16 Language and Literacy Ideas for Toddlers

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Language and literacy is the foundation for all further learning. If you can speak articulately and read with proficiency, you are capable of learning anything. Encouraging language and literacy for toddlers is one of the most important things you can do early on. Here are some fun ideas to help your child learn how to do these things early.

#1 I Spy With Letter Sounds is Stimulating

I Spy is a fun game we always play in the car. But what I discovered as we were playing it was that if I switched from using colors (I spy, with my little eye, something green) to letter sounds (I spy, with my little eye, something that starts with t-t-t), it would help my kids develop their speech.

The great thing about playing this way is that they learn to hear the sounds I’m saying and they learn to mimic the sounds when it’s their turn to spy. And once my older kids were past this phase but the younger kids were still in it, we could still all play the game together and switch back and forth between letters and colors with ease.

block letters

#2 The Alphabet Game While Driving is a Hoot

For kids learning letter recognition, the alphabet game is a blast. Every time we get in the car, we play it. It’s a race against time to see if we can find every letter of the alphabet before we get to our destination.

You’d be surprised at which letters are actually the hardest to find.

Starting with A, see if you can find every letter of the alphabet on a sign, in order. While you might think X is hard, it’s definitely not the hardest. Your child will learn their alphabet and you’ll all be challenged.

#3 Just Talking Can Develop Speech and Relationships

Your child craves time with you, and there’s no better way to help develop language and literacy while creating a meaningful bond than having a conversation. When your child wants to talk to you, listen, engage, and respond.

These conversations will help you learn a lot about each other and will help your toddler learn about the sounds of speech as well as syntax.

#4 Respond to Interests and Social Cues

If your child seems interested in something but just can’t seem to grasp how to articulate it, help them by engaging in exploring that interest with them. Maybe your toddler is fascinated by farm animals. Or maybe he loves watching you cook in the kitchen.

Either way, you can teach the language needed to learn more about those interests by researching them together, talking about them, and explaining what you’re doing as you’re doing it.

teacher with kids

#5 Duolingo is Great for Learning More Than One Language

For bilingual families, this is a no brainer. You’re likely already actively using two languages at home. However, if you’re not a bilingual family, it may sound complicated. I can assure you that it’s incredibly beneficial.

I discovered the Duolingo app years ago when my oldest was about 2 years old. She took to it right away. She was already speaking in English really well, but we had many HIspanic friends she started to show an interest in communicating with.

The Duolingo app allows you to go at your own pace, but is a fantastic resource for several things:

  • It promotes an understanding and acceptance of different cultures
  • It can enhance language skills by teaching new sounds
  • It encourages faster development of syntax in any language

There’s no excuse not to do it, because it’s also completely free.

#6 Don’t Be Afraid of New or Big Words

It’s important that when developing language and literacy in toddlers, you speak to them normally. Don’t shy away from using more complicated words. The only way they’re going to learn them is by hearing them and using them.

While you have to be aware of the subject matter and keeping it age appropriate, you don’t need to screen your language for big words like you think you do. Your child will grow and adapt to the language you use, and it will help them in the long run to be familiar with more complex language.

#7 Read, and Name Things in Books

Reading will always be one of the best ways to immerse your child in language and literacy activities. Encouraging a love of books will help with so many things now and later on in their learning journey.

It can help develop their language skills, it can help them learn to read on their own, and it can spark a lifelong love of learning and a desire to pursue continued education and knowledge. 

#8 Ask Questions

Don’t get frustrated when your child asks lots of questions. For me, it was always a little annoying to get peppered with questions all day long, but their inquisitiveness is a sign that they’re curious and want to learn.

Try to be patient and answer questions thoroughly, but in an age appropriate way. You also shouldn’t pass up the opportunity to ask them questions and challenge them as well.

While reading, watching TV, or playing, make sure you take time out to ask your child what they’re doing and have them explain it to you. It will help them learn how to give information that is understandable.

#9 Don’t Worry About Speech Mistakes

At this age, toddlers will make mistakes. Correcting every single one of them will only overwhelm them. You can correct little mistakes, but let most of them go. They will eventually learn if you speak correctly.

If you do decide it’s time to correct a few mistakes, work on one at a time. Make sure you have the first one corrected before moving onto the next.

#10 Make Up Your Own Stories and Be Silly

Along with reading books, telling stories is a great exercise in literacy and language. Whether you’re telling the story or you’re allowing your child to make up a story and tell it to you, it helps develop imagination as well as language.

Being able to follow a train of thought to the end, tie the characters and events together, and explain it in a way you understand is a fantastic way to develop your child’s brain and monitor their progress.

board game letters

#11 Singing Songs is Easier Than Speaking

For many children, singing is easier than talking. There’s power in music for many different reasons. Children’s brains respond to melody, so it can help with memorization and learning as well as articulating speech.

If you find that there’s a particular letter your child struggles with pronouncing, finding a song or making up a tune may help them slow it down and focus. Singing can also help with stuttering and other speech difficulties.

#12 Playing With Hands Can Help Develop Writing Skills

Language isn’t just about talking. Writing is a powerful communicator, and eventually your child will need to learn how to wield one of the most influential tools at their disposal – a pencil.

Help them develop their fine motor skills now by challenging them to work with their hands. Play dough, sand, and Legos are all great ways to get their fingers working together for a task so that they’ll be ready to write when the time comes.

#13 Matching Games are For More Than Pictures

If you’re working on helping your child match the word to the letter it starts with, you can build a matching game to help. At first, you may need to play with a limited number of letters and leave the cards facing up.

Have your child match the C to the Cat, the D to the Dog, and so on. Once they have developed enough of an understanding of the letter sounds, you can mix it up by introducing new words that start with that letter, like Carrot or Dinosaur.

Or you can make it more challenging by flipping the cards upside down and playing a traditional matching game involving memorization. Either way, it will give your child a fun and visual way to learn letters and sounds.

#14 Label Things Around the House for Fun

Place labels on household items like the sink, refrigerator, bathroom, and so on. As they walk around the house, they’ll see these labels and begin to read them, or at least get familiar with how they look.

Phonics is still the best way for a child to learn to read, but you can begin familiarizing them with how letters form words by making them a part of your daily routine.

#15 Make a Letter Scavenger Hunt

Hide letters around the house and create a treasure map to go with it. Guide your child on an interactive journey to find all of the right letters. You could even hide items that begin with that letter next to them.

scrabble letters

#16 Eat Alphabet Foods

Ok, so the only alphabet food I can think of is the breakfast cereal Alpha Bits. Do you remember those? Man, I thought I was cool eating those. Yes, they still make them, so it’s a super fun and yummy way to introduce the alphabet.

But there are other ways to incorporate food into learning. You can choose a letter and create a theme for the day. All of the food you eat today has to begin with a G. Grapes, granola, grilled cheese, etc.

Or maybe each meal has a theme. Any way you do it, your child can help build the menu according to the letter of their choice. With your supervision, of course. Heaven forbid we eat donuts and dirt cake all day.

Hopefully this list gives you some exciting ways to promote language and literacy for your toddler. If you liked it, please share it with your friends so they can get in on the fun! As always, you can leave feedback in the comments below or share some of your favorite ways of teaching language and literacy in your home.

Sarah is a full-time freelance writer and mother of 4. She loves Jesus, cars, and coffee.