Reading

From here on out, it’s a balance between waiting for your kiddo’s brain to develop enough for everything to click, and having repeated exposure so that he has the opportunity to learn to read.

  • Melissa & Doug word cards, CVC blocks, Rhyme cards, and school supplementation worksheets can all be helpful tools, depending on your style. Most of these feel more like fun games and activities that you can do for a few minutes periodically, rather than a daily struggle through prescribed school work. Remember, your child will learn fastest when he is the most interested in a topic. There will be times when he is working on learning something else. Ride it out and just keep reading, and when you notice that your child is really interested in letters and words, then capitalize on that to dive deeply into the learning process.

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