Language and Literacy Activities for Toddlers

This article outlines some techniques and materials, including storybooks, which can be used by parents, grandparents, and teachers to improve a child’s cognitive development and academic success.  The activities incorporate learning strategies that have a basis in educational research in order to engage young children and strengthen their vocabulary, creativity, and prosocial and problem-solving skills.

In addition, ideas within this article can be used by parents, grandparents, or teachers as a template to develop future teachable moments. [Note: Some applicable national education standards for kindergartners are listed within this article that relate to the incorporated techniques and/or subject matter.]

Storybooks: The Knight and the Dragon by Tomie de Paola

Good Night, Good Knight by Shelley Moore Thomas

The above storybooks can be accessed online, at a library, or at a bookstore and can be read over-and-over again to young children in order to build their thinking and communication skills. In addition, these storybooks and others, can focus young children on some of the themed activities detailed below.

The Power of “Once upon a time:” Four words that when you hear them, you know at once what it is you are about to experience.  You may not know the exact contents or the specific characters or the precise action that is about to happen, but you are ready all the same to take on all of these unknowns and uncertainties.  No matter your age, you are ready to succumb to the world of the story. The phrase “Once upon a time” is very powerful, universal, and very well-steeped in the written word, found published in 1476 (to put that date in perspective, the first surviving printing press book, the Gutenberg Bible, was published in 1450).

The Knight and the Dragon storybook:  Below are some (1) key themes, (2) reasons why this storybook was selected for this article, and (3) reading strategies for adults. This story:

  • Has engaging pictures: (a) Adults should point to specific visual items in the artwork and (b) Adults should ask the children to point to items in the artwork while helping to explain the story and bring the story’s details to life.
  • Is written as a storyboard-style set of pictures for the reader to explain what is happening. The pictures enable the child to elaborate on the story, in some way, telling the story to the adult.
  • Has pictures that show specific characters in the storybook reading books to gain information for themselves.  There is also a character who delivers books to the knight and dragon resulting in a positive outcome to story and its characters.
  • Is a tale of possible danger, but the characters become friends by the end of the story. The story’s message is that it is better to work together than to fight with one another, even if you are different from each other or perceived to be “natural enemies.”  This message teaches a valuable prosocial skill.

Good Night, Good Knight storybook:  Below are some (1) key themes, (2) reasons why this storybook was selected for this article, and (3) reading strategies for adults. This story:

  • Has potential for comparison with The Knight and the Dragon: Ask the children to explain how the storybooks and/or characters in the storybooks are alike to and are different from each other.
  • Uses repetitive phrases (as used in a “refrain” in poetry or “chorus” in music). The children can memorize and start to anticipate what comes next in the story; this strategy strengthens engagement in the storyline.
  • Uses rhyming words; a skill that children are encouraged to learn at school. Also, “rhyming” adds musicality to storytelling.   
  • Allows the reader to use his/her voice to elaborate on the emotions of the character. Readers have the opportunity to enhance their own storytelling skills.
  • Is a great bedtime story: (a) the baby dragons are preparing to go to sleep; (b) the knight eventually gets to go to sleep; and (c) a routine is showcased in preparation for bedtime, such as having a drink of water, reading a story, and singing a song.  [Parenting adults should also establish a bedtime routine to help their own children prepare for sleep.]

Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts (for Kindergarten): These are national education standards which many states recognize and utilize in the classroom. Notice how the standards below align with the suggested material to be taught.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.9 Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RF.K.2a Recognize and produce rhyming words.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.K.2 Confirm understanding of a text read aloud or information presented orally or through other media by asking and answering questions about key details and requesting clarification if something is not understood.

Vocabulary acquisition: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.K.6 Use words and phrases acquired through conversations, reading and being read to, and responding to texts.

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In preparation for Next Generation Science Standards: 2nd grade – PS1 – 3: Make observations to construct an evidence-based account of how an object made of small pieces can be disassembled and made into a new object.

Themed Activities at Home to Strengthen STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) Education and School-readiness Skills: Practice the following activities at home with your children/grandchildren.

  • Role-playing by dressing in masks and/or costumes while imagining you are in another place and time.  Role-playing encourages children to communicate with others, which in turn, increases their vocabulary and helps them practice articulating their ideas. Young children should be encouraged to communicate the roles they are playing and the actions they are performing, even to the point of telling the other “player” what they should be doing, thereby constructing plots and storylines.  Preschoolers stretch the bounds of their creativity and imagination as they pretend to be knights, dragons, medieval princesses, and so forth.
  • Building with Duplo/ Mega building blocks to make a castle, tower, cave, and so forth.  Envisioning and constructing structures increases the child’s fine motor skills, when snapping and unsnapping blocks, while also enhancing their imagination, creativity, and problem-solving skills. Interaction with the blocks provides an opportunity for (a) counting and color recognition, (b) imaginative play if characters (people, animals) or other recognizable objects (flowers, vehicles) are included, and (c) reinforces the importance of repetition in all activities, since young children learn through repetition.
  • Taking turns & sharing with others.  This prosocial skill is helpful in all walks of life.
  • Hide-and-seek Stacking of Duplo/ Mega Blocks: Take turns between the child and the adult “hiding” Duplo/ Mega blocks around the yard or throughout the house.  [“Hiding” the blocks can be as simple as placing them in the open so as to not frustrate the child while also enticing them to readily locate and gather the blocks.]  As the partner finds the blocks and stacks the blocks together into a tall tower, he/she can count the blocks to make sure all of the hidden blocks are found. This also gives the child the opportunity to count and to understand that each object represents an individual block, but together, the blocks represent a collection or compilation of blocks, thereby strengthening their number sense.  

Also, when playing with older toddlers, the blocks can be stacked, lined up, or interlocked to form color patterns (red, yellow, blue, red, yellow, blue …what is the next color pattern? … red, yellow, blue…etc).

  • Rhyming Words: For older toddlers, encourage rhyming words, such as night, light, bright, fight, flight, kite, might, bite, right … etc (don’t discourage them if they come up with “words” that rhyme that are not actual words, such as “pite,” in this case, …as they are practicing the sound of the word which will be applied toward building a foundation for sounding out words and eventually for reading similarly spelled words, such as at, bat, cat, etc.).
  • Practice the Art of Storytelling: As an adult, practice your storytelling skills and encourage your child to do the same.  Start with the phrase “once upon a time, there was a             ” and fill in the blank with a person or creature, such as a princess, dog, frog, or so forth.  Then elaborate on an adventure that the character has. This adventure can be set in fantasy or everyday life, such as “Once upon a time, there was a dog whose name was Rocky.  Rocky liked to read books, which was unusual for most dogs, but not for Rocky. Of course, you might assume that Rocky enjoyed books about cats or chasing cars, but that was not the case. In fact, Rocky enjoyed stories about _______. “ [and so forth].  

You might also enjoy this recent article from a regular Mom Advice Line contributor about Teaching Number Sense to Toddlers.

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