By Raising Children Network
spacer spacer PInterest spacer
spacer Print spacer Email
Little boy enjoying a library reading literacy activity credit
A child’s journey towards literacy involves learning to speak, listen, read, understand, watch, draw and write. The foundation for building these skills begins at birth. Here are some literacy activities to get you and your child started.

About literacy activities

Talking, singing, playing sound and word games, reading, writing and drawing with your child are great ways to establish a good literacy foundation.

Everyday activities, like going to the local shops or library, as well as special treats – trips to the museum or zoo – all provide lots of opportunities for literacy development.

You’ll find literacy activities below. Many activities aimed at younger children are still suitable for older children – you might just need to make them more challenging.

Many parents feel they haven’t got time for literacy activities. You don’t need lots of time – five minutes a few times a day is often enough. The key is to use different opportunities to help your child learn. These can range from things like taking a trip to the local store to a night-time story before bed.

Talking and singing literacy activities

Talking and singing with children can teach them about sounds and how sounds come together to form language. By teaching your child language games and songs, you’ll be helping him to develop listening and speaking skills. It’s also important to listen to your child – this helps you learn about the stories and songs he most enjoys.

Activities for younger children (before school age)

  • Use rhyme whenever you can. Use phrases like ‘snug as a bug in a rug’ or make up nonsense rhymes about things you’re doing – for example, ‘putting fish in the cat’s dish’. Older children can make up their own rhymes, and learn poems and songs. These help them understand the meaning of words as well as how words are created.
  • Sing nursery rhymes with your child when you’re at home, in the car or out and about. Children love to sing, and nursery rhymes teach your child language, rhyme, repetition and rhythm. Try rhymes like ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep’, ‘Miss Polly had a Dolly’ or the Alphabet Song.
  • Repeat sounds your child makes, or make up sounds and see if your child can copy them.
  • Play ‘I Spy’ with your child using colours. For example, ‘I spy with my little eye, something that’s green. What’s something green I might be looking at?’
  • Talk about the sounds animals make and ask your child to copy. For example, ‘Cows say moo. Can you say moo?’
  • At mealtimes, talk about the food you’re preparing, what you’re doing to it, how it tastes and what it looks like.
  • Talk about objects outside the house or when on an outing – for example, the rustling of leaves, or the sounds of the birds or traffic. Ask your child if she can make the sounds for wind, rain, water, airplanes, trains and cars.
  • Tell your child stories about when you were younger, or about his family’s past. You might like to act out parts of the stories with your child, or tell the story through dance.
If you can’t remember the words, tune or actions to a nursery rhyme, you could spark your memory with our Baby Karaoke.

Activities for older children (school age)

  • Play word games that encourage children to learn sounds. For example, ‘I Spy’ – ‘I spy with my little eye something beginning with f-f-f. What do you think I’m looking at that starts with that sound?’
  • Ask your child about words that rhyme. For example, ‘What other words sound like car?’
  • Ask your child to make a sound or sound combination, then think of words with that sound. For example, ‘What’s a funny sound? Mo? What sounds can you make with mo?’ (‘moan’, ‘mope’ and ‘moat’, and so on). 
  • Talk about TV shows your child is watching – you can ask her to explain what just happened. You might like to also read our article on screen time recommendations.
  • Talk about the past. Ask your child to tell you something he enjoyed doing at school that week. Read our article on talking about school if you need some help getting your child started!
  • Talk about the future. Tell your child what you’re going to do on the next day or on the weekend, or ask her to tell you what she needs to do before she goes to bed.

Reading and making books: literacy activities

Reading with your child helps develop his vocabulary, ability to listen and comprehend, and ability to understand the purpose of print. You’ll also be helping to set up a lifelong positive attitude towards reading. 

Activities for younger children (before school age)

  • Read with your baby – it’s never too early to start! When you’re reading, make sure your baby can see your face and the book you’re sharing. Notice what your baby is looking at in the book and name it.
  • Younger children love rhyme, rhythm and repetition. They also love patterned and alphabet books. When you’re looking at these kinds of books, encourage your child to turn the pages and talk about what she sees. Use your finger to guide your child’s eyes from left to right across the page as you read, and point out certain words or phrases. Ask questions about the pictures, and ask your child to point to different things.
  • Children love reading the same book over and over again. You can make the most of this by asking your child to direct book reading – for example, ‘Where do we start from?’ Every so often, stop reading and ask your child what he thinks will happen next.
  • Link books with real-life experiences. If you’ve read a book about playing in a park, you might like to take your child to the local park and point out swings that look like the ones from the book. 
  • Visit the library with your child, and encourage her to choose books she’d like to take home. While there, you might like to go to story time.
  • When you’re out and about with your child, take a book along as well as a toy. You might be able to download some storytelling videos, apps or eBooks to your smartphone.
  • Read books with rhymes to help your child develop awareness of sounds and words. Dr Seuss and Pamela Allen books are a hit with many children – try The Cat in the Hat or Doodledum Dancing.
  • Teach your child the separate sounds in his name. For example, ‘Sam’ has three sounds – sss-aaa-mmm’.
  • Make touch books for babies and toddlers with objects they like to look at and touch – soft fabrics, wool, foil, paper that rustles. Then look through the book together and talk about how each page looks and feels.

Don’t worry if your young child becomes distracted when you’re reading, or if you don’t get through the whole book. Follow your child’s lead – encourage her, but don’t push her. Experiment with different books to see what she likes. Have fun with books!

Activities for older children (school age)

  • Read stories and then talk about them. Ask, ‘What was that story about?’ or ‘Did you like that character? Why?’
  • Take turns reading. You could read half the page while your child reads the other half. You could also point out single words here and there for your child to sound out – but at the start, choose only words that can be sounded out with ease, such as two-letter and three-letter words (mat, on, sip).
  • Older children love alphabet books too – ask your child to tell you words that start with the same sound as the letter you’re looking at.
  • Ask your child to make a storybook with his own pictures. He can do this on a computer or with pens and paper. Help him write the words or at least some letters in the story.
  • When you’re out and about, ask your child to identify or sound out letters or words on billboards and shop fronts.
  • Teach your child the words on street signs such as ‘Stop’ and ‘Give way’. Show how the words are constructed by sounding them out. Ask what sounds they start and finish with.
  • Encourage your child to read the names of items at the supermarket.
Let’s Read is an Australian program that promotes reading with babies and children aged 0-5 years. Let’s Read resources include reading tipsheets and book suggestion lists. 

Drawing and writing literacy activities

From an early age, children love to try to ‘write’ like their older siblings or parents. Writing (scribble) and drawing helps your child develop the fine motor skills she needs for writing with pencils and pens later. It also helps her begin to recognise and remember letter shapes.

Activities for younger children (before school age)

  • Encourage your child to draw and write using pens, pencils, crayons and markers. He’ll probably be excited to add a scribble or drawing on birthday cards or letters in a big swirl of colour.
  • Encourage your child to attempt some letters or write her name on all the artwork she creates.
  • Help your child use playdough to make the letters of the alphabet or numbers.
  • Give your child opportunities to use letters of the alphabet in different forms – on blocks, magnetic letters that stick on the fridge and puzzle pieces.
  • Cut out or draw pictures of basic household items – chair, table, TV, wall, door and so on – then write the items’ names on separate pieces of paper. Ask your child to match the name of the item to the picture. 

Activities for older children (school age)

  • Select a few alphabet letters and move them around to make new sounds – bat, tab, abt – and see which of them are real words. Practise sounding them out letter by letter, then saying the word – for example, ‘b-a-t makes the word bat’. If you initially use lower-case letters, there’ll be less risk of confusing your child with the two different letter shapes for each sound.
  • Encourage your child to write his name and the names of other family members in greeting cards or on pictures. Once your child can use all the letters well, he’ll be ready for upper case and lower case (capitals and small letters).
  • Encourage your child to write shopping lists or restaurant menus for pretend play.
  • Point out different types of print when you’re out and about with your child, such as on shop signs or movie posters. Explain how print can be used to name different places or things.
  • Ask your child to make you a book, with a word on one side of the page, and a picture of that word on the other side.
  • Last updated or reviewed 23-06-2014