Readers play: 5 Activities to Build Readers

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.


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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.

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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.

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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.

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What other ways do you encourage play? What are your child’s favorite activities?

Building Future Writers

Play Matters to reading success

Rock Wall

We’ve talked a lot about reading in this blog and I was reminded at a work training this week that not only do we prepare our kids to become future readers, but we prepare them to become future writers as well.

I was under the misconception that writing was all about fine motor skills. I did a lot with my kids to strengthen their pincer grasp, but I didn’t know how important shoulder, back and forearm strength was for future handwriting success.

This workshop opened my eyes to a whole new level of early literacy success.

Some of the ideas I share below came from the workshop and others came from a great website called Your Therapy Source: Gross Motor Skills and Handwriting. I’ve put it in a graphic format so you can print it out and remind yourself to add play into your day to help your child develop the muscles he needs to become a strong handwriter.

Develop Future Writers

This afternoon go find a park and try out some of the activities, not only will you and your child spend some quality time together, the play will actually build the arm and hand strength needed to be a successful student.Hanging

There are also great blog posts about how handwriting develops.

Developmental Progression of Handwriting Skills at Mama OT

Activities to Practice Handwriting Skills at Home at Growing Hands on Kids

What other gross motor skills have you used to build shoulder, back, and arm muscles for writing?

Toys and Activities that Encourage Literacy

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!

IMG_3099I 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.

Texture Letters

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.


Mommy-Me The Wonder Years Blog

Montessori Literacy on Pinterest

Montessori Method for Literacy