Believe it or not, the skill levels children have when they enter Kindergarten affects future school success more than what happens in Kindergarten and all grades after. Research shows that 85% of brain development happens by age 5. Due to the importance of the early years, it is vital that families understand how to engage their young children in literacy activities that will prepare them for school success in the future.
Research has indicated that most families are highly interested in their children’s education, regardless of race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status. However, fewer than half (48%) of young children in our country are read to daily. Many families lack the money necessary to buy new books, or they may not have access to libraries. They may not have been read to as children themselves and may not understand the value of reading to their own children. Perhaps most significantly, families of all income and education levels often have difficulty finding time to read with children. Responsibilities at work and in the community make it difficult for families and children to sit down together, as does the increase use of technology, video games, and television.
Literacy is not simply defined as reading aloud, however. It can work for busy families in a variety of meaningful ways. Here are a few fun ideas to help families get started:
- Create a mystery letter box: Decorate an old shoe box and make a hole big enough through which young children’s hands can fit. Fill the box with objects that start with a different letter every week. Allow children to pull out and name the objects and with what letter they start.
- Environmental print “I Spy”: During everyday activities, such as driving, eating, or shopping, look for letters or words from billboards, signs, labels, bumper stickers, cereal boxes, gum wrappers, fast food restaurant logos, banners, etc.
- Create a shopping list: Ask children to make a list using leftover packaging. Help them cut and paste (using glue or tape) these items to a sheet of paper. Go to the store to help find the items, matching them to the items on the list. Children can also be encouraged to “write” out a list and cross off “written” items as they acquire them at the grocery store. Even scribbles will be meaningful to children who create them, so make sure they are respected as such.
- Letter hopscotch: Utilize masking tape inside and chalk or dirt outside to create a hopscotch diagram. Mark letters in the spaces. Have each player throw a rock or other “marker” to the letter named. The player then has to step, jump, or hop to all other letters, leading up to the one with the “marker” on it. Pick up the marker, step, jump or hop to the end, and then back to the starting point.
- Puppet shows: Re-tell a familiar story by using your hands (bare or with socks). This can be done while dinner is being made, during bath time, in the car, etc. Utilizing a box full of scarves, blankets, old shirts, etc., for props, is also a possibility when more time is available.
- Rhyming games: At dinner time or in the car, say a word and take turns saying as many words as possible that rhyme with that word.
- Bathtub writing: Put shaving cream in the bathtub and allow children to write letters of the alphabet on the sides of the bathtub. Draw an example letter if necessary.
Most importantly, HAVE FUN! Enjoyable literacy activities can give children more motivation to read and write and helps them develop a positive self-concept.
Additional Sources: Higham, 2013; Chavkin & Williams, 1993; Rich, 1988; Research Face, 2011; Anderson, 2002; Louisville Free Public Library; Family Engagement Training, Katherine Herron, Early Childhood Center, Indiana University, 2015