Listening, observing, and imitating—all important to reading readiness—begin in the first year of life and accelerate. In the second year, between 18 and 24 months, a child’s vocabulary will increase from 50 simple words to more than 300.
Many of the activities we tend to think of as “classic” playtime activities with infants and toddlers, such as peek-a-boo, are also developing sensory and motor skills important for reading. Here are some basic activities and materials for developing toddlers’ reading readiness skills.

  1. Plan a regular time each day to read to and “with” your child. It’s no surprise or news to any parent that little ones enjoy hearing the same story read over and over. But there is a good reason. Repeated phrases make it possible for young children to participate by “reading” the repetitive part with an adult.
  2. Show books (paper and electronic) and magazines to babies/toddlers as early as their first year. Sure, they may not be interested for more than two minutes, but that’s fine. Their focus will grow. Let them also see you reading.
  3. Call your toddler’s attention to sounds, and then show or explain what made them. Things like engines running, trucks braking, dogs barking, leaves rustling, birds singing, and wind blowing, are all good examples. Also call out sounds around the house: vacuum cleaner, electric razor, mixer, furnace, footsteps, the cat’s purr. Connecting animals and animal pictures with the sounds they make is both time-tested fun and a great pre-reading activity. Starting in the second year, try “listening hunts.” Go to another room and imitate the sound of a dog barking or cat meowing. Say, “Find the dog (or cat).” Stay there until your little one crawls or walks to your location.
  4. Just before the age of one, a child can follow simple dressing directions. “Put your arm in the sleeve,” or “put on your hat.” This can be expanded into dress-up games such as “Let’s put grandma’s shoes on Jenny’s feet.” The child is having fun, learning body parts, and following directions.
  5. Play Show Me, Where, and Give. Ask “Where is the ___ (ball, table, bed, door, stroller),” “Show me the __ (scissors, cat, dog, stove, window),” and “Give me the ___ (bottle, apple, diaper, block, cup.) As the child grows and learns, expand this by adding other commands and varying the directions: Where is your mouth? Where is your hand? Stamp your foot. Raise your arms. Turn the pages of the book. Stand next to the chair. Games like Simon Says achieve similar results, and usually a few giggles, too. Learning materials that build focus, fine motor skills, and the ability to follow directions also contribute to reading readiness.
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