Helping Toddlers with Pre-Reading Skills

If you have a toddler at home, you may not have thought much about teaching her to read. Most parents of toddlers would be thrilled if their little one would just learn to keep their food on their plate! While most toddlers have several years before they begin to read fluently, there are some activities you can begin now in order to build a strong reading foundation. And trust us, your child will be in much better shape when starting school if you have already taken the time to do these things!

Developing your little one’s phonemic awareness is one very important way you can begin to lay the groundwork for reading success. Simply put, phonemic awareness is the ability to recognize and manipulate sounds within words. The following phonemic awareness activities will help your toddler cultivate a strong basis for later reading.

  • Read Nursery Rhymes – Rhymes help children hear the phonetic connections between words with similar spellings and sounds. When you read nursery rhymes to your toddler, he learns the natural rhythms of spoken language.
  • Sing Rhyming Songs – Singing fun rhyming songs is another way to help your little one develop an awareness of rhythmic patterns among words. When you’re singing their favorite song for the tenth time that day, remember that you really are doing important brain work!
  • Clap Words – You can begin to introduce the concept of syllables to your toddler by “clapping words”. Clapping out the syllables in words helps your little one learn to isolate sounds, which is an important part of developing phonemic awareness.
  • Read Word Family Books – Reading books to your toddler that focus on a particular “word family” (words ending in a particular sound – “ad”, “an”, “op”, etc.), will help him gain phonemic awareness.  Dr. Seuss’ Hop on Pop is an example of a good book for introducing word families.
  • Go on a Sound Hunt – Help your toddler learn to isolate sounds within words by going on a “sound hunt”. For instance, look around the house for objects that have the /d/ sound in them (dog, door).
  • Talk and Read with Your Toddler! – Speaking abundantly with a young child and reading stories – both fiction and non-fiction – are easy and effective things a parent can do to help a child’s budding literacy.

Your toddler is probably still several years from becoming an independent reader, but it’s never too early to begin laying a good foundation for reading. In fact, you are probably already doing many of the things necessary for nurturing an emerging reader without even realizing it!

If you would like to know more about the concept of phonemic awareness, check out this video from Red Apple Reading!

Sensory Play and the Young Child


Red Apple Reading post: Sensory Play and the Young ChildWe all want our children to have every opportunity to grow and flourish. It can be overwhelming to think about all that a little person must learn to do even before entering elementary school! What can parents do to facilitate their toddler’s or preschooler’s learning? The answer may be simpler than you think!

Sensory Play

Even as infants our children are learning. Have you ever tried to read your baby a book only to have her stick it in her mouth and chew on it? She is experiencing her world orally. As your baby grows into a toddler and then a preschooler, her experiences may become more sophisticated, but she is still learning through her senses. Parents can help their toddler and preschool children develop and learn by providing simple sensory experiences for them to enjoy.

Benefits of Sensory Play

  • Vocabulary Development – One great benefit of sensory play is that it helps grow your kiddo’s vocabulary. For instance, when your child is playing with playdough, you can ask him how the playdough feels. Helping your kid put labels such as sticky, mushy, or tacky on a material he is playing with benefits his vocabulary growth tremendously!
  • Fine Motor Skills Development– Another advantage of providing sensory play experiences for your child is that it aids her fine motor skill development. Fine motor skills are anything that requires your child to make small movements with her hands, fingers, feet, toes, or other body parts. When your little one is holding a small item, buttoning, tracing, etc, she is actually learning to use her smaller muscles.
  • Emotional Development – We’ve all experienced how therapeutic activity can be when we are experiencing high levels of emotion. Sensory play naturally provides the same outlet for children. For example, your child may find sand play soothing as he feels the grains run through his fingers. An angry child feels the satisfaction of building a structure and then knocking it down. Listening to music can help an anxious child feel peaceful.
  • Neurological Development – Research shows that sensory play actually helps build neural connections in children’s brains. It may look like your kid is only smelling the cake batter she is stirring; in reality, she is also constructing important neural pathways that will aid her brain development!

Visit us on Pinterest! A quick perusal of the internet will yield a plethora of suggestions for sensory play. Check out Red Apple Reading’s Pinterest page, Kinesthetic Learners, for great ideas on how to get started!


Literacy Activities: Toddler to Preschool – Reading Essentials #8

In my last post I discussed how you can get your child’s reading development off to a good start with activities for infants and toddlers. Those budding skills will need to continue being nurtured as your child moves from toddlerhood to preschool.

Ideally you have already familiarized your child with the alphabet by now, but if not then it is a good place to start. Once your child is familiar with the alphabet, you can begin introducing basic concepts of phonological awareness.

Literacy Activities: Toddler to PreschoolWhat is phonological awareness? 

It’s the understanding of sounds in relation to language. Phonemic awareness is one aspect of phonological awareness. It also includes an understanding of rhyme, syllables, and other aspects of language sound.

This may sound like rather complicated material to be introducing to a young child, but the development of phonological awareness is a natural part of the reading process, and evolves out of an understanding of the alphabet.

Phonological awareness has been shown to be a strong predictor of overall reading ability. Children who demonstrate an understanding of the connection between letters and their sounds tend to have an easier experience in building reading skills.

Once you see that your child is getting comfortable with identifying and naming letters of the alphabet, you can start drawing your child’s attention to phonological awareness concepts with these activities:

  • Practice letters with pictures:  Use letters with pictures that contain the letter sound to demonstrate sounds to your child. For example, show your child a flash card with a picture of a dog on it next to the letter d, and say the word “dog” out loud, emphasizing the /d/ sound.
  • Point out letters:  Point out letters within words in books, around the house, on signs, and so on, and explain the sounds those letters are making within the words.
  • Teach songs and rhymes:  Children’s songs and nursery rhymes can give children practice with hearing the natural rhythms of spoken language.
  • Introduce phonics-related online media:  Let your child watch videos that demonstrate letter-sound relationships, and introduce your child to interactive phonics activities on the computer or a smartphone app.
  • Visit for some more great resources and information.

One note to keep in mind when practicing letter sounds with your children is that individual phonemes are comprised of one sound only. For example, the /b/ sound in the letter “b” should not be pronounced “buh” or “beh.” When pronouncing letter sounds as a model for your child, try to keep each sound as distinct as possible–this will make it easier for your child to eventually blend multiple sounds together to make words.

A child who knows that the letters “b,” “a,” and “t” have the sounds /b/, /a/, and /t/ can eventually blend those sounds into the word “bat.” However, if the child hears those sounds as “buh,” “ah,” and “tuh,” he or she may attempt to blend the sounds into a multi-syllable or overly complicated word.

For more information and ideas, watch this YouTube video on Phonemic Awareness.
What are your favorite toddler or preschool activities to promote literacy? Questions or comments welcome here.

Literacy Activities from Infant to Toddler – Reading Essentials #7

Literacy Activities from Infant to ToddlerOne of the most important things you can do for your child from the beginning is to read to him. Reading books, even if they are plastic or board books, introduces your child to the wonderful world of reading that will become so critical once he enters school.

While reading to and with your child is essential in supporting your child’s future reading skills, there are other ways in which you can incorporate literacy activities into everyday life as well.

The youngest children can benefit from practice with one of the basic foundations of reading–the alphabet. You can support your child’s alphabetic knowledge in many ways:

  • Put up an alphabet poster or decorations: Display the alphabet prominently in some way, perhaps hanging letters as wall art, or putting up a poster with letters and pictures on it. This will give your child the chance to start connecting the visual symbols of the alphabet with their letter names. Ideas and Pics here
  • Teach your child the alphabet song: Since most children naturally love songs and singing, the alphabet song can be a great way for them to learn their letters. There are also a number of online resources available for learning different variations of the alphabet song with downloadable MP3s and music-based videos. Try KidsTV123 on youTube for starters.
  • Introduce your child to alphabet videos and online games: Let your child visually interact with the alphabet through computer resources such as videos, games, or even cell phone apps.
  • Incorporate letters into art activities: Although drawing or writing letters will be too difficult for the youngest children, you can provide them with letter stamps, letter cut-outs from newspapers and magazines, or create letters with other materials for use in art projects.

You can also offer your child activities that encourage the development of fine motor skills. Fine motor skills relate to movements involving small hand muscles that will eventually strengthen to the point that your child will be able to write. Give your child opportunities to practice hand activities such as folding paper, picking up and manipulating objects, cutting with safety scissors, and drawing and painting. These activities will help the strengthening of your child’s hand muscles. Fine & Gross Motor Activities

Do you have any creative ways to encourage literacy skills with our youngest learners? Our next Reading Essentials Series post will share some ideas for preschoolers.

The Benefits of Early Exposure to Books – Reading Essentials Series #2

When was the last time you went to a baby shower and saw children’s books on the gift registry? No, I haven’t seen that either, but it’s not a bad idea. In fact it could end up being one of the most valuable gifts for that new baby’s first years of life.

According to the latest research, early exposure to books can be an important component of a child’s development, and will provide a solid foundation for the expansion of reading skills. Even infants can benefit from being read to, as they gain valuable practice with the many aspects of language and reading, including:

Language Sounds-  Research indicates that infants will hear all the sounds of their language by the time they reach the age of one, which leads to their ability to speak and, later on, read. When you read to your child, your child will have the opportunity to hear new sounds and perhaps repeat them after you.

Vocabulary-  Similarly, reading to your child offers your child the opportunity to hear new vocabulary and connect words with pictures.

Practice with Basic Educational Concepts-  Books can help to provide an essential introduction to shapes, colors, letters, and numbers.

In my previous post, Early Reading Milestones, I discussed how parents can support a young child’s development by verbally interacting with their child, repeating words, and encouraging their child to make sounds and eventually say whole words. It is natural for babies to explore books by reaching for and turning pages, looking at the pictures, and listening as you read a story. The National Education Association also has some great tips for reading to infants and toddlers.

Here are a few examples of types of beginner books that can be particularly beneficial for young children:

  • Alphabet Books:  Reading alphabet books to children helps introduce them to alphabetical knowledge and letter recognition. Being able to identify letters within text is an essential step in the reading process.
  • Basic “Word and Picture” Books:  For the youngest children, books that have one word per page, along with a colorful illustration, can support vocabulary acquisition. Children can also begin to visually associate a picture with a written word, so that eventually reading the word will be recognized automatically.
  • Rhyming Books:  Books that include rhymes can be helpful in building children’s early understanding of sounds in relation to letters.
  • Word Family Books:  As with rhyming books, books that focus on specific “word families” (for example, -at words such as “mat,” “cat,” “sat”) give children important practice with hearing letter sounds.
  • Phonics Readers:  Books that focus on a particular letter-sound can also support a children’s familiarity with sounds.
  • Easy Readers:  Books that contain simple language and/or repetition can give children extra practice with vocabulary and support their eventual independent reading skills.

And don’t forget the picture books! Read books with amusing pictures and funny storylines, and don’t worry about having to read an entire story if time is running short. Make it a priority to share books with your little one every day. It’s also good practice to read favorite stories repeatedly, so your child can hear the rhythm of the story just as he would a song. In the next post of this series I’ll give you ideas for establishing reading routines at home.

Oprah has compiled a reading list to help babies ages 0-2 discover the joy of reading. Here are a few of our family favorites not on Oprah’s list:
            Papa, Please Get the Moon for Me by Eric Carle
            Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do You See? by Bill Martin, Jr.
            I Don’t Want to Go to Bed! by Julie Sykes
            The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear
            by Don & Audrey Wood
            Where the Wild things Are by Maurice Sendak
            Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney
            Where’s My Teddy? by Jez Alborough
            No, David! by David Shannon

What are your favorite books for small children?