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Book Making and Early Literacy with Toddlers

Activities and Play

2/25/2022 | Sasha Kopp

Toddlers love exploring and learning about the world with all five senses. Sensory learning and pre-literacy skills often are thought to be contradictory to each other. However, stories can be a way that toddlers learn about the world around them. Toddlers love to listen to stories, tell stories and share stories through mark-making pictures, and words. Storytelling and sharing are important, developmentally appropriate pre-literacy skills even for our toddler learners.  Educators can encourage storytelling and writing by honoring and valuing the marks toddlers create and encouraging them to continue to create books in age-appropriate ways.

What materials do I need?


Chubby crayons are great to help toddlers and young children draw before their fine motor skills have developed enough to use a thin pencil. Chubby crayons make thick, bold marks that toddlers are easily able to use. They encourage more gross motor movements by urging toddlers to move their entire arm while they create - this is exactly how toddlers explore their body and early mark-making. As children get older they will continue to strengthen their fine-motor muscles through using tweezers, kneading dough, and exploring playdough or clay. Until then, chubby crayons are a great way to make marks!

Why is mark-making so important?


Mark-making is a critical step in the pre-literacy journey. To young children, their marks are powerful: they display having the power to create something where there was nothing and often, that something has meaning. Part of pre-literacy is the development of symbolic thinking…that a mark, letter, or word could represent a sound, idea, or an entire story.  Our toddlers are used to the idea that books contain pictures, words, and stories. Their marks can tell their stories.

What books make sense for a toddler?


Social Stories are a great tool for Toddlers for children. They can easily be stored somewhere that is easily accessible for young children just by hanging the ring on a Command Strip hook somewhere in your classroom at your students' height. Think of an area where a book or step-by-step instructions could be useful for the children in your class.

Some ideas include:

·  Getting ready for winter

·  What we do at circle time

·  Mommies and daddies come back

·  Snack time in the yellow room


Notice where your students might be having a hard time transitioning and share with them that you can make a special book together that lists all the steps. Together you write the steps and have them draw the pictures of each action in the sequence of the activity. You can even add pictures of them doing the activity next to their marks. The more steps added to the social story the more useful it will be for you and your child moving forward. Once you are done, hang up the ring book and look through it when you are doing that activity and anytime any student wants to read it. They will feel so much pride and ownership through the process of creating a book together!

Felt books:


Felt books are interactive; they allow toddlers to connect, play and retell a story through arranging and rearranging the felt pieces.


Creating a felt book can be daunting, but as you make felt pieces don’t worry about creating too much detail. Felt pieces that are open-ended such as simple shapes and colors give toddlers the ability to use their imagination and change the story in between readings. A circle can be a mouse or a cookie. A strip of fabric can be a slide or some spaghetti!


Simply picking what shapes and colors to make can be an activity in itself.  Hold up different colors and together decide what shapes they could become for your felt book. One way to discover shapes is finding shapes around your house and kitchen and them making felt shapes to match! Depending on your child’s age, you can encourage them to cut shapes out of the felt as well.


Another way to use felt books is to find your favorite story and create shapes to retell the book. Classic stories, or ones that explicitly use numbers, shapes, and colors such as  Pete the Cat and his Groovy Buttons, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, Brown Bear Brown Bear What Do You See and The Very Hungry Caterpillar are all great books for children to explore creating and re-telling!  


Toddlers are capable of so much and love to process and share their world as they play and create. Using mark-making and bookmaking as a form of storytelling is a great way to incorporate the pre-literacy skills that parents are so eager for in developmentally appropriate ways. Through these activities, toddlers are able to build their fine motor skills, explore sequencing and engage in early symbolic thinking. Creating a strong foundation for storytelling and building a future connection to literacy. 

Sasha Kopp is a community early childhood and family engagement consultant for The Jewish Education Project and an adjunct professor at American Jewish University. Sasha has worked in a variety of teaching and administrative roles in early childhood programs in Boston, Los Angeles, and New York. You can connect with Sasha through her website at sashakopp.com or through Twitter @SashaKopp.

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