Guest post by JEN Garrett

When you think of early literacy, you might think of stories at bedtime and frequent trips to the library.

While these are excellent ways to help children learn to read, sometimes you can teach reading without ever opening a book.

Go Outside

Whether walking or in the car, you will find many sight words on your journey. Road signs like ‘EXIT’, ‘ONE WAY’ and ‘Do Not Enter’ are easy to point out to your early reader.

Make sure your young reader can see the whole sign from where she’s sitting. One time, I was pumping gas into the car when my learning reader said, “Mom, mom, Free Car Wash!” The sign actually said, “Free Car Wash… if you buy 4” but the child’s car seat got in the way of the rest.

Near our house, we have a walking trail with signs that warn, “Keep Dog on Leash” and the word “STOP” painted on the ground. My children love to touch the signs and stomp on the Stop as they say each letter of the word.

If your neighborhood is devoid of such signs, you can create your own with cardboard and sticks for backyard play. The ‘Stop’ and ‘Keep Clear’ words painted on roads might be too dangerous to stomp on where you are, but with some sidewalk chalk, you can create letters and words that will be more fun to step on than a puddle of rainwater.

In the Store

Shopping can become a wonderful opportunity to teach early literacy.

Some of the same signs you’ll find on the road are often posted outside a store, in addition to words like, ‘OPEN’ ‘No’ ‘In’ and ‘Out’. I like to pause just outside the door and ask my children which is the correct way. Sometimes the handy arrows give a hint, but more often than not, they have to read the words before leading the way.

Inside the store, you’ll find color words, food words, and helping verbs.

If the words have too many letters for your early reader, go on a “treasure hunt” instead. Start at the beginning of the alphabet and see if you can find all 26 letters as you shop. This is a great waiting game in long checkout lines, too.

At Home

You don’t have to leave your house to teach early literacy. Words are likely already in every room.

Does your TV remote have the words ‘Play’ ‘Stop’ and ‘Slow’?

How about your thermostat – is the ‘set’ button labeled?

Travel to your kitchen. What sight words can you find in the pantry?

If hunting for sight words proves lacking, grab some sticky notes and make your own. Have your little reader label the ‘eggs’ ‘bed’ ‘wall’ and other objects found in the home.

Before you recycle that junk mail in your mailbox, hand it over to your child. Let them cut out and paste onto construction paper the words and letters he recognizes. Some words that might be found are ‘OFF’ ‘can’ and… ‘and’!

Words Are Everywhere

You almost can’t do anything without a word or two popping up in your path. Next time you notice a sight word, turn to your early reader and point it out. And when you can’t find any, create signs and labels of your own.

Want some more ideas?

Read these posts on creating the ideal home library and tips on reading aloud to your children.


JEN Garrett

JEN Garrett

JEN Garrett writes for, about, and around children all day. But sometimes she finds time to do the dishes at her home in Northern California. She also finds time to be the Critique Coordinator in her local SCBWI region, visit her local library regularly, query agents, and read mountains of books. How? We don’t know.

See JEN’s list of 15 Kid’s Books to Celebrate September for more book love.

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