Learning Activities That Promote Literacy Development in Infants and Toddlers

Literacy development starts long before a child is able to read and write; it begins with a child’s exposure to books, paper and writing materials in the first three years of life. Literacy development encompasses much more than just reading, including spoken language and writing, all of which is developed through a variety of early skills. Parents and caregivers can use an assortment of learning activities to promote literacy development in their infants and toddlers.


While reading might seem like an obvious activity, it is one that should not be overlooked. Choose age-appropriate books; while babies love board books with bright colors, toddlers love animal books that tell simple stories. When your infant picks up a book and plays with it or puts it in his mouth, this action is one of the first steps toward literacy. Developing an interest in books and beginning to understand what they are is a necessary skill to be motivated to read as a child grows. Let your child handle the book on his own whenever possible, and point to the words as you read them. Find words in other areas of life, such as a stop sign or label on a can of soup.

Vocabulary Games

Children with larger vocabularies often have an easier time reading because they have an understanding of what words they sound out. Teach vocabulary by narrating what you are doing or pointing to an object and naming it; when your child is 12 months or older, he can start naming objects you point to. When your child is a toddler, you can explain words that you use in conversation. If your child does not respond right away when you ask a question with a new word, ask, “Do you know what that means?” Try to have more conversations with your child rather than always giving instructions. Ask questions and give opportunities for your child to make choices and use fuller sentences.

Letter Puzzles and Art

Learning how letters are different from each other and the sounds they make are essential skills for literacy development 1. Teach letter knowledge by practicing drawing shapes with your child; children around 18 months to 3 years of age should be able to handle this skill. Play with letter puzzles or decorate a letter made out of construction paper. Read ABC books and ask your child if two letters are the same or different. Help your toddler draw his name and even spell some two- or three-letter words.

Phonological Awareness Activities

Phonological awareness is the ability to understand that words are made up of smaller sounds. This skill is needed for building words vocally as well as sounding out words that you read. Rhymes are effective for teaching phonemes because they rely on similar sounds at the end of different words. Singing songs also aids phonological awareness because melodies often break up each phoneme to a particular note.


By age 2 or 3 years, children can carry on a conversation of a few sentences in length. While older children are able to share daily events on their own, your toddler can create stories with a bit of prompting from you. Ask questions that require more than a “yes” or “no” response. When recalling the day’s events, throw in a “lie” or some other nonsense to make it silly. Look at a picture book or even just a family photo and ask your toddler to describe what he sees, what event is happening or what the characters are feeling.