Introduce a print-rich environment in the toddler classroom to help young children learn about the printed word. Practicing toddler language activities helps little ones with vocabulary skills and pre-reading.
Print All Around
From the time children are born, print is a part of their lives. Words decorate their blankets, sheets, and pajamas. Words appear on the posters and pictures that decorate their walls. They are on the blocks and toys that toddlers play with and in the books that are read to them. Although printed words may be all around them, toddlers often don't notice them. And of course, they do not yet understand the role that printed words will play in their lives. It is important for young children to recognize print in their world and understand that print means something. They will soon learn that print is used for many purposes.
Toddlers learn about print through sight. Here are some examples to promote a toddler's ability to enhance their vocabulary.
- Books and other printed materials to look at. Give toddlers soft-covered and board books that are washable and do not tear easily.
- Photographs and pictures with captions and labels.
- Posters and bulletin board displays that feature print.
- Labels and signs for special areas in your center.
- Props have print, so include empty food cartons and toys with printed words.
Names Are Important
Attach labels with the toddler's name to areas that contain their clothes and their artwork. These areas include clothes hooks, cubbies, and bulletin boards. Children also like to see their names in print. Toddler language activities can include art. Here are a few ideas:
Color Collage Nameplate
- Draw the child's name in big open block letters onto a piece of poster board.
- Provide small squares of tissue paper in colors of red, yellow, and blue.
- Invite the toddlers to glue down the tissue squares helping them to overlap each piece.
- The primary colors will turn into secondary colors of green, orange, and purple as they overlay (a lesson young toddlers may not notice, but point out the pretty colors).
- When finished, say the name out loud and recite the alphabet letters. Tell the toddler that his/her name is special.
Make a Name Placemat
- Take a large sheet of construction paper and write each child's name in bold print with a black marker.
- Invite the toddlers to decorate the placemat as they wish with crayons and stickers.
- Laminate each placemat using clear adhesive paper.
- Let the toddlers use their special name placemat at snack and lunchtime.
A Classroom Book with Familiar Print
Children recognize and begin to read familiar signs they see everyday. It's not unusual for toddlers to recognize the golden arches of MacDonald's or Geoffrey the giraffe on the Toys R Us sign. Together make a book for your class where all toddlers will recognize the print.
- ring binder
- construction paper (with holes punched out to fit notebook)
- newspapers, magazines, promotional fliers, labels, and cereal box fronts
- Together find logos and words in print (in sources above) that designate fast food restaurants, department stores (in your area), popular products such as cereals, candy wrappers, juice boxes, and such.
- Cut out each logo and glue it onto a page. For cereal box fronts, punch out holes and use as a separate page.
- Put all these pages together into the ring binder as a book.
- Invite the toddlers to sit with you and "read" the book. Show your enthusiasm as the toddlers recognize the logos.
Make sure to plan toddler language activities often in a print-rich environment. As you label and show toddlers words and letters, this allows them to make connections between the printed word and the function it serves.
- Activities based on author's experience as a classroom teacher
-  Adapted from U.S. Dept. of Education and U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, Early Childhood, Head Start Task Force, Teaching Our Youngest, Washington, DC, 2002]
- Photo by Tania Cowling, all rights reserved