May 19, 2020 / Modified may 19, 2020 12:36 p.m.

How to Play and Learn With Words Beyond Reading

There’s so much we can do to improve our children’s reading skills aside from pulling out a book.

I try to read to my kids every day. But can I be honest? It doesn’t always happen. Sometimes the bedtime story is skipped because it’s getting late and the kids just need to get to bed already. Other times, the kids are preoccupied and simply not feeling it. As much as I beat myself up about it, this sort of thing is totally normal. There’s so much we can do to improve our children’s reading skills aside from pulling out a book.

Words are all around us.

When you’re out of the house, there are so many opportunities to teach your kids about words. Show them the words on the signs all around them… on the subway, bus or car, or while running errands to the grocery store or laundromat. I’ll never forget the time I was babysitting my toddler cousin and she picked up a plastic letter and said, “This is P. I know it from Stop & Shop!”

Make it fun.

In less rushed moments, ask your children if they can read the signs they see and teach them the words that are unfamiliar. You can make a game of it by playing “I Spy” or “Alphabet Hunt.” You can also encourage your child’s literacy when going through your daily routine at home. Take a look at things you might have around the house — recipes, maps, nutritional labels, board game instructions, etc. Informational texts, like the ones shown in Molly of Denali, help people solve problems and learn new things. Showing your children how to use these words to help them in their lives is a skill they will carry with them well into adulthood.

Check out videos from Parenting Minutes on how parents and caregivers can help build their children’s language skills through storytelling, talking, singing and playing rhyming games.

Engaging with media focused on literacy.

Watching programs on PBS KIDS has expanded my son’s literacy skills and I’ve figured out ways to build upon what he sees on the screen. When he watches WordWorld, my son loves seeing the animals and objects take shape with the letters that make up their names. Sometimes, he likes to replicate that style with his own drawings. I challenge him to draw objects he sees using letters and to come up with his own too!

My family loves the classic fairy tales featured on Super Why! and their fresh take on familiar stories. When we watch together, we discuss how the story and characters have been changed from their traditional versions. Asking my son which story he prefers — the “regular” version or the “twist” is a great way to boost his critical thinking skills. Spoiler alert: he always chooses the one where Super Why saves the day!

The Cat in the Hat is another family favorite. Not only does this program encourage an interest in science and exploration, it uses a lot of fun, made-up words and silly rhymes. We use Cat in the Hat to play a rhyming game together: Set a timer for sixty seconds, pick a word, and see how many words you and your child can come up with that rhyme with it. Then, play another round in which you include nonsense words. Your kids may get the giggles from this game, but they will also learn a lot.

Whether hanging out at home, running errands, or clicking on an engaging children’s program during downtime, there are so many opportunities to increase your child’s comfort with and interest in letters and words. You’ll soon find that improving literacy and building reading skills really is all fun and games!

Neetika Prabhakar, MPP, is a mom of two and freelance writer based in New York. She holds a Master’s Degree in Public Policy from Duke University and is a certified Vinyasa and Children’s Yoga teacher. She covers parenting and child development, health and wellness, and domestic policy issues.

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