Encouraging Early Literacy Skills in Toddlers and Preschoolers

BY DENISE WORTHINGTON

During the toddler and preschool years, you are laying the groundwork for your child’s reading and writing success — but don’t let that overwhelm you. There are reams written about early literacy skills and reading development, and we could spend all day discussing research-based ideas, what educators want to see when your child enters school, and things to do to help your child establish early literacy skills.

But, I don’t believe in making your toddler’s or preschooler’s playtime like school. What I do believe in is creating a literacy friendly environment without judgment, so that your child learns to love books, writing, and creating — not a threatening place where reading, telling stories, and scribbling becomes hard work and not much fun.

8 tips to help parents promote early literacy skills and reading readiness in young children. Try these ideas with your toddler or preschoolers. Build a foundation for reading with your child.

So instead of providing hard and fast rules, I’ll touch on some ideas that you can do easily to help your child begin to establish early literacy skills.

8 Tips for Encouraging Early Literacy Skills in Your Toddler or Preschooler

  1. The most important thing you can do is the most obvious – Read!
  2. Young children need to learn early on that print contains a message, there is a world to discover in a book, and reading is fun. A child is never too young to be read to or to snuggle up with a bedtime story. You can read to your child from the day you bring her home.
  3. It’s important to expose your little one to a variety of genres, including rhyming books, old-fashioned nursery rhymes, fairy tales, alphabet books, label books and poetry. Cadence of language is important and also helps to engage even the most reluctant and ‘busy’ child.
  4. Reading doesn’t start and stop with a book. Reading is all around us — on cereal boxes, road signs, in the mail — opportunities to read to your child are everywhere.
  5. Besides sitting down to read, you can take an ‘interactive approach’ when reading. This means that in addition to reading the text of the story, you can use descriptive phrases to talk about the pictures in the book. I like the approach, but not to the point of losing the thread of a story. If you’re interested in learning more about interactive reading, check out The Incredible Years by Dr. Carolyn Webster-Stratton, who feels it’s important to encourage your child to be an active participant in the reading process.
  6. Another important area of literacy learning is writing. Writing is the reading process slowed down, and scribbling is the first stage of this important skill.
  7. Set your toddler or preschooler up with an area for writing and drawing. An easy way to do this is have a box with scrap paper, construction paper, crayons, markers and other writing tools. Encourage your little one to draw a picture about a favorite story. It doesn’t matter if no one really knows what the picture is, he knows and he has had a chance to tell his version.
  8. Magnetic letters also help build early literacy skills. Besides learning the alphabet through songs, books, and puzzles, the tactile aspect of magnetic letters is important. Kids use all senses to learn.

Remember, there are no hard and fast rules for developing early literacy skills. No two children are alike and children develop at different rates. Think about the time when your child was learning to walk. He crawled, pulled himself up and then took off on his own schedule. That’s how it is with the reading process too — in stages and at a child’s individual pace. 


Denise Worthington is Lou’s Mom. She’s a retired reading teacher and children’s book author who spends her time serving on local boards, entertaining at the lake, and running for political office.

Great Books for Toddlers about Love

By Denise Worthington

In honor of Valentine’s Day, this month’s toddler book picks are about love — some are just for fun and snuggling up; others are great learning tools for the little guys; all are great books for toddlers and even babies.

Share six great books for toddlers and babies about love with your little one on Valentine's Day or any day of the year.

6 Great Books for Toddlers and Babies About Love

I’m an unabashed fan of Jez Alborough. I love almost everything he has written and illustrated. Hug resonates with children of all ages. It conveys to young children that words contain the message – one word in a large font throughout the book – HUG. The illustrations are wonderful and heartfelt, and in my experience, children are easily engaged, pointing to the word and ‘reading.’ Be sure to check out all of Jez Alborough books.

Snuggle Puppy by Sandra Boynton is a fun rhyming book. It’s based on a song with the same title, which is available on Boynton’s CD set, Philadelphia Chickens. Sunggle Puppy’s parent sings a song telling the puppy how much he loves him. The illustrations are silly and fun — classic Boynton — and will engage any young child.

Karen Katz, an author illustrator, has found her niche with board books conveying the love of a parent for a child. Where Is Baby’s Valentine? is a lift the flap book — always fun for babies and toddlers – that shows the love between a young child and her mama.

Tucker’s Valentine, written and illustrated by Leslie McGuirk, continues the tale of Tucker the little white dog. In this story, Tucker’s owner tells him about Valentine’s Day and love. Tucker loves lots of things, including the couch, his toy, and laundry on the floor. The story evolves with cupid ‘stalking’ Tucker. It’s a great book for toddlers with colorful illustrations and, of course, the beloved Tucker.

Sally Huss is a prolific children’s author and illustrator, and Everything has a Heart is her newest “happy book” published last month. This is a rhyming book that shows your little one and you that hearts and love are found everywhere, including in lockets and artichokes! I thought the story had many teachable moments and think you and your child will love to snuggle up with this lovely little book for Valentine’s Day.

I’m a Clifford the Big Red Dog fan, and I have yet to meet a child who doesn’t love him. Norman Bridwell was a prolific author and illustrator who sadly passed away in December 2014. Clifford’s First Valentine’s Day, published in 2009, gives Clifford fans a picture of him when he was a puppy, smaller than Elizabeth, his owner. The book is a fun story with colorful, engaging pictures. The story is a bit longer than the other books I’ve recommended, but Clifford’s adventures are always exciting, and this story is a wonderful way to introduce your child to an iconic children’s book series.

Looking for more great books for toddlers? Check out Denise’s previous recommendations.


Denise Worthington is Lou’s Mom. She’s a retired reading teacher and children’s book author who spends her time serving on local boards, entertaining at the lake, and running for political office.

The Best Holiday Books for Toddlers & Preschoolers

By Denise Worthington

When I began thinking about a list of holiday books for toddlers and preschoolers, visions of the books I have loved and read aloud to my kids and my classes danced through my reading teacher head. My all-time favorite holiday book is The Best Christmas Pageant Everby Barbara Robinson — who doesn’t love those unpredictable Herdman kids? But Cliff and Emme, the toddlers I hang out with, aren’t ready to sit still for a chapter book or for the humor of the Herdmans and their outrageous antics. So I tapped my grandma crowd for their suggestions and took a field trip to my favorite book store. Below are my choices for the best holiday books for toddlers and preschoolers.


The Best Holiday Books for Toddlers and Preschoolers | Stories about Christmas and Hanukkah | Books about winter and snow Christmas Books

The Twelve Days of Christmas by Laura LongThe Twelve Days of Christmas is a classic, and many authors have published versions of this English Christmas carol, originally written in 1780–ranging from one by noted children’s author Jan Brett to Elmo’s 12 Days of Christmas, the Sesame Street version. My favorite this year, published in October 2014, is by Laura Long. This is a lovely, traditional book with beautiful illustrations. The end of the book has the words and music; I’m humming the tune as I write! Little ones will enjoy the rhythm of the words, the repetitive phrases, and searching the pictures for the items in the story.

Counting books always top my list of must-reads for toddlers. Little Blue Truck’s Christmas, by Alice Schertle, illustrated by Jill McElmurry, is a brightly illustrated rhyming board book that lights up at the end. The book has engaging language, and the little truck has five trees that he delivers to his friends along the way.

Pete the Cat is a current favorite with young children. I was recently at a local library function, and one of the big attractions was a volunteer dressed as Pete. Every time a new Pete the Cat book is released the publishers put an animated video on YouTube. Pete the Cat Saves Christmas, by Eric Litwin, illustrated by James Dean (also the creator of Pete the Cat), is a fun take off of the traditional Night Before Christmas story.

Hanukkah Books

Many famous authors have published holiday stories, Tomie dePaolo among them. An award winning author, dePaola has written over 200 children’s books. My First Chanukah is a lovely, simple to understand board book about this holiday. The illustrations are colorful and will engage the youngest reader.

Another Hanukkah book I like is Happy Hanukkah, Curious George, by H.A. Rey and Margaret Rey. This is a tabbed board book in which George and friends gather to celebrate Hanukkah. The story is told in rhyming text and covers all aspects of the holiday. One of the things I love about the book is it talks about making a mitzvah (doing an act of kindness) in easy to understand language. It also has the song “Dreidle, Dreidle, Dreidle” at the end which is a lovely bonus.

Winter Books

For a wonderful wintertime story, The Snowy Day Board Book by Ezra Jack Keats is a favorite. This classic story is the timeless tale of a young boy’s adventure on a snowy day. Originally published in 1976, the story and illustrations endure the test of time. It is also a Caldecott Medal winner, an award given annually to the most distinguished artists in children’s literature.
Snow, by Uri Shulevitz, a Caldecott Honorable Mention book, is the story of a boy anticipating the first snow of the season. The simple text and beautiful illustrations are engaging, and it’s a story any child can understand. While the little boy is excited, the TV news says ‘no snow,’ but the boy is a believer.


Denise Worthington is Lou’s Mom. She’s a retired teacher and children’s book author who spends her time serving on local boards, entertaining at the lake, and running for political office.

I’m Thankful for the Writers

I love writing, but this month made me realize that I love working with other writers. Since it’s Thanksgiving and I’m hosting, I’m just stopping here briefly to say that I’m thankful for the women who have been willing to add their talented voices to Mommy Sanest. In case you missed any of their fantastic posts this month, now is your chance to catch up. You don’t have anything else going on today, right?

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Thanksgiving Books Perfect for Toddlers and Preschoolers

By Denise Worthington

You would think that choosing a few favorite Thanksgiving books appropriate for toddlers and preschoolers would be easy, but I wanted to be thorough, so I went on field trips to the library, the bookstore, the used bookstore, and did online research. I polled contemporaries—meaning other grandmothers. Apparently grandmothers, or at least the ones I know, spend a lot of time in the children’s section of bookstores, and everyone had an opinion. The problem wasn’t having enough to write about, but having too many Thanksgiving books to choose from.

The best books about Thanksgiving for Toddlers and Preschoolers selected by a reaching teacher | board books and children's books for young children | Holiday books
Even after 20 years as a reading teacher, I don’t have a magic formula for picking a good children’s book. I look for books with a nice language flow and interesting illustrations. I think rhyming books are especially appropriate for little folks because the cadence of language engages them. But the most important ingredient is you, the adult who takes the time to snuggle and share your love of reading with your child.

Six Thanksgiving Books for Toddlers and Preschoolers

There are many more books about being thankful—appropriate anytime of the year—and there are plenty of books about pilgrims, Native Americans, the first Thanksgiving, and family, but these six are my picks for toddlers and preschoolers.

  1. A tried and true classic, my number one choice is Over the River and Through the Woods, with the original poem by Lydia Maria Child. There are a variety of versions available, but my favorite is the musical board book, illustrated by Wendy Edelson. This is the classic poem with lovely illustrations, plus your child pushes a button and the melody is played. The book does not mention a specific holiday and would be appropriate for any winter celebration.
  2. I love silly books for toddlers and preschoolers, and Turkey Trouble by Wendy Silvano, illustrated by Lee Harper, fits the bill. The turkey realizes that Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and he is on the menu. His attempts at disguising himself like other farm animals will have your little one laughing at his silly antics.
  3. 10 Fat Turkeys, by Tony Johnston, illustrated by Rich Deas, is a rhyming book that also teaches toddlers and preschoolers to count backwards from 10. Besides the value of learning to count, I love the language in the book, and your child will be able to “gobble, gobble, wibble, wabble” along with the chorus of turkeys. Repetitive phrasing goes a long way toward helping children grasp the nuances of language.
  4. For a nice board book for young toddlers, try Gobble, Gobble, Tucker by Leslie McGuirk that shows Tucker the dog’s adventure on Thanksgiving. Tucker visits with his dog cousins, smells delicious thanksgiving smells, and watches his family prepare for the holiday. The book has simple text, enjoyable pictures, and gives a glimpse of a family Thanksgiving.
  5. Thanks for Thanksgiving by Julie Morkes, illustrated by Doris Barrette, is a rhyming book with lovely illustrations of (what I would call) a classic Thanksgiving. It shows that we all should be thankful for the blessings coming our way. If you’re looking for a way to convey the meaning of Thanksgiving, this book does the job.
  6. Five Silly Turkeys, a board book by Salina Yoon is an entertaining, brightly illustrated counting book appropriate for toddlers. The book has shiny material feathers, so you have the tactile option with this book. The rhyming words are clever, and the story is fast moving.

What about you? Do you have other favorite books that you share with your children (young or older) this time of year?


Denise Worthington is Lou’s Mom. She’s a retired teacher and children’s book author who spends her time serving on local boards, entertaining at the lake, and running for political office.

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