Reading is often thought of as a stationary activity. There is a comfort that comes with curling up on the couch, sinking into a favorite chair, or climbing into bed with a good book. Though we may find ourselves sitting whenever we dive into a book, the truth is that most of the reading we do is on the go.


Words are all around us.

As readers, we take for granted the ability to make meaning out of our environment by reading the world around us. Product labels help us decide what to buy, road signs tell us where to go, and magazines inform us about various topics. Children who are just learning how to read can’t do this yet, but with your guidance, your child can begin to engage with the print around them in meaningful ways. With these simple tips, the time you spend at the grocery store, getting to and from school, or sharing a favorite activity can easily be turned into literacy learning time!


Tip #1: Ask for your child’s help

Most young children jump at any opportunity to help a grown-up. So, next time you are at the grocery store, give your child a role to keep them engaged and focused.

When an item you need is at your child’s eye level, ask your child to find it by saying what letter or sound the label begins or ends with. You can also give additional print clues, such as: “It has five letters” or “Look for a box with three words.” Then, watch as their eyes light up when they find it and get to put it into the cart!

Alternatively, you can ask your child to be in charge of crossing items off the list as you put them in the cart.  If your child accidentally crosses off the wrong word, no biggie! Just ask them to try again or say, “Hmm, what else could it be?” If the item in the cart has a label, you can even ask them to double-check.

A third way to make grocery shopping a literacy learning activity is to write out a detailed list on paper or a smartphone and ask them to be in charge of reading what you need aloud. For example, you could add, “One box of Cheerios” instead of simply, “Cheerios.” This incorporates the sight words “one” and “of” as well as a word your child can phonetically sound out – “box.” They will be practicing reading without even realizing it!


Tip #2: Keep activities purposeful, fun, and brief

Sometimes the best learning experiences are when you don’t even realize you’re learning. After a long day at school, your child may not want to play literacy games all the way home. Instead, if you pretend like you forgot how to get home, they might be interested in reading the signs because suddenly there is a purpose and it feels a little like a game.

Other activities could be as simple as encouraging your child to “collect” words by reading them as they see them during a walk or in a car or bus going somewhere. Each day, you can come up with a category of words for them to collect (e.g. specific sight words, words that start with a certain sound, words that contain a particular letter). They could keep track of the words they collect in a notebook or even just write the words in the air with their finger when they collect them. A big brother or sister can help with this, too!

You could also try checking out a kid-friendly cookbook from the library or look up “illustrated recipes for kids” online so that your child can take the lead as “head chef” and contribute to creating a meal to share. They can read the ingredients and directions and tell you how to help. This immediately transforms mealtime into a fun learning experience.

Incorporate literacy as often as your child shows interest, but don’t overdo it. Keep these literacy activities brief, especially at first, so that it doesn’t feel like additional “work.” If your child begins to push back, take that as a sign to prioritize daily reading time and maybe consider new and novel ways to weave literacy into your daily activities.


Tip #3: Be creative!

There are countless other ways to engage your child in literacy on the go. Think about your family’s favorite activities and brainstorm how you might highlight the literacy that is embedded in them. A visit to the park? Draw sight words in the sand or spell words with sticks. Watching a sports game? Read the fan’s signs and make your own. Getting rid of old magazines? Cut out words and scramble them to make silly sentences.

The possibilities are endless!

Most importantly, help your child notice words in the world around them and guide them in discovering that these words have meaning. With your support and the support of other adults, they will be well on their way to reading the world like readers do, without even realizing it!

Feel free to share your ideas below!

Lucy is a Program Director who works closely with school leaders and staff to plan for successful implementation of Springboard programs in the Bay Area. She holds a masters degree in curriculum and instruction and was an outdoor educator before she followed her passion for early literacy into the classroom where she taught kindergarten and first grade.