Early Literacy Activities for Children

Yes, I did say early literacy activities for toddlers! But toddlers cant read, you may be saying to yourself right now. However,we are wanting to prepare them with the tools for future reading and writing, through positive, and enjoyable exposure to the world of print, and language rich environments.

I would like to look at how we can improve on our own strategies, for introducing early literacy activities to preschoolers while they are open to new ideas and concepts.

Storytelling: revisiting the story basket concept

In an earlier post I introduced the idea of story baskets and the success that I have had with them. I thought I would bring this back into the article as it has relevance with the current topic.

To be honest most of my articles or posts connect or cross over as they are all built around experiences and ideas for supporting young children’s learning and development in the very early years.

The idea behind the story baskets was to help children to connect more with the reader, to capture their attention and to meet the needs of different learning styles. It is also lots of fun!

You can take literally any story, nursery rhyme, song or legend and create a basket full of things relating to it.

By using the props alongside these favourites for children, it assists in capturing their attention and retaining it long enough for them to become involved.

As I mentioned in my earlier post, some wonderful outcomes from children being exposed to these type of early literacy experiences, were observed.  Especially when they were left to explore the baskets on their own or in small groups.

They began retelling the stories in their own, and very imaginative ways that often led to totally new and unique stories.

This brings me to to where children take over and become involved in extending their own learning experiences.


 Early literacy within the environment

If you are at home with your children or an educator in an early childhood setting, you will notice within your surrounding environment there is constant exposure to the world of print.

We are living in a digital age where children are using devices from a very young age and see the written word constantly here alone.

Every product we purchase has a label, from clothing to food, and not just print but symbols, logos, numbers. A child’s world is saturated with words symbols and numbers.

Outside the home are street signs, bus stops, billboards, popular restaurant branding and signage on every building identifying their brand or service.

Children are recognising these and I am sure when you’re  out on a drive can already spot their favourite fast food place a mile away.

I am by no means suggesting that we need to teach our very young children to read, just to expand on their experiences through play.

When a young child is role playing, dressing up and pretending to be a grown up, what kind of things do you notice? Going shopping, making lists, cooking and pretending to follow recipes from books and magazines.

Going to the doctor.  writing prescriptions and taking notes, using keyboards. They play at being police officers and handing out tickets, taking on the role of a shop keeper and pretending to use money.

The tools are already there, and they are being used to share messages and demonstrate their understanding of how they work.

This is where we can add the props to extend on the play, help create a waiting room at the doctors and add some clipboards with paper and pencils. Find some books about the human body or old x-rays.

Do some real cooking, and have the child draw pictures of the ingredients to create their own visual recipe book.

Children use role play not just as a form of entertainment but to try to make sense of the world around them. They are already imitating the things they know and understand and literacy has a huge part to play at this early stage of a child’s life .

A bi-cultural and multicultural perspective of early literacy

If you are reading this post and are not familiar with the New Zealand culture, we follow a bicultural early childhood curriculum. Because of this we aim to provide  50/50 exposure to two of our recognised languages, Maori and English.

Brain development: Studies have shown that children exposed to a second language over time have greater cognitive abilities and reasoning. They also demonstrate increased attention, focus and memory.

There are many positives to being bilingual and I am only touching on this briefly in this article.

Identity: Children feel a great sense of belonging when they are able to connect through storytelling to their own cultural backgrounds.

By providing children with a variety of books, props, music and art activities where they can express themselves and tell their story, we are promoting that sense of belonging for them.

I recently put together a story basket for the children in my centre as we were learning about local place names and how they came about. The history of a local legend, The Battle of Kupe and Te Wheke. (octopus).

I like to choose a variety of children’s literature for them to choose from. Among them are local well known Maori legend  and as most of these have traditionally been shared orally it can be difficult sometimes to find them.

I have discovered a few places where many more are now accessible and affordable. Some of my absolute favourites (and the children’s,) are by an author by the name of Peter Gossage.

They are great for preschoolers as they are beautifully illustrated with bold text.There are many more out there and if you live elsewhere in the world you will be able to tailor your own literacy experiences around your culture.


Using literacy for research

Extending on the literacy experiences for young children by:

Creating baskets that can be used for science and nature. Discovery baskets containing books and literature for the purpose of research and identifying their findings.

The use of devices and other technology can also be added to research together as children ask questions.

They begin to view themselves a explorers and discoverers through inquiry and research. Through this they are beginning to to build on their existing knowledge, skills and vocabulary. As adults you might be surprised at what you are able to learn alongside children through these ventures.

And finally,

Next time you think of literacy, it will not be just in the form of a book, but in everything around us. Providing new activities to expose children to new ideas should be a breeze now.

There are many advantages for children exposed to literature at a young age. Language and brain development. Imagination and creativity, and self expression among them. enjoy putting together some baskets, collating stories and looking at enhancing your environments.

Share your local history in story forms and add some local legends in there too. It could be fun to put together a discovery basket, what would you include in yours?

You are only limited by your own imagination, so when you begin to look around and see the potential for further literacy experiences for children, be creative! The sky is the limit!

Please feel free to leave a comment, ask a question or share your ideas.





32 Replies to “Early Literacy Activities for Children”

  1. I think it is so important to read to children and it has a huge impact on them as well.  My wife and I started reading to our kids the day we brought them home from the hospital.  We also had books in their cribs that they could play with, even though they couldn’t read.  Just getting the kids used to being around books was important to us.  We used a lot of cloth type books, with different textures, and pictures.  Then as they got older, into the toddler years, they would open picture books and were really happy doing just that.  So, needless to say, I am a huge advocate for early reading.  Both of my kids are super stars when it comes to reading and comprehension and I think it’s attributed to starting them early.  My son was reciting entire children’s books before he could even read, he was so used to us reading to him.  Anyway, I really appreciate what you are doing and wish you success.

    1. Thankyou Steve for your kind words and what wonderful role models you are as parents! thanks for stopping in and reading my post. Please feel free to drop by anytime.


  2. Wow, story baskets!  What a great idea. 

    I wish that I had come across this article when my daughter was a toddler as I am sure this type of thing would have helped her to develop a better love for reading. 

    A childhood without stories and using the imagination is like a childhood not lived properly I think. 

    I used to read her bedtime stories at night, but unfortunately she never grew a love for books. At least she does read well though but just not as often as I would like. 

    1. Thankyou Michel, yes for some children reading can be a difficult thing for them to enjoy. This is alernative solution or a complimentary one whichever way you look at it. Drop by and check out whats new anytime. thankyou again Cass

  3. Oh what an easily read and understandable guide to literacy for parent and grandparents, as well as those who provide care for children in their homes and in centers.  I was so fortunate to have teacher parents, and now one of my daughters is an early childhood educator.  I intend to share your article with her as well.  I especially love the idea that with a little imagination, you can create a literacy basket for a child of any age…even an infant! As I have grandchildren who love to read from ages 3 -18, I’m actually thinking this would be a very original gift for a birthday or even Christmas!

    I also had a thought as I read about your expanding your idea into a subscription service.  For a set fee, the recipient would receive x# age appropriate literacy baskets for their children on a monthly or bi-monthly basis  – just a thought for you to consider!

    All the best!

    1. Thanks Sharon that is a excellent idea. I love it! something to work towards. I do have a facebook page where i sell products which i will eventually move across to create a shop.Thanks so much for your comments. Have a great day!


  4. I dont think there is anything more important then the education of our children.  This is a great read and made me open my eyes to the fact that education is all around us.  I am going to focus on teaching with the tools that are right in front of our eyes.

    1. Thats fantastic Dale, and their really is so much more that i had not even tapped into. Let me know if you would like any more information and please feel free to ask questions anytime. I am here to help.


  5. Early literacy activities for toddlers will give me a whole new perspective on how to keep up with my daughter. Some of the things you wouldn’t think kids are paying attention to they are.

     I must try some of these literacy activities with my daughter. This is going to be a great way for us to connect.

    This article was such a great inspiration to me thank you very much I appreciate it.

    Thank you again for this wonderful article.

    1. Hi Quinn, I am delighted that you enjoyed the post. I do believe it is a great way to connect with our children. hope you enjoy using the ideas and would love to hear back from you.

      thanks Cass

  6. The story baskets is a great idea to help my little daughter learning literacy at the her 4 year old. Create a basket full of things relating to any story, nursery rhyme, song or legend is an interesting activity. I can’t wait to create one and spend the time with my youngest daughter. We can do a fun conversation about the basket content.

    1. I know you will have a really special time with your daughter by doing this. Good luck and have Fun!

      Thanks for your comment, Cheers Cass

  7. Hello,

    I think the “Early literacy activities for toddlers” is a great concept, activity and a great way to engage in higher learning with toddlers. The Natural Art Ideas, homemade wooden toys, story baskets, and heuristic ideas all help parents advance their babies in the very early stages of their lives.

    My niece (27 yrs. old) had a baby girl last year 2017, her daughter was diagnosed with a form of dwarfism called achondroplasia. There are some physical developmental issues that will be challenging, and in reading/researching the diagnosis further, intellectually can be delayed as well.

    Are there any recommended Treasure type baskets geared toward toddler born with more challenging early literacy issues?

    Ideas, on how to construct a basket and what might go in it?

    Thank you,


    1. Hi there Dianne, Yes I have personally worked with infants and toddlers with developmental delay issues and the beauty of all my baskets, particularly the sensory ones are perfect for this type of challenge.  things that require connecting together, such as Duplo or items with screw top lids for removing and replacing are great and i would suggest possibly creating plastic bins filled with sand or water with toys or natural objects in them. Water is very therapeutic and calming for young children. I am working on some other posts covering areas similar to this in the near future so feel free to check in and take a look. Best of luck with your experimenting!

      Cheers Cassandra

  8. You have some really great ideas. I love the basket ideas, starting at a young age finding things that will relate to the story so they can retell the story from what is in the basket. I am going to use your idea for a basket with science and nature items. It has always been a struggle to get my son to read, but he loves science and nature. He is 10, so if I find things that will interest him, he is old enough to do research on the computer to find out more information about what he has, and he will be required to read about it in order to learn more. I think this is something that could really work for him. Thanks for all the great tips.

    1. Hi Marla, thanks for sharing. I love that these concepts can be adapted to suit any age group and I hope this brings your son a new passion for learning. Please feel free to come back and share your experiences. Cheers Cass

  9. This is really a fabulous article ! 

    I can remember when my grandmother and my mom read to me when I was small! I used to enjoy that so much! 

    I couldn’t wait to learn to read and it was all because of the early exposure like what you are talking about! 

    Childhood literacy should be addressed as early as possible and taken extremely seriously! Great article and thank you for sharing! 


    1. Thank you Mike, It is those precious childhood memories that seem to spark a passion for these things. Thanks for reading my article, I am glad you enjoyed it. feel free to call in anytime to view my latest creations.

      Cheers Cass

  10. I thought it would be challenging to merge play time and learning but now I see that I was wrong. It’s just a matter of being creative. I really loved your idea of playing Doctor and Police Officer with the notes and the tickets. I think it’s an incredible way to both educate them about the real world and to make them recognize certain writing and vocabulary.

    1. Hello Reyhana, Yes once you can view play as children’s work and the way they use it to make sense of the world around them, it seems so natural. Every culture has different forms of play that prepare children for adult life. Thank you for your input, greatly appreciated.

      Cheers Cassandra

  11. When I lived in Japan, I used to frequent a library in town which, in my opinion, is one of the best that I’ve seen. The children’s area covered the entire floor and they are divided into age group, from toddlers to kindergartens. One thing I noticed about the toddler’s section was the amount of empty coloring boards that were placed for them and the parents to use. There were just stream of color pencils everywhere and like you said, although they are far from understanding alphabets and such, their inclination towards color and shapes will serve as stepping stones into their literacy world.  

    1. Hi there Cathy, that sounds like an amazing library! Yes shapes and what we deem as scribble is children making their mark. As they progress and practice through play they learn more and become competent writers and artists. Thankyou for your contribution, and feel free to drop in anytime to see whats new.

      Cheers Cassandra

  12. Hi Cass,

    I am a big advocate for literacy.  Without literacy a child will be at a disadvantage from the get go.  I love your basket concept and it is another great tool to help our children to become the best they can be.  It is not only some 3rd world countries having problems with literacy, but also 1st world countries.  I am online a lot and speak to a lot of people from all over the world.  It is amazing how many people with English as their home and only language cannot communicate properly in English.  I often ask myself who’s to blame?  I think it start at home and at school and social media slang also does not help.

    English is not my firsts language, but I am consistently trying to improve my English communication skills.  Children (toddlers) are like sponges.  They learn a lot quicker than adults and if you ever want to give your child a head start, you should teach them basic literary skills from a young age.

    Thanks for sharing a great post!

    1. Hello Rika, I would never have guessed that English was your second language, you are so articulate. I agree the younger the better, and if they view it as something special to enjoy, the easier it is for them to learn. Thank you for your comments and please feel free drop by anytime for updates.

      Cheers Cass

  13. Greetings Cassandra,

    This is a Wonderful article for supporting literacy with young children. I am an English teacher and I currently teach ESL to Chinese students from ages 3-7. I found this article to be both true and beneficial in offering some creative strategies that both parents and teachers can use to support early childhood literacy development. I use a very similar tool to your “book basket” mine is just in bag form instead of baskets. I can testify that it is very effective for engaging early learners in ways that allow them to use the story content as a platform to express their own ideas. Students love to engage physically so giving real objects that they can connect to story language and content is great.

     Learning at this stage is a natural, organic process in childhood development so incorporating strategies that utilize the child’s natural environment and organic play is fun AND effective! I use every opportunity that comes up in daily routines to create language engagement. Transition times allow you to incorporate language games, as you suggest, by using signage, objects, sounds, most anything in the natural environment. This also fits right in with your advocation for bicultural learning support. The kindergarten I work at utilizes a bilingual curriculum as well and it is just amazing to see how well children can develop languages simultaneously, not to mention the many cognitive benefits from bilingual education. 

    Despite some resource limitations, I am going to pursue your suggestion and advocate more strongly more mixed media resources for children to engage with. The world is changing and it’s so important for the classroom to keep up with the ways in which children engage with language at home. These days, it often is in the form of a computer, tablet, phone, or television screen. By bringing familiar technologies into the class, students can feel excited and comfortable to learn with a platform they already enjoy using at home.

    Thanks again for a great article!

    Best wishes 🙂

    1. Thank you so much Connor, it is a privilege to share my passion with others and I am glad that my article was able to offer you some inspiration. We have an author here by the name of Tanya Batt whose work is amazing, she has a book and cd series and one is called The Story Sack, She is an incredible story teller whose parents were geologists. I thought of her the moment you mentioned your bag and I know that the potential for so much more is out there. You clearly have a passion for supporting literacy experiences for children and I hope you will stop by for updates in the near future. Thanks again, Cass

  14. I am always so thankful for my parents introducing me to the fantasy world of books from such an early age. It definetely changed and shaped me as a person. That’s why I love articles like this that show the importance of literacy. It is great for common sense and for person to find their talents. What do you think is the best book to start with from the Disney ?

    1. Hi Andrea, I too am thankful for the same thing, it is a special gift from a parent to share a love of literature. Disney? there are so many, i think you pick your own favourite, the one that stuck with you the most and that you found magical. For my daughter growing up it was Peter Pan and she has introduced, and nurtured this same love for the story with her own two little boys.

      Thank you for commenting and enjoy choosing your story.:)

  15. I like your idea about getting kids to draw pictures for their own cooking  book. My daughter gets a story every night and reading has been a huge part of her life since she was born. However, I had not thought to add actual props to the stories. This is a great idea! I am curious-do you think a 4 year old should have actively planned things to do when they are just at home for the day-almost kind of like a play based planned curriculum? I ask because I am finding it more demanding these days just trying to get things done around the house without my daughter demanding I play with her nearly all the time-I do make sure we get play sessions in every day, but I find that if she is not actively engaged in something she becomes whiny and challenging which often leads me to just want to switch on a movie for her to give myself a break or just get some house work done. But I don’t want to resort to screen time! I try and involve her in everything that I do, but sometimes I find myself wishing she went to kinder more than three days a week because I find it harder to keep her entertained and engaged in things that don’t involve me. Would you recommend actually planning out each day she has at home with me with certain activities to focus on rather than leaving the play to chance? I am looking forward to the day she can read for herself as another world will be opened up to her there that does not rely on me!

    1. Hi Liz, thank you for sharing. I can understand where you are coming from with an energetic 4 year old. I actually think that if she is already attending kindy a few days a week then, by all means apart from the occasional planned activity with you(cooking) that you do leave play to chance. There is a lot to be said for this type of play and this is where children do most of their learning. Maybe we sometimes think that children need to be entertained but its more about them finding things out themselves through free play and exploration. Thank you and I hope that you are able to enjoy this precious time with your little one and I wonder if the cook book idea might be a great start. Have a lovely day and let me know how it goes.


  16. I think the point you make about bilingual learning is definitely true! I think if you have the resources, you should definitely try and teach your child in more than one language. They’ll definitely thank you for it later down the line! I have been learning Spanish during my time in education and I can see how much it has benefited me at an older age so I’m sure the benefits would be tenfold if I’d learnt as a child! How much do you think the benefits differ between children and older learners when developing language skills?

    1. Hi Danny, thank you for your comment and sharing your own experience. I think your question is a great one and in my opinion (although you could research it more in depth and scientifically), I believe that it benefits both in different ways. Children’s brains are  still developing and all new learning taking place create pathways that lead to  increased cognitive abilities. However their is research to suggest that for adults, exercising the brain through learning a new language can have very positive effects. It just takes a little more effort:)

      Thank you for reading and please feel free to visit anytime.


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