With so many states moving towards 3rd grade reading guarantees, parents and teachers are worried if kids are prepared for literacy from an early age. We talk a lot about books on this site but I don’t want to ignore an equally important but often ignored learning strategy for literacy success.
What Play is
Play does a lot for a child’s developing brain. New textures activate synapses that haven’t had their chance to exercise. The natural conversation that happens when you and your child play builds a strong vocabulary. Imaginative play creates reading comprehension through sequencing events and describing the routines and world around the child.
A child needs the space, time and freedom to explore and interact with the environments around them. Ask questions, get involved, not as a leader but as a participant. Us adults forget how freeing the creativity of play is. Let your child teach YOU something for a change.
What play is not
Play is not wasted time. Play doesn’t need to be structured or curated. Play will not be linear. They may start working in a grocery store and suddenly decide they are firefighters. All you need to do is sit back and let your child lead.
Get them started
While it is important to follow the direction of the child in play, there might be times they need a little encouragement. If you don’t know what to do here are a few play starters to help your child engage and ignite their brains
A texture walk. Shoes protect our kids feet and they also keep our kids from feeling the world through their soles. Go outside and have your child walk in the driveway, grass on a dewy morning or in ooey gooey mud. It will not take long for your child to come up with an adventurous story.
Go for a sound hike. If you live near a park or reserve head out and hear the wildlife but if you are in the city, do not fear. Think about all the noises the neighborhoods provide. Talk about what you hear and ask what your child hears.
Make tape art. What kid doesn’t love to play with tape? Get out a few rolls of different kinds of tape. Masking, packing, duct, washi and scotch tape. Find an easy peel surface or use paper and let them create. Don’t sit on the sidelines! Join in and create worlds together
Create a wall ball run. Find leftover paper towel rolls, toilet paper rolls, gift wrap tubes and a few different balls around the house. With painters tape and scissors help your child cut the tubes in different lengths, tape to a wall and have fun. Not only will your child watch physics at work, they will learn to problem solve when something goes wrong.
Fort building. We may not all have trees at the ready to make a tree house. But with a few blankets and some outside chairs, tables and garden tools, you can make your own fort city.
There are so many ways to play each day. No fancy toys needed. All your child needs is time, space and freedom to lead.
What other ways do you encourage play? What are your child’s favorite activities?
It didn’t take long for my husband and I to fall in love with the Montessori Preschool our oldest daughter attended. Every material had a purpose, children were given meaningful work and every activity supported independent exploration and grew confidence.
What I saw as each of my children progressed through the Children’s House program is every activity served the child on multiple levels preparing them for reading well before they looked at a written word. Table washing, metal insets, cleaning mirrors it didn’t matter the activity it trained the child to look from left to right, to develop hand strength for writing, to explore the sounds of words. When ready, a child would trace the rough exterior of the letters and practice the sounds. It was amazing to see our children grow as readers every year.
Play is one of the most important activities your child can do to prepare for future school success. We can’t all send our kids to Montessori schools but there are great materials you can use at home to help build future readers!
I Spy. Collect objects from around the house. Toys or common household objects. Put them on a tray and start the game. Cater it to the age of the child. For very young children say something like, “I spy with my little eye something blue.” When the child selects the object name what it is. As they get older you can use sounds. “I spy with my little eye something that starts with an S sound.” It is important to highlight the sound and not the letter name. You want the child to hear the sounds of the words that will help him when he begins to read independently. For the oldest age you can use rhyming sounds or blended sounds. Another variation is to put the objects in a bag and have the child feel the object and name it before she pulls it out of the bag.
Sandpaper Letters. Touch is an important element of learning. Especially for children because they are such concrete learners. Show your child how to trace the letters with their fingers. Sound each letter and try not to use the letter name. As they grow older put blended sounds together or begin to make words.
Alphabet Object Set
Similar to the I Spy game this toy has objects with cards. The child will label the item with the correct card. Aimed for older preschoolers this is still a useful game for young children. Label the object and read the name to the child and it will help associate the word with the thing. You can also do this around your house. Make your own labels and tape them to objects within your child’s line of sight. Dressers, beds, sink, cupboards. Get creative and help your child see words everywhere!
There are a lot of ways you can start building literacy skills before your child even enters preschool. Being intentional in play will help your child have fun while learning.
Print Awareness is the skill that demonstrates a child has a rich print environment in her life. Being read to is more than hearing the sounds and understanding the pictures. Before any of that happens we show children how to use books.
This all begins the first time we read to our baby. The child picks up how we hold the book, how we turn the pages, how we follow the story. In the first year we do nothing more than model.
In the toddler years we start naming the parts of the book. When the child settles in our lap to read we can point out the author and use our finger to point to where the name is on the title page. We name the front and back of the book and show the child through following the text on the page while we read.
In the preschool years the child will be able to name the parts of the book and although he or she can’t read, they will be able to point out where to find the author’s name. Where the first page starts and where the book ends.
So how do you make this fun and not a chore for you or your child?
Don’t attempt to point out every single piece of the story in every single book. Pick one part to highlight and focus on that during the reading.
Hand your child the book upside down, sideways or backwards and see what she does. Does she reorient the book the correct way? You can even start reading from the back to the front of the book. A preschooler will giggle and tell you to start at the beginning and a toddler might even turn the book the right way.
Have your child use his finger to follow the text. Even if they can’t read the words after years of practice they will understand the flow of text.
Look at the pictures and find the words on the page that describe the action. It helps connect the words with the action.
Have your child read to you! At this point they will either recite the story as they have heard it told after many repetitions or they will use the pictures as a guide. No matter how they do it, you will see them demonstrate the many skills of print awareness as they tell you the title, turn the pages and follow the text with his finger.
Print Awareness is the building block to future reading success. Kids who feel comfortable and confident with books are more likely to pick them up. It doesn’t stop there though. Print Awareness is a skill a child can develop no matter where they are.
On a walk or in the car point out familiar signs and have them “read” to you. STOP signs and brand name stores are signs they will immediately recognize. You can help by pointing out the text.
At the grocery store have them help shop. Give them a list either with pictures and words underneath or tell them a food and have them find it. Then point out the sign where the food is kept.
Read through a menu with them. Often times kids menus will have the picture of the food with the text. Have them point to the food they like and use your finger to read the word that goes along with it.
Write your child’s name in magnetic letters, sidewalk chalk, on paper or wherever you can.
Cook together. Follow a recipe on paper or in a book and make sure to use your finger to follow along as you read off the ingredient list.
Reading Rockets has a great informational video that describes many of the activities listed above and why Print Awareness matters in a child’s life.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t share some books that are great with helping children develop the skill! (All book suggestions are my own, I do not get paid to review them, however the link does take you to Amazon where I receive a small commission when you make purchases.)