How Children are Learning Literacy Skills Through Play

January 26, 2024
Preschool kids play with building bricks in while sitting on floor in daycare

Children are learning literacy skills everyday! Literacy skills are what we use to read a book, write a text message, read road signs, talk on the phone, jot down notes and so much more. It may not always be obvious, but when children play, they are developing a strong foundation of skills that will help them to one day read and write. Here’s how babies, toddlers and preschoolers are developing early literacy skills through play!

How babies are learning literacy skills

Listening to your voice

Talking to your baby, singing songs, and telling stories are all ways your baby is playing and learning. As they listen to your voice, they are hearing different words and phrases, hearing how you express yourself through the cadence of your voice, and watching your facial expressions; all of which contribute to their speech and language development.

Feeling your touch

When you say “nose”, touch their nose! Feeling your touch helps babies build connections between words and their meaning.

Mouthing toys

Babies are often putting toys in their mouth. It may be frustrating at times, but when it’s safe to do so, this can be a really beneficial play experience! Mouthing toys strengthens the muscles in their mouth and tongue that they’ll eventually used to talk.

Tummy Time, sitting and standing

Often overlooked, large muscle skills are important for developing literacy skills. Babies are developing large muscle skills as they go from learning to hold their head up, to sitting, to pulling themselves up using the side of the couch, to eventually walking on their own. These large muscles need to develop first, before the small muscles in their hands and fingers can strengthen and eventually be used to hold a pencil.

How toddlers are learning literacy skills


Climbing and balancing strengthen large muscles that are important to literacy skills. Core muscles help children sit at a desk and comfortably write, while arm, shoulder and neck muscles help to better control their hands as they start to write letters and symbols.


Painting and scribbling lets toddlers practice holding different writing materials and helps them learn how the motions they make impact the marks on the paper. Scribbling/painting will often look like random scribbles, large circles and/or dots.

Scooping and pouring

Scooping and pouring helps build hand-eye coordination. Eventually, hand-eye coordination will help your child to hold and control a pencil so they can accurately write letters/words. It also helps them track the words they’re reading in a book.

How preschoolers are learning literacy skills

Playing pretend

Recreating memories or imagining new scenarios help children to develop new vocabulary, story-telling skills and communication skills. While playing pretend, children will often talk out loud, speaking for both themselves and others. For example, they will pretend to be a parent who asks their baby if they’re hungry and then also respond as the baby. This helps them practice having conversations and communicating their thoughts, feelings and ideas.

Painting/drawing symbols and shapes

Preschoolers are starting to create meaning to their paintings/drawings and may start to identify different shapes, symbols and squiggles as something specific (such as a car, person or house). This is another step in developing strong story-telling skills while refining small muscle skills to better control a pencil.

Doing two tasks at once

Focussing on two tasks at one time helps children develop their hand-eye coordination skills. For example, walking on a beam requires them to focus on their balancing and walking at the same time. Similarly, when we write, we are focused on multiple tasks at once, such as, spelling, holding a pencil and keeping the paper in place. Hand-eye coordination will also help them to track the words on a page as they start to read on their own.

Children are learning literacy skills everyday, even when it isn’t obvious. It takes time, but know that when your child plays, they are developing a strong foundation of literacy skills that will help them to one day read and write.

BridgeWay Programs

All BridgeWay programs are free! We offer indoor, outdoor and online programs in Brampton and Mississauga. Together, we sing songs, read stories and explore a variety of literacy filled activities. Find a BridgeWay location near you!

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