1. Pudding Writing
If your toddler is anything like mine, he probably loves his sweets. This simple and inexpensive activity combines the love of sweets with literacy learning. Just buy some packages of pre-made pudding (I personally like Jell-O Snack Packs) and spread it around on a cookie sheet. I let my little guy use his fingers to pretend he's writing and help him draw shapes, letters and numbers. It’s messy, but inexpensive and super fun!
2. Digging for Letters
Let your toddler play in the dirt while promoting an understanding of letter recognition. Just fill up a large bowl with sand (or if you have a sand table, use that) and bury magnetic letters inside. You can get a 57-piece set for under $10 at Oriental Trading Company. I give my little guy some sand shovels, rakes and sifters to use in the sand. When he finds a letter, we discuss its name, the sound it makes and words that begin with the letter.
3. Sound Tubs
You can purchase pre-made sound tubs to foster letter-sound recognition, but you'll end up spending a pretty penny. Instead, make your own with some dollar store plastic tubs with lids. Use a permanent marker to print an upper and lower-case letter of the alphabet on the lid of each tub. Fill each of the tubs up with items that start with the letter labeled on it. Look around your house or your yard to find some free items (an acorn for "A" or a button for "B"). You could also check out your local dollar store or the favor section of a party supply store to score some super-cheap items to fill the tubs with. To use the sound tubs, talk about the letters and the sounds that they make. Let your little one play with the items inside, and talk about the names of the items and the letters they begin with.
4. Word Hop
This one helps to promote literacy development…and it gets some of my little guy's energy out! On a nice day, we head outside and I draw pictures of different items on the ground with sidewalk chalk. Check out Shoplet, where you can get a 52-piece set of Creativity Street Sidewalk Chalk for around $5. On top of the picture, I write the name. So, I write the word "dog" on top of the picture of a dog (you don't have to be an artist). My son jumps from picture to picture, and as he lands on each one, tells me the names of the pictures. I point out the words while he looks at the word and uses the picture to create meaning from the word.
5. Letter Collage
We love making letter collages. To do this, I just write an upper and lower-case letter on a sheet of paper. We talk about the sound the letter makes, and then I let my little guy decorate the paper with things that begin with the letter. For the letter "G" we did green glitter and for the letter "Y" we did yarn. Quick, easy and fun!
6. I'm thinking of a Letter…
All you need for this activity are pictures of items that begin with different letters, which you can print out from the Internet or draw yourself. You say, "I'm thinking of a letter, and the words _________, ____________, and _________ start with this letter." Hold up a picture of a balloon, a ball and a bat for the letter "B," for example. Your child then guesses the name of the letter.
7. Use These Websites
There are tons of other fantastic and inexpensive literacy teaching ideas that you can use with your little one. There are several websites out there that offer some innovative ideas that won't break the bank. Some of my favorites include Kent District Library, PreKinders and Hubbard's Cupboard. If you use Pinterest, you can find some great literacy teaching ideas there, too.
8. Find Inexpensive Supplies
In addition to keeping an eye out in your store circulars for deals on supplies to promote literacy learning, there are quite a few places that consistently offer cheap supplies you can use. I recommend Discount School Supply, Ace Educational Supplies and Oriental Trading Company.