The lazy days of summer are upon us! While we may imagine relaxing in the backyard, we will most likely find ourselves running errands, going to special events, meeting friends and participating in many activities.

These are the perfect opportunities for literacy moments: quick, meaningful activities that foster young children’s emerging literacy skills and get them ready to learn.

Literacy moments in the grocery store

The grocery store is filled with labels and packages that convey important information.

Before heading out to the store, make a shopping list and ask your child which snack they’d like to include. As you write it out, sound out the words so your child sees how print is composed. Then give the list to your child, saying, “I forgot to put milk on the list. Could you please write it for me?” This simple task provides a writing opportunity for your child. If s/he only knows the initial sound, that’s what s/he will write down. This gives the child a purpose for writing words, which conveys that reading and writing serve real-world functions.

In the produce section, you might say, “Let’s get some pears. What’s the first sound in the word ‘pears’?” By having young children listen for the sounds in words, they develop the ability to manipulate sounds — an important precursor to learning letter-sound relationships.

In the cereal aisle, ask your toddler to find their favorite cereal. When they find the box, ask your child to “read” the name, as you drag your finger below each letter and point out the sound it makes. Doing so guides your child’s understanding that our spoken language is represented by words made up of letters.

Literacy moments in restaurants

Instead of having young children look at personal devices to pass the time, you can engage toddlers and preschoolers in beginning reading activities:

Build your child’s print awareness by helping them find all the letters from their name hidden in the menu. For toddlers, parents could spell their name in bold, clear letters and check off each letter as the toddler finds it. Preschoolers should write their own name and check each letter as it’s found.

Look around the restaurant to find items that fit different categories, such as: “I spy something blue…”, or “I spy something that begins with the ‘k’ sound.”

Literacy moments on field trips

Summer means experiencing adventures, such as trips to the zoo or museum. These are wonderful opportunities to create teachable moments related to literacy!

While viewing the exhibits, read the information aloud and emphasize interesting adjectives used to describe the subject. Take a photo of your child by the exhibit. At home, challenge your child to recall the special word used to describe the exhibit in each photo. Finally, write the word on a blank sheet of paper and have the child draw the exhibit on the page and talk about why the item was described with that adjective. Collate each page into a book that could be reread throughout the summer as a fond memory of a great family experience that also builds their vocabulary.

Upon returning from an adventure, talk about all the events from the day. Ask your child to dictate a story about the day, telling the events in order. As they do this, write down your child’s words, saying them as you spell them so your child will see their words in print. Reread it together and create a booklet by writing one sentence at the bottom of a page and have your child illustrate each sentence. This will make for wonderful bedtime reading together!

Jacqueline Witter-Easley is dean of the division of professional studies and an associate professor of education at Carthage College.

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