Giving Power To Your Child’s Words: Encouraging Literacy Through Meaningful Activities

If you’ve been reading Twodaloo for awhile, you know that I promote meaningful, organic literacy experiences for young children.  You can read more about meaningful literacy here, and also get some ideas for creating a literacy-rich environment.

Encouraging literacy through meaningful activities by Twodaloo

My twins (age 3.5) don’t know the alphabet song. They can identify some of the letters in their names and associate sounds with a few of them.  They have one alphabet puzzle and some wooden letter magnets that they play with because they’ve recently shown an interest in them. I’m not concerned with their ability to identify letters and sounds at this point- I’m much more concerned with making sure we are integrating literacy into their daily lives so they can see it as a valuable tool for communication as well as a source of knowledge and entertainment. We read all the time. We’ve been using our family chalkboard to record and retell the events of our day since the twins were two. We make lists, follow recipes, read instructions, look at labels, point out print in the environment and talk about what it means…all things that show our children that print is an integral part of life. We want them to know that words have power- especially their words.

Pretending to read a recipe to make a playdough cake

Here is my son pretending to read a recipe for a playdough cake on his “laptop” (a piece of construction paper folded by him). When children incorporate literacy into their play it’s a sign that it is meaningful to them.

Once in awhile I get a nagging question in the back of my mind- am I on the right path? Are my children somehow missing out because I’m not spending lots of time playing letter recognition games with them? Does this emergent literacy stuff really work? No matter what the research says, it’s easy to get a little insecure when you feel like you’re swimming against the stream. And then something happens that blows my mind and completely reaffirms that yes, I am on the right path. This is working for us, and that’s what’s important.

Words Have Power

A few months ago I read a completely brilliant book called It’s OK Not to Share and Other Renegade Rules for Raising Competent and Compassionate Kids by Heather Shumaker. It’s hands-down one of the best, if not THE best, parenting books I’ve ever read. One of the many things I like about the book is that it gives lots of strategies for coaching kids through conflict resolution, which is always a big issue with the twins, and the things I learned will also come in handy in the classroom. One of the central themes of the book is that everyone’s words, even those of the youngest of children, are important and deserve respect.  The author suggests that when a child feels particularly strongly about something, helping them write it down in a “letter” to another person can help that child feel reassured that his/her words are being taken seriously. It doesn’t matter if the children in question can read or not- it’s the act of writing the letter, assisted or unassisted, that communicates power.

A letter from one sibling to another

Sydney’s most prized possession- a letter dictated to me by her brother. She keeps it on her shelf in her room.

We tried this shortly after I read the book, and it was immediately helpful.  The kids each have a little notebook in their art cart that they can access at any time. Sometimes they dictate their letters to me and I write them down. Other times they “write” the letters themselves. Sometimes they give the letters to someone. Sometimes they just abandon them when they are finished. Right now there’s a letter on the table that says “Dear Sydney, please don’t scream in my face. It hurts my feelings and my ears.” There’s another one that says “Dear Bubba, you can have these blocks when I’m done but I’m not done. I’m building a princess tower.” One of Sydney’s prized possessions is a one-sentence letter from her brother – “Dear Sister, I love you. Love Bubba.” The other night Will asked me to just write letters with him in his bed instead of reading a bedtime story. Then he slept curled up with his fistful of letters. Obviously there is something that really resonates with them in this process.

Although this letter-writing idea was presented as a communication/conflict resolution strategy and not a tool for literacy instruction, it is amazing how interested the twins are in writing since we started this.  I wholeheartedly believe that it’s because they see writing as a meaningful tool rather than a mindless exercise. In short, they see that their words have power. And I’ll leave you with one more account of just how amazing this whole emergent literacy thing really is.

Writing station

The bottom shelf of our art cart serves as our mini writing station- the twins picked out their own little notebooks and we keep a variety of paper and different writing utensils for them to explore.

The first day we tried letter writing the twins were instantly hooked. We probably wrote 20 letters between the three of us in one afternoon. Shortly thereafter, Will took some paper and markers from the art cart and carried them to their little work table. He sat down to write his own letter. When I looked at his paper, I was absolutely astonished to see this:


This from a child who has had no “formal” literacy instruction. There will be plenty of time for that down the road. For now, playful exposure through meaningful tasks is working pretty well for us. I’m not saying that every child should or will begin writing legibly at age 3, but rather that providing these types of literacy experiences is important for fostering an intrinsic motivation to read, write, and communicate through print. I’m also not saying that children will just learn to read and write through osmosis, but direct instruction does not need to take precedence over organic learning, and certainly should not be pushed on children too early.

What do you think?  How do you encourage meaningful literacy with your children or students? I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas!

More Great Stuff For You

Here are a couple of easy meaningful literacy activities I’ve written about that we use in our home and classroom:

Family Chalkboard

Experience Books

I Highly Recommend (Amazon Affiliate Link)


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  1. So awesome!!!!

  2. This is so beautiful, Stephanie! It’s such a great reminder that children are designed to learn and that the environment can be a teacher all by itself. Sometimes I feel that “print-rich” and “literacy rich” is often turned into “words on steroids” instead of bringing meaning and purpose. Will’s penmanship even shows that he has a lot of fine motor strength, which I know was acquired through fun and meaningful fine motor opportunities.

    • Stephanie says:

      YES!! I have another post coming on that. Or that people wait until a child shows interest and then use that as an excuse to start drilling them to death? He may be writing but I’m not going to use that as an excuse to start pounding him with rote instruction, because that will turn him off quickly! Another day, another soapbox 😉 Thanks for reading!!

  3. Finally a parent who gets “it!
    ( of course being educated in early childhood also helps). I have been “journaling” with my 3-5 year olds in the classroom daily for my whole career. Other teachers think I’m crazy because it does take some time, but it gives the child respect for writing their words down and also is opening the door to showing them words have meaning! Now they come to me and ask “can you write my story down?” They will often take a break from play, journal and go back to playing and resell the story to friends. Needless to say, the journal is priceless to parents. Many of my parents now do this at home. It’s also exciting to see the children’s interest in “reading” and story telling. I have have now added a few pictures and have them tell me about the picture.
    Thanks for sharing?

    • Stephanie says:

      Yay! I’m so glad you commented, Kathi! With my 2-3 class I’m going to do a version of our family chalkboard like I’ve been doing at home for our end of the day meeting/circle for some “remember time” so we can write down what they remember about their day. That was something that really jumpstarted my twins’ narrative ability even before they were speaking super intelligibly. Plus it gave them great meaningful print awareness!

  4. Oops, Thanks for sharing!!!!

  5. You know I LOVE it!!!!!

  6. Great post Stephanie! This was very helpful to me. I really like the idea of children writing letters as a way to give meaning to their feelings and experiences. I will try journaling with my kids and see how it goes.

  7. Hello, I was interested in your snail mail project. I have 3 daughters who would be interested. I’ve tried other sites with no success. Maybe you could help. One age group between 8-10. One age group between 10-12. And if possible one age group between 13-15. If possible. Thank you so mich

  8. You are on the right track. What is the point in literacy if it is not meaningful?!

  9. Spot on and thank you for this. Although my boys are now at 15 and saddens me that neither like to write and are rather bothered to read a book. Quite frankly I am saddened at myself that I didn’t start doing things like what you talk about in their early development. I believe if I had I would have book lovers and dare I say writers now.

    Keep up the oh so awesome job!


  10. Gina Estrada says:

    This is such a wonderful idea. I think the way you have work with your children is such a beautiful experience. I am a preschool teacher and I always encourage my parents to spend quality time with their children while quantity is certainly important many parents that I work with unfortunately do not have the skills or time to do this as many are single parents with many children. I do my best to provide engaging activities and attempt to encourage parents to do the same. Thank you for making this website that gives me to have fresh and fun ideas.

    Gina Estrada

  11. Absolutely amazing! I have a speech & cognitive delayed 5 year old now. I understand your moment of complete GLEE, when your child recognizes or spells a letter or word you know you’ve not “practiced” before!!! I have to say I am sooo interested in reading this book now!! I ordered ebook sample right away! As a Speech Therapist, do You have any book recommendations for me as mom with daughter w “Speech Delays?” Yes we already see an SLP but I trust your opinions cuz I’ve read your blog for some time now. TY

  12. Great post.