My girls are both November babies, and my son was born in January, so as you can imagine November, December, and January involve lots and lots (and lots) of gifts.
Every year, my kids receive some sort of toy that will apparently help teach them their numbers and letters. And each year, I return these gifts.
1: Electronic toys annoy me. There's enough noise in this house without hearing A A A A A A A A A A A A A (you get the point).
2: Electronic toys eat up batteries. Batteries are both bad for the environment and expensive. And who here can I get an amen from when I say that most toys that take batteries are crazy-difficult to open?
3: Electronic toys serve as a mediocre replacement for creativity, parents teaching (interacting, holding, speaking to, and listening to) their children, and children learning through natural play.
4: Electronic toys are addicting. Right? I mean, I greatly enjoy my Twitter, Facebook, blogs, e-mail, texting, etc., but really, they do not ultimately fulfill me or make me happy, and they are incredibly addictive, creating isolation from the people sitting right next to us or right in front of us.
So, how can you cultivate a love of reading in your home without the use of electronic toys?
1: Place books everywhere. We have "potty" books in the bathroom (like Bear in Underwear and Dinosaur vs. The Potty), book baskets by the kids beds (which contain their favorites), a basket of library books in our living room, bookshelves (one for hardcover and softcover books, another for board books), and in the car. Make the books accessible to your children at a moment's notice.
2: Read yourself. Yep, you are the best example. It doesn't matter if you read a magazine or a book, but let the kids see reading material in your hands.
3: Make reading a daily activity in your home. Whether you read a book to your kids before bed or sit and read to them during the day (or both!), make reading a predictable, expected activity. Use funny voices, pause and ask questions, do movements, whatever you need to do!
4: Have letter-friendly toys. Alphabet magnets and a cookie sheet, letter puzzles, even a letter footstool (where the kid's name is spelled out) is a great way to teach them how to spell their own names.
5: Make up songs. I can't sing very well, but I have, since my kids were little, made up a tune that spelled out the letters of their name. (As I would sing it to them, I'd point the letters out on their walls---you know those popular wooden wall letters).
6: Play word games in the car, before bed, when sitting in a waiting room. Try the rhyming game (you say a word and the kid says as many words as he/she can that rhyme with that word); don't forget to be super silly when playing this! But if the child says a word that isn't an actual work, it's ok to tell him or her. Have a letter of the week where you ask your child to say words that start with that letter. You can also point out where that letter is on signs, in magazines, etc. Practice writing that letter and sounding it out. You can also teach your children vocabulary words in every day conversation. It's so cute to hear young kids use big words in the right context!
7: Have children dictate letters (or e-mails) to you that you send out. For example, on President's Day, we wrote a letter to the President. During Women's History Month, we wrote letters to strong women we knew. During Black History Month, we sent a letter to Ruby Bridges. Allow kids to also illustrate something from the letter to include.
8: Encourage your child to create art. This helps them develop fine motor skills needed for writing. Scissors, glue, crayons, markers, pencils, paint brushes. Let them cut out letters from old magazines.
9: Take your kids to the library. Often. Let them get to know the library staff. Go to free story times. Let them check out gobs of books, books on CD, character puppets, etc. Borrowing reading materials gives kids a chance to learn about whatever they want (not limited to the books in the home) and learn how to treat loaned materials in a respectful manner. Make reading-places happy places. Go to local bookstores. Get the kids a hot chocolate inside the bookstore.
10: Pretend play is a great way to learn letters and practice writing. Play restaurant, and let your kids take your order. Give kids a spare keyboard so they can play office (locating letters).
11: Use pictures as inspiration for comprehension and creativity. One of my favorites is the eeBoo story cards. The matching games are great, too. (For younger kids, play that matching game with the cards face-up). Though there aren't letters on these items, the discussions increase vocabulary.
12: Take your kids places. Any place can become an opportunity to learn about reading. The grocery store is full of signs (including numbers). And don't limit yourself to kid-specific places. Take them to a museum, a festival, a farmer's market.
13: Let kids read whatever they get their hands on that is appropriate and interesting. The cereal box? Fine. Shampoo bottle? Fine. A board book when they are six? Fine. Any love of reading is better than none at all!
There are endless ways to help your child celebrate letters! It doesn't take much effort at all to work these teaching moments into your daily routine, and the reward is great!