How to encourage early literacy with toddlers

We started reading to our toddler very early so that from the day he was born we’ve yet to pass a day without having read a book. Literacy—or rather, the love of reading and knowledge—remains a priority in our family. Below are some of the ways we’ve encouraged reading:

Reading in a relaxed environment
The kid isn’t going to want to read if it’s regimented and forced on him. We try to promote positive associations with reading by cuddling with him as we read, making funny noises and faces and treating reading as something enjoyable, rather than a chore or task.

Surrounding him with letters
One of the best toy purchases we ever made was a set of magnetic letters and numbers that we stick to our fridge. Before he could talk, our two-year-old liked moving the pieces around, and as he did, we told him what the letters were and the sounds they made. He started off saying the sounds of each letter, and as he gradually learned to speak, he began to say the letters themselves. The speed in which he learned his letters, numbers and sounds increased exponentially as soon as we introduced those magnets. We also have an alphabet rug, alphabet links, blocks with letters on the sides, and even block crayons with letters and numbers.

Setting his books so that they are visible and within reach
In our living room, we dedicate the lowest two bookshelves of our bookcase for his books and toys so that he can easily access them. In his room, one of his cubby shelves in the changing station is stocked with books. I still wish we had a forward-facing bookcase so the books seem even more attractive!

Making reading a part of his routine
His routine includes reading four books before bedtime and nap time. He also reads during bath time.

Labeling items and fixtures around the house
This is something I started doing just recently. I printed out large words such as “Door,” “Chair” and “Bed” and taped them to their appropriate items. My toddler noticed them and right away asked, “What’s it say?” before running to another label and asking the same thing.

Leaving crayons and paper lying around
What better way for an impromptu word-fest than to write whenever and whatever you want? We usually leave crayons on the floor or by his desk so that he not only develops his writing and motor skills, but we can also write words easily and sound them out for him. My toddler also likes his Magna-Doodle because he can erase what he writes.

Letting him see us read
We often read our own books (currently reading These is My Words by Nancy E. Turner) with him around so that he knows how much we enjoy it too.

Pointing out words not just in books
We might be taking a walk around the block and we’ll point out the stop sign and how those letter spell “stop.” Or we’ll be in the car driving and he notices the “55 mph” sign and say, “55.” Words are everywhere: tags, t-shirts, food packaging, at the grocery, coupons (he now grabs our Bed Bath and Beyond coupons and says, “20% off!”).

Moving our finger under words and sentences as we read them
When a kid starts learning how to read, he usually does so by moving his finger under the words and sounding them out slowly. We do the same with our toddler while we read to him. This helps him understand the basic fundamental of reading: that the letters are simply symbols for sounds. Nothing makes this clearer than moving your finger under a word and saying the sounds out loud.

The research on the benefits of reading is astounding. We want to impart a love of knowledge and present the immense opportunities and experiences that reading offers.

What other ways do you encourage reading in your home?