As a teacher, I often get questions from friends about what they can be doing to prepare their child for school. My usual answer is: nothing!
Let them play! Children learn through play and rich experiences. But I’ve come to understand that “just play,” doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone. Many of us have forgotten the myriad meanings of play and what it can look like. I’ve put together some suggestions of how to play with literacy and language with your young kids, and also what accomplishments you can look for.
How to choose books to play with:
- Simple, repetitive, and predictable stories are the best books for infants and toddlers.
- Books that have movement words, songs, and many rhymes.
- If your child is interested in a certain topic, like Dory or horses, find books about these topics. Get books about fish, or farm yard animals.
How to play while you read:
- For infants and young toddlers, playing with turning pages is very fun, and very appropriate! You might not get to read the book, but just playing with it gives them a chance to learn.
- Sing the songs, move to the movements, and enjoy yourself. You don’t have to sit while you read; get up and move!
- Make fun noises, silly voices, and whispers! Changing the volume and tone of your voice teaches your child how to do it, too.
- Talk about the pictures, and as they get older, talk about the story.
- What do you notice about the characters’ faces? Describe these feelings to your toddler.
- Who is the Mama? Papa? Have them find specific things on the page, like colors and familiar items.
How will I know our play is working? Watch out for these things:
- Turning pages on their own for fun and, as they get older, when you ask them to. This is a perfect time to teach your kiddo book vocabulary (front cover, page, spine, back cover)
- Pointing to pictures, and later pointing out specific pictures when you ask.
- Picking up books to look at or just to carry around.
- “Reading” a book on their own, to a favorite stuffed animal or actual animal, or even to a sibling (newborns love to be read to!).
What to not stress about:
- Reading multiple books a day. I can’t lie, some days we don’t get around to reading a book, and then my toddler doesn’t want a book at bed time. This is OK! Maybe tomorrow I’ll get more than one in.
- Reading the words exactly—sometimes your child might really want to read a book that is way too long. Abridge it! Tell them the story based on what is happening in the pictures and move the story along. They will never know.
The goal for this type of play is to inspire a love of books and reading. These are readiness skills! We want our children to seek books out, but also keep in mind that some kids just aren’t very interested despite our efforts. Just keep trying! Keep reading to them, and read to yourself as well.
But most of all, show them how much you love it when they read!
Julia is an early childhood educator with 7 years of teaching experience in public, private and charter school Pre-Kindergarten and Mixed-age classrooms. She is graduating in May with her Masters in the Early Childhood Education: Curriculum and Instruction from UCO. She has taught at John Rex Elementary in downtown OKC and The Young School at SixTwelve in the Paseo.
Julia has two daughters. She is passionate about education and is always looking to learn more and share her knowledge with others. Julia likes to garden and paint, but most of all she loves to play with her children.