• Heather Pawelkiewicz

DIY Literacy at Home with Toddlers

Mother and daughter
Guest blogger Joanna Heller - Kindergarten Teacher & Toddler Mom

-By Joanna Heller, kindergarten teacher in Cobb County Georgia

Parents today tend to excessively worry about their children’s cognitive (brain) development. Parents strive to do everything they can to make sure they are meeting their child’s developmental needs. Planning and implementing activities for your older toddler at home can seem mind-boggling. First, it’s important to know that learning through play is always the best method when working with children. This is especially true with toddlers! A typical attention span of a toddler is 4-10 minutes! When planning activities to do with your little one it's important to spark their interest. It may seem overwhelming knowing where to begin and what to include while you play. Here are some suggested activities that have been proven successful in my home with my daughter who is almost 3.


Reading with your child is one of the most important things you can do. It's important to keep their interest with new books, but also to reread favorites. Once your child finds a book they love, they will most likely want you to read it over and over again. Rereading and retelling books are the first steps toward decoding (i.e. the child actually reading the words). Check out the SUPER helpful chart below from for Developmental Literacy Milestones!


A fun way to work on comprehension and sequencing is retelling with story props. All you do is print, and laminate (clear packing tape or clear shelf liner can work as lamination too!) and you have yourself a retelling prop! Most images can be found with a Google search. Don’t overthink it! All you need are pictures from their favorite book! One of my daughter's favorites is The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. I used an oatmeal container and created a caterpillar and then printed the food from the book. Like I said, don’t overthink it! It doesn’t have to be actual illustrations from the book, you could just print strawberry clipart.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

Toddler and Caterpillar
The Very Hungry Caterpillar Story Retell


Another powerful tool to aid in comprehension and language is sequencing events. The other day, my daughter and I went to the grocery store. While she was napping, I printed small thumbnail size pictures. I used Velcro dots and laminated cardstock. Now that I have the “home” and “car” cards I can reuse them over and over to retell many simple events. I will house them in a small plastic container and put it on her toy shelf so she can retell or make up stories whenever she wishes! This is the first time my daughter has done an activity like this, so I showed her how to do it one time and then let her try it on her own. It is important to allow struggle time. Please permit your child some time to think. They don’t process as fast as we do. If you are always interjecting, your child will never learn to problem solve!

toddler and sequencing
Sequencing events with toddlers


The alphabet is another daunting area for parents of young children. Remember PLAY is key!! Don’t focus on all 52 (upper and lower case) letters at once. Depending on the game I recommend working on 3-5 letters at a time. Use your child as your gauge. Don’t overdo it, you want your child to keep interest in the activity. You don’t want it to feel like work!

Alphabet Hide and Seek: The first fun activity we did was an Alphabet Hide and Seek! While my daughter was napping, I used painters’ tape and a foam alphabet puzzle I found at the dollar store. My daughter found the letter and then came back to the puzzle and found the match. If your child is not yet ready for matching, they can collect them in a bucket instead. While you are playing, be sure and have a conversation about what you are doing. Ask or tell your child the name of the letter and what sound it makes. This activity also became an accidental fine motor task, because the tape was a bit hard to pull off of the letter! To see a video of the activity, click on the image below:

Alphabet Sticker Matching: What kid doesn’t like stickers?! It’s toddler gold! My daughter has a sticker book and I have taught her that stickers only go in that sticker book. She knows that if she puts stickers anywhere else, then her stickers will be taken away. (It’s always important to establish boundaries and rules prior to all activities and experiences.) For this activity, I simply wrote letters in her sticker book with which to match her stickers. Again, if your child cannot yet match, let them simply place the alphabet stickers in their sticker book! Also, make sure you are creating conversation and talking about the letters during the activity. To see a video of the activity, click on the image below:

Alphabet Picnic: This activity is simple! Very little prep needed! I just placed a blanket on the floor and set up a pretend picnic. Instead of food we "ate" foam alphabet pieces. The key to learning here, is in the pretend play and conversation. My daughter LOVED this activity!

Toddler picnic
Alphabet picnic

uAlphabet Jumping and Pretend Play: Although we try and limit television as much as we can, YouTube is a great place to find engaging alphabet songs. My daughter loves jumping on her trampoline and she loves music, so I combined the two! When she was tired of jumping, we used the foam letters and engaged in pretend play. She thought it was so silly to have the alphabet pieces jump on the trampoline too! Please use caution when using the trampoline. If your child is not yet ready to jump on a trampoline, have them jump in place. To see a video of our pretend play, click on the image below:

DIY Alphabet Monster: I used another oatmeal container to create an Alphabet Monster. When I taught Pre-K, I have also used a wipes container, a paper towel tube and a sock; the possibilities are endless. We pretended the alphabet was alphabet soup. To see a video of this activity, click on the image:

Alphabet Snacks: Incorporate opportunities for exposure wherever and whenever you can! Here is an example of how we used our blueberry snack to make the letter B!

Alphabet Snack

Literacy Activities are really very easy to implement at home. Don’t overthink it! CONVERSATION and PLAY is key! Have fun with it! For more fun activities with your baby and/or toddler, check out my blog at

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