Ideas for implementing more play-based early literacy activities into your home environment

What are you doing? What are you doing?

Teaching a child to read can feel like a monumental task if you don’t know where to begin.  Early literacy however, is a bit easier to tackle. It is the foundation for becoming literate (Learning Point Associates [LPA], 2004; Roskos, Christie, Richgels, & Dickens, 2003), giving children the skills they need to read when they are ready.  Helping your children improve these skills can be fun and interesting and it is encouraged to be playful in learning (Gentile & Hoot, 1983; Hall, 1991), plus, it doesn’t always require a ton of preparation.  

So, what exactly are early literacy skills?  They are language development, phonological awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency and comprehension (LPA, 2004).  In the first article of a 3 part series, we will take a look at the first two — language development and phonological awareness.  

Oral Language Development

Essentially, oral language is the two main skills that encompass using it: speaking and listening.  It’s being able to not only clearly express your ideas but to also understand others when they speak.

This is an easy skill to practice because the more language you use in the home and with your children, the more their language skills will develop.  

It is simple things such as having your child use words instead of pointing for something and if they are not at the speaking stage yet, using baby sign language is a great option.  Baby signs are a beginning route to language and will allow your child to come to understand that by communicating they can let a person know what they need or want.

This site is a great free one for learning the basics of sign language for babies:

How to Teach Baby 25 Key Words in Baby Sign Language

This video is a great one for learning how to create a language rich environment for your children.  While the video was posted by a parent who uses Montessori concepts in her own home, the 5 tips she gives are practical no matter what educational practices you prefer and can easily be applied by anyone.

Video from Hapa Family

Phonological Awareness

The second aspect of early literacy is phonological awareness, which is the understanding that there are sounds in a language along with the ability to use these sounds.  Development of phonological awareness begins very early in life and continues on for many years as literacy skills develop.

There are many ways to help develop phonological awareness however we will discuss 4 common ones here: rhyming, alliteration, counting syllables and phonemic awareness.

Fortunately rhyming is one of the most accessible and effective ways to develop phonological awareness.  There are tons of rhyming books and poems out there but you can also create your own rhyming activities with your kids. 

🛝Putting it Into Play

Here is a great site with ideas for rhyming fun:

Another way to practice phonological awareness is alliteration.  This is when a sentence or phrase’s words begin with the same sound.  Big brown bears bounce basketballs; Dan and Dave dig, dig, dig. 

The above are just a couple of examples and it’s something you can do with your child anytime: just pick a letter and create a silly sentence together!

🛝Putting it Into Play

Another option is The Learning Lady’s alliteration game using things you can find in your home: 

Video courtesy of The Learning Lady

Or if you prefer a song, Jack Hartmann always has great choices that kids find enjoyable: 

From the Jack Hartmann Kid’s Channel

Counting syllables is a relatively easy and fun skill for children to pick up, as most of them are aware of syllables but not necessarily in an explicit way.  A great way to practice this skill is counting syllables through clapping, or singing songs that involve clapping along to words.  

🛝Putting it Into Play

Here are a couple of fun syllable songs from established YouTube channels: 

Clap it Out by GoNoodle
Jack Hartmann is big on songs with movement

Phonemic Awareness, or knowing the sounds in words, is another key aspect of phonological awareness.  This becomes important later because the reader will take the symbols’ sounds and blend them together to read the word.  Therefore, knowing that the word “cat” involves three separate sounds, is an invaluable skill for literacy.  

This means that having your child be as familiar with the sounds of letters as they are with the names is a key part of phonological awareness.  

🛝Putting it Into Play

A simple game that helps to practise this skill is saying all the individual sounds of a word and have your child guess that word.  For example, you say, “/c/ /a/ /t/”, really separating the sounds, then repeat them slightly faster again and again until your child figures out what word you are saying and shouts the answer.

This website has some really simple and great ways to play and practice all of these phonological awareness skills:

🛝Now it’s Your Turn

The topic of early literacy can be an exhaustive one, so we will end things here for part one; part two will discuss the early literacy skills of phonics and vocabulary.  For now you can go try some of these activities and build some great memories with your children. 


Gentile, L., & Hoot, J. (1983). Kindergarten play: The foundation of reading. The Reading Teacher, 36, 436-439.

Hall, N. (1991). Play and the emergence of literacy. In J. Christie (Ed.), Play and early literacy development (pp.3-25). Albany, New York: State University of New York Press.

Learning Point Associates, (2004). A Closer Look at the Five Essential Components of Effective Reading Instruction: A Review of Scientifically Based Reading Research for Teachers. Department of Education [ED].

Roskos, K., Christie, J., Richgels, D., & Dickens, C. (2003). The Essentials of Early Literacy Instruction. Young Children, (pp.52-60).

Tsao, Y. L. (2008). Using guided play to enhance children’s conversation, creativity and competence in literacy. Education, 128(3), 515-520.

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