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Keep Smart Toddlers Busy with these 21 Fun Experiences That Also Sneakily Teach Reading

Updated: May 16

When I started compiling my favorite activities for teaching pre-reading and reading skills to very young children, I realized I had a problem. The activities I chose were a little bit dated. Some of you probably have similar activities that are more current but I'm sharing the ones I've used in the past. I know they work and they're so much fun for kids, they don't even realize that they're learning! Please feel free to share your favorite activities in the comments below.

The ideas presented may seem simple and obvious but we all need reminders to use them and use them often. I organized them roughly by age but we know that every child is different. All of the experiences and activities I share are backed by research, science, and experience in the real world of early childhood learning. Have fun!




Sing short rhyming songs often at predictable times during the day. Use singing as part of your routines.

Sensory play

Play a lot and talk about the senses. this lets them know you care about their learning as much as they do. Listen to their communications. Teach baby sign language. Say, "Hear that?, Play I spy. Look for signs and symbols everywhere


Short, catchy, rhyming Books work best. Use this as an emotional bonding time. Have fun with books.

Tips for kids who don't sit still

  • read to them in their car seat

  • read to them when they're in their high chair

  • Let them hold another book while you read one

  • Use indestructible baby books

  • Make sure they see you read for enjoyment and information

  • Read books before they sleep.

  • Read to another child while they mill about.

  • Let them see you read often.

  • Talk about great books with enthusiasm.

Sometimes reading to kids feels like a chore. Especially when we're tired or have other stuff on our minds. Try your best to be in the moment and use it as your (15 or 5) minutes of fame. Read the book like you're on stage. Seriously. You'll stay awake and the kids will start to appreciate a good story.



Since children develop from the inside out, they need a lot of active play during this time to get to the developmental point where they can learn to read. Luckily, reading skills can be taught actively. Here's a video from The Harvard Center on The Developing Child about the importance of play.

Learning About Letters

After a full day of active play, your 2-3-year-old might be ready for a short educational video. When we keep video time to a minimum, it's easier to use them to teach a certain concept. I often use this Sesame Street Video to teach the concept of letters. I also do a lot of talking about the letters and words we see in our daily lives.

Here's the link to a YouTube video. It's not available on CD and the quality isn't the best but I still think it's worth it. You can still buy an old VHS if anyone still owns a player!


Use a recipe to cook an easy dish with help from your child or follow the directions on a box. You can also write out a simple recipe using words and pictures. Have your child dictate a recipe to you and write it down.


2-3-year-olds love to see their own names and the names of their friends and family in print. Spell out their names as you write them on their pictures. Help them write notes to friends or put captions on their drawings.



If you don't know what a rebus is, look at the one I included here. You can click on it, to get both pages on Canva. You can find rebus books to purchase, borrow them from the library, or make your own. You can turn any favorite song or story into a rebus with a few crayons and a little imagination.

Sesame Street

Getting Ready To Read

This video is awesome. It can get kids over the hump of sounding out words with jokes, fun, and songs. I found it on YouTube in two parts.

Boggle Jr.

This game is great for building words and learning about phonics. I use it without the timer or the win-and-lose aspect to remove any pressure.


Arthur's Reading Race

This game is fantastic when kids are ready to start putting words together. It's so much fun even adults like to play. But let your kids experiment on their own. It's so much better that way.

Blues Clues hands-on game

Start by hiding a small object. Then reverse engineer the game by writing clues like this.

-Look in the sink.

-Look under the yellow pillow.

-Look up at the ceiling.

-Look in the blue cup

Add a blue paw print on each clue for fun.

You'll have to tell them where the first clue is and then help them to sound out the rest.

This game can generate a lot of excitement around reading!

Write Captions/Make Your Own Book

Young children are much more interested in reading when it involves their lives and the lives of their friends and families. We can use their drawings or photos to document trips, experiences, and activities and help them write captions.

Whatever you do, make sure to keep it fun with no pressure. And remember...

 Read To Your Bunny Often And Your Bunny Will Read To You -Rosemary Wells


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