When Arriah Waites’ daughter was only two, she already knew how to spell her name. That’s because Waites made up a song they’d sing together that spelled it out—set to the tune of the old Mickey Mouse “M-I-C-K-E-Y” theme song. Feeling inspired? Whether your kid learns best from listening, looking, saying things aloud or tactile play, there are lots of fun ways to boost their literacy skills. Here are seven ideas to get you started:
Introduce kids to the building blocks of language by forming letters out of modelling clay together, and telling your preschooler the names of the letters and what sounds they make. “Talking about letters has a lot of value,” says Carla Hudson Kam, a professor of linguistics at UBC, and Canada Research Chair in Language Acquisition. “Plus, this will teach them that they themselves can make these letters. It will plant the idea that they can learn to write.”
Jump to it
Kids sound out most words phonetically, but some (called sight words), they’re better off memorizing whole. For kids aged four and up, try drawing words, like “the” “because” and “could” on the ground in chalk, and then make matching flashcards. Hand your kid a flashcard, and have them jump to the right word, while you shout it aloud together.
Borrow a trick from kindergarten classrooms and add labels to objects around your house to help kids learn words naturally. Start by labelling toy boxes and craft supplies with their contents. Next, label things like the fridge, the bathroom door and your kid’s bed and dresser.
Create a rhyming game
“Any time you can practice rhyming, it’s really helpful,” says Hudson Kam. That’s because rhyming helps kids focus on the way words sound. Even kids who can’t write yet can match together flash cards with photos of things that rhyme, or draw pictures of things that rhyme on a piece of paper. And when they see rhyming words written down, you can have them point out patterns in the spellings.
Pick a letter of the day
Mom Emily MacKenzie is teaching her kids to identify letters by looking for them in real life: She chooses a “letter of the day” to encourage them to look for it on street signs or the labels on products.
Upgrade your fridge magnets
Buy two sets of fridge letters—one uppercase and one lowercase—and then have your preschooler match together each version, to help them grasp the concept that there are two ways to write each letter.
Make a book together
Help your kindergartener tell a story about their day. Have them draw a picture of something they did today, and then help them write their story beneath the pictures, say, “we saw a cat.” Draw a line where each word will go, and then fill in the words while sounding out how they’re spelled. Then you can read what you wrote back together. If you do multiple pages, you can keep them all together in a scrapbook-style journal.
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If your kid is having trouble reading, you should get their hearing tested