Language Learning Activities for Children - From Birth to Age 6

What follows are ideas for language activities. You can do them with your child to help her build the skills she needs to become a reader. Most public libraries offer free use of books, magazines, videos, computers, and other services. Other things you might need for these activities are not expensive.

For each set of activities, we show an age span suggesting when children should try them. From one activity to the next, we continue to talk about children at different stages: babies (birth to 1 year), toddlers (1 to 3 years), preschoolers (ages 3 and 4), and kindergartner/early first-graders (ages 5 and 6). Remember that children don't always learn the same things at the same speed. And they don't suddenly stop doing one thing and start doing another just because they are a little older. So, the ages given are just rough guides for you to use as your child learns and grows.

You'll see that your role in the activities will change, too. Just as you hold your child up when she's learning to walk, you will help her a lot when she's taking her first language steps. As she grows, you will gradually let go and she will take more and more language steps on her own. That is why in most of the activities it says, "The first activities . . . work well with younger children. As your child grows older, the later activities let him do more."

As a parent, you can help your child want to learn in a way no one else can. That desire to learn is a key to her later success. Enjoyment is important! So, if you and your child don't enjoy one activity, move on to something else. You can always go back later.

For babies from birth to 1 year

Babies love hearing your voice. When you answer her sounds with sounds of your own, she begins to learn that what she "says" has meaning and is important to you.

What To Do

  • Talk to your baby often. Answer her coos, gurgles, and smiles. Repeat the "ba, ba's" and "ga, ga's" she makes.Talk, touch, and smile back. Get her to look at you.

  • Play simple talking and touching games with your baby. Ask, "Where's your nose?" Then touch her nose and say playfully, "There's your nose!" Do this several times, then switch to an ear or knee or her tummy. Stop when she or you grow tired of the game.

  • Change the game by touching the nose or ear and repeating the word for it several times. Do this with objects, too. When she hears you name something over and over again, she begins to connect the sound with what it means.

  • Do things that interest your baby. Vary your tone of voice, make funny faces, sing lullabies, and recite simple nursery rhymes. Play "peek-a-boo" and "pat-a-cake."

It's so important to talk to your baby! With your help, her coos and gurgles will one day give way to words.

For babies from age 6 weeks to 1 year

Sharing books is a way to have fun with your baby and start him on the road to becoming a reader.

Try To Find

Cardboard or cloth books with large, simple pictures of things that babies are familiar with

Lift-the-flap, touch-and-feel, or peek-through play books (Example: Pat the Bunny by Dorothy Kunhardt is a classic touch-and-feel book. See Resources.)

What To Do

  • Read to your baby for short periods several times a day. Bedtime is always a good time, but you can do it at other times, too while in the park, on the bus, or even at the breakfast table (without the food!).

  • As you read, point out things that are fun to do in the pictures. Name them as you point to them.

  • Give your baby sturdy books to look at, touch, and hold. Allow him to peek through the holes or lift the flaps to discover surprises.

Babies soon recognize the faces and voices of those who care for them. As you read to your baby, he will form a link between books and what he loves most--your voice and closeness.


Chatting with Children

For children ages 1 to 6

Continue talking with your older child as you did with your baby. Talking helps him learn language skills and lets him know what he says is important.

What To Do

The first activities in the list below work well with younger children. As your child grows older, the later activities let him do more. But keep doing the first ones as long as he enjoys them.

  • Talk with your toddler often. When feeding and bathing and dressing him, ask him to name or find different objects or clothing. Point out colors, sizes, and shapes.

  • Talk with your child as you read together. Point to pictures and name what is in them. When he is ready, ask him to do the same.

  • Teach your toddler to be a helper by asking him to find things.When cooking in the kitchen, give him pots and pans or measuring spoons to play with. Ask him what he is doing and answer his questions.

  • Whatever you do together, talk about it with your child. When you eat meals, take walks, go to the store, or visit the library, talk with each other. These and other activities give the two of you a chance to ask and answer questions. "Which flowers are red? Which are yellow?" "What else do you see in the garden?" Challenge your child by asking questions that need more than a "Yes" or "No" answer.

  • Listen to your child's questions patiently and answer them just as patiently. If you don't know the answer, have him join you as you look it up in a book. He will then see how important books are as sources of information.

  • Talk about books you have read together. Ask about favorite parts and answer your child's questions about events or characters.

  • Have your child tell you a story. Then ask him questions, explaining that you need to understand better.

  • When he is able, ask him to help you in the kitchen. He could set the table or decorate a batch of cookies. A first-grader may enjoy helping you follow a simple recipe. Talk about what you're fixing, what you're cooking with, what he likes to eat, and more.

  • Ask yourself if the TV is on too much. If so, turn it off and talk!

Talking and having conversations play a necessary part in helping a child's language skills grow.

As Simple as ABC

For children ages 2 to 6

Sharing the alphabet with your child helps him begin to recognize the shapes of letters and link them with sounds. He will soon learn the difference between individual letters what they look like and what they sound like.

Try To Find

Alphabet books (see Resources) Glue and safety scissors
Paper, pencils, crayons, markers ABC magnets

What To Do

The first activities in the list below work well with younger children. As your child grows older, the later activities let him do more. But keep doing the first ones as long as he enjoys them.

  • With your toddler by your side, print the letters of his name on paper and say each letter as you write it. Make a name sign for his room or other special places. Have him decorate the sign by pasting stickers or drawing on it.

  • Teach your child the alphabet song and play games using the alphabet. Some alphabet books have songs and games you can learn together.

  • Look for educational videos and TV shows that feature letter learning activities for young children, such as "Sesame Street." Watch such programs with your child and join in on the rhymes and songs.

  • Place alphabet magnets on your refrigerator or another smooth, safe metal surface. Ask your child to name the letters he plays with and the words he may be trying to spell.

  • Wherever you are with your child, point out certain letters in signs, billboards, posters, food containers, books, and magazines. When he is 3 to 4 years old, ask him to begin finding and naming some letters.

When you show your child letters and words over and over again, he will identify and use them more easily when learning to read and write. He will be eager to learn when the letters and words are connected to things that are part of his life.

  • When your child is between ages 3 and 4, encourage him to spell and write his name. For many children, their names are one of the first words they write. At first, he may use just one or two letters (for example, Emile, nicknamed Em, uses the letter "M").

  • Make an alphabet book with your kindergartner. Have him draw pictures (you can help). You can also cut pictures from magazines or use photos. Paste each picture into the book. With your child, write next to the picture the letter that stands for the object or person in the picture (for example,"B" for bird, "M" for milk, and so on).

     *"Nanook" means polar bear in the Inupiaq language. The Inupiaq people are one of seven Alaska Native Eskimo groups.

What Happens Next?

For children ages 2 to 6

Books with words or actions that appear over and over again help youngsters to predict or tell what happens next. These are "predictable" books. Children love to figure out how a story may turn out!

Try To Find

Books with repeated phrases, questions, or rhymes-- "predictable" books (Example: Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin, Jr. See Resources.)

What To Do

The first activities in the list below work well with younger children. As your child grows older, the later activities let her do more. But keep doing the first ones as long as she enjoys them.

  • Read "predictable" books to your child. Teach her to hear and name repeating words, colors, numbers, letters, animals, objects, and daily life activities. Once she gets to know a book, she may pretend to read it herself.

  • Pick a story that has repeated phrases or a poem you and your child like. Together, take on the voices of the characters. This part from The Three Little Pigs is a good example:

    Wolf Voice:    Little pig, little pig, let me come in.

    Little Pig:       Not by the hair on my chinny-chin-chin.

    Wolf Voice:    Then I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow your house in!

Your child will learn the repeated part and have fun joining in with you each time it shows up in the story. Pretty soon, she will join in before you tell her.

"Predictable" books help children understand how stories progress. A child easily learns familiar phrases and repeats them, pretending to read. "Pretend reading" gives a child a sense of power and courage to keep trying.


  • Read books that give hints about what might happen next. Such books have your child lifting flaps, looking through cut-out holes in the pages, "reading" small pictures that stand for words, and searching for many other clues. Get excited along with your child as she hurries to find out what happens next.

  • When reading "predictable" books, ask your child what she thinks will happen. See if she points out picture clues, if she mentions specific words or phrases, or if she connects the story to something that happens in real life. These are important skills for a reader to learn.

A Home for My Books

For children ages 2 to 6

Starting a home library for your child shows him how important books are. Having books of his own in a special place boosts the chance that your child will want to read even more.

Try To Find

Books at bookstores, garage sales, flea markets, used book stores, and sales run by your neighborhood library, a bookcase, a cardboard box, or other materials to make a place for books.

What To Do

  • Pick a special place for your child's books so he knows where to look for them. A cardboard box that you can decorate together might make a good bookcase. Or clear a shelf and make a special place for him to put his books with the family books.

  • Help your child arrange his books in some order--his favorite books, books about animals, holiday books. Use whatever method will help him most easily find the book he's looking for.

  • Borrow books from your neighborhood library (see Visiting the Library). Go to the children's section and spend time with your child reading and selecting books to take home and put in his special place. You might even have a box or space just for library books, so they don't get mixed up with his other books.

  • Encourage family and friends to give books as presents to your child for birthdays and other occasions.

  • When you and your child make your own books, you can add them to your home library. (For ideas on making books, see As Simple as ABC and "Write On!

    When collecting and reading books are a part of family life, you send your child a message that books are important, enjoyable, and full of new things to learn.


A Picture's Worth a Thousand Words

For children ages 3 to 6

Books that have no words, just beautiful pictures, invite you and your child to use your imagination and make up your own stories.

Try To Find

Wordless picture books (Example: Do You Want To Be My Friend? by Eric Carle. See Resources.)

Old magazines

Safety scissors

Construction paper

What To Do

The first activities in the list below work well with younger children. As your child grows older, the later activities let her do more. But keep doing the first ones as long as she enjoys them.

  • Look through the whole book with your child. Ask her what she thinks the story is about. Tell the story together by talking about each page as you both see it.

  • Ask your child to identify objects, animals, or people on each page. Talk with her about them and ask her if they are like real life.

  • Have your child tell another child or family member a story using a wordless picture book. Doing this will make her feel like a "reader" and will encourage her to continue learning to read.

  • Have your child create her own picture book with her drawings or pictures you help her cut from magazines.


Using wordless picture books can help improve children's language and spark their imagination.

Rhyme with Me: It's Fun, You'll See!

For children ages 3 to 6

Rhyming helps children to connect letters with sounds.

Try To Find

Books with rhyming words, games, or songs

What To Do

The first activities in the list below work well with younger children. As your child grows older, the later activities let him do more. But keep doing the first ones as long as he enjoys them.

  • Play rhyming games and sing rhyming songs with your child. Many include hand clapping, playing with balls, and playing in groups.

  • Read rhymes to your child. When reading a familiar one, stop before a rhyming word and encourage your child to fill in the rhyme. When he does, praise him.

  • Listen for rhymes in songs you know or hear on the radio, TV, at family or other gatherings, and sing them with your child.

  • Encourage your child to play rhyming games on a computer, if one is available. (See Learning with Computers. Also see Resources for computer game suggestions.)

Children around the world have fun with rhyming games and songs. Here are a few rhyming books to look for: Shake It to the One That You Love the Best: Play Songs and Lullabies from Black Musical Traditions by Cheryl Warren Mattox; Read Aloud Rhymes for the Very Young by Jack Prelutsky; Diez Deditos: 10 Little Fingers and Other Play Rhymes and Action Songs from Latin America by Jose-Luis Orozco; and My Very First Mother Goose by Iona Opie. See Resources for more ideas.

Take a Bow!

For children ages 3 to 6

When children act out a good poem or story, they show their own understanding of what it is about. They also grow as readers by connecting emotion with the written word.

Try To Find

Poems or stories written from a child's point of view
Things for using in a child's play (dress-up clothes, puppets)

What To Do

The first activities in the list below work well with younger children. As your child grows older, the later activities let her do more. But keep doing the first ones as long as she enjoys them.

  • Read a poem slowly to your child. Read it with feeling, making everything seem important.

  • If your child has a poem she especially likes, ask her to act out a favorite line or two. When she is done, praise her for doing a good job.  

  • Ask your child to act out the poem (or a part of it). Ask her to make a face of the way the character in the poem is feeling. Remember that making different faces adds emotion to the performer's voice. You are her audience, so again praise her and clap your hands.

  • Tell your child that her family would love to see her perform her poem. Set a time when everyone can be together. When your child finishes her performance, encourage her to take a bow while everyone claps and cheers loudly.

  • Encourage your child to make up her own play from a story she has read or heard. It can be make-believe or from real life. Help her find or make things to go with the story--a pretend crown, stuffed animals, a broomstick, or whatever the story needs. Some of her friends or family also can help. You can write down the words, or help her write them, if she is old enough. Then stage the play for everyone to see!

Play acting helps a child learn that there are more and less important parts to a story. She also learns how one thing follows another.

Family Stories

For children ages 3 to 6

Family stories let your child know about the people who are important to him. They also give him an idea of how one thing leads to another in a story.

What To Do

The first activities in the list below work well with younger children. As your child grows older, the later activities let him do more. But keep doing the first ones as long as he enjoys them.

  • Tell your child stories about your parents and grandparents or others who are special to you and your family. You might even put these stories in a book and add old photographs.

  • Think out loud about when you were little. Make a story out of something that happened, like a family trip, a birthday party, or when you lost your first tooth.

  • Have your child tell you stories about what she did on special days, such as holidays, birthdays, and family vacations.

  • If you go on a trip, write a trip journal with your child to make a new family story. Writing down the day's special event and pasting its photograph into the journal ties the family story to a written history. You can also include everyday trips like going to the store or the park.


The storyteller's voice helps your child hear the sounds of words and how they are put together to mean something.

Write On!

For children ages 3 to 6

Reading and writing support each other. The more your child does of each, the better she will be at both.

Try To Find

Pencils, crayons, or markers Yarn or ribbon
Writing paper or notebook Cardboard or heavy paper
Construction paper Safety scissors

What To Do

The first activities in the list below work well with younger children. As your child grows older, the later activities let her do more. But keep doing the first ones as long as she enjoys them.

  • Write with your child. From the time she is almost a preschooler, she will learn a lot about writing by watching you write. Talk about your writing with her so she begins to understand that writing means something and has many uses.

  • Have your young preschooler use her way of writing perhaps--just a scribble--to sign birthday cards or make lists.

  • Hang a family message board in the kitchen. Offer to write notes there for your child. Be sure she finds notes left for her there.

  • Ask your preschooler to tell you simple stories while you write them down. Question her if you don't understand something.

  • Encourage your preschooler to write her name and practice writing it with her. Remember, at first she may use only the first letter or two of her name.

  • Help your child write notes to relatives and friends to thank them for gifts or share her thoughts. Encourage them to answer your child with a note.

  • When she is in kindergarten, she will begin to write words the way she hears them. For example, she might write "haf" for have, "frn" for friend, "Frd"for Fred. Ask her to read her "writing" to you. Don't be concerned with correct spelling. She will learn that later.  

  • As your child gets older, she can begin to write or tell you longer stories. Ask questions that will help her organize the stories. Answer questions about letters and spelling.

  • Turn your child's writing into books. Paste her drawings and writings on pieces of construction paper. Make a cover out of heavier paper or cardboard; add special art, a title, and her name as author. Punch holes in the pages and cover, and bind the book together with yarn or ribbon.

When a child is just beginning, he tries different ways to write and spell. Our job as parents is to encourage our children's writing so they will enjoy putting what they think on paper.


Source:  U.S. Department of Education