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Encouraging Literacy Development: Gather Round Activities

These parent-child activities help young children develop literacy skills from birth to three.

Gather Round activities are designed to help families promote their child’s language and literacy skills, while also nurturing the other domains of development. A children’s book is suggested for each topic area and age and activities related to the book based on a range of developmental domains and early skills. The activities can be used with parents as a tool to promote children’s learning through book-sharing and age-appropriate parent-child activities.

Birth to 12 Months


Hugs and Kisses by Roberta Grobel Intrater
Publisher: Cartwheel

Activities that build on the ideas in Hugs and Kisses:

1) Blow some bubbles high up in the air. Then ask, “Would you like some bubble kisses?” Gently blow some bubbles toward her. See if she looks at or reaches for them as they float by her. Help your baby learn the words for this game by repeating them for her: “I am going to blow some bubbles. Look at the bubbles! Can you catch a bubble?” It won’t be long before you will say, “Would you like to play bubbles?” and she will start to smile because she will know what this word means!

2) Just like the babies in the book, let your baby know that you love every single part of him. After bath-time, or during a diaper change, take a few minutes to massage your baby with baby-safe lotion or body oil. As you gently touch his body, use language to describe what you are doing: “Now I am touching your legs. I love your little knees!” Don’t forget lots of kisses along the way.

3) The babies in this book are enjoying close cuddle time with their loved ones. Make some time to sit in a comfortable place and just hold and cuddle your baby. Look her in the eyes and smile at her and tell her you love her. This intimate time with your baby helps strengthen the bond between you.

4) Create your own baby book. Take three pieces of thick cardboard (or cut several squares from a gift-box) and glue a photo of a baby that you have cut out of a magazine or catalog onto each piece. Then tie or staple the pieces together. Show your baby the three photos and talk about what is happening in each one: “Look, this baby is playing in the water. Do you like to play in the water too?”

5) Tell your baby: “I’m going to blow you a kiss!” Then put your fingers to your mouth and blow a kiss to your baby. Gently put your baby’s hands to his mouth while you say, “Now blow a kiss to me!” Over time, your baby will learn the meaning of this gesture and one day he will surprise you by doing it when you ask, “Can you blow me a kiss?”

12–24 Months


Big Red Barn by Margaret Wise Brown
Publisher: HarperFestival

Activities that build on the ideas in Big Red Barn:

1) Gather your toddler’s stuffed animals and name each animal for your child: “This is a teddy bear” or “This is a frog.” Make the sound for each animal. Which one does your child like best?

2) Encourage some early pretend play skills. Gather a spoon, a small plastic cup, and a small blanket. See if your toddler would like to feed one of his stuffed animals (or you!), give it a drink, or wrap a blanket around it and put it to sleep. Pretend play activities help children develop the ability to tell their own stories and develop language skills.

3) Play “in-and-out” with stuffed animals or any child-safe objects (spoons, blocks, etc.). Get a plastic bowl or basket. Ask your child to put the animals in the basket. Then ask her to take them out. Together, count the animals as they go in and as they come out. You can also turn the basket upside down and ask your child to put the animals on top of the basket or under the bowl. This teaches your child new concepts while she plays.

4) Show your child the picture of the horse in the book and act out how it moves— go ahead and “gallop” or “trot” across the room. Add lots of language: “Here is a horse in the book. Now I am pretending to be a horse. Look at me trot! Come trot with me!” Encourage your child to imitate your movements while you say, “Trip-trot, trip-trot!” The two of you can move like the other animals in the book (such as the hen or the dogs.) Putting actions to words helps develop language and literacy skills.

5) Sit down with your child and read the Big Red Barn book again, but this time just tell the story in your own words using the illustrations as a guide. Make up your own story about the animals in the big red barn. Ask your child to help you find the chickens or the cows–or whatever animals appear on each page. Children grow to love books when someone they love makes the time to talk with them and tell stories to them.

24–36 Months


Chugga Chugga Choo Choo by Kevin Lewis
Publisher: Hyperion

Activities that build on the ideas in Chugga Chugga Choo Choo:

1) Make your own train by taping a length of string or yarn (about 18 inches) to a shoebox. Help your child decorate the outside of the box to look like his idea of a train. Show your child how he can pull his train through the house using the string. (Supervise your child carefully during this activity and put this toy away when your child is done playing.)

2) Using the train you made above or one of your child’s toy trains or cars, make the sound of the vehicle, “Chugga chugga choo choo” and “Whooo, whooo” or “Beep, beep!” See if your toddler wants to take the train or car for a spin through the house! Make a tunnel by leaning two throw pillows against one another, or turn a shoebox into a train station or garage. Playing pretend is one of the best and most important ways you can build your toddler’s language and thinking skills.

3) Pretend you and your child are a train. Make a line of “tracks” (you can use old newspaper pages) on the floor. Line up behind your child, put your hands on her shoulders and say: “You’re the engine in the front and I’m the caboose in the back.” Then follow the tracks to see where they lead—perhaps to an activity set up in another room or a snack that you’ve made as a surprise.

4) Take out one of your child’s toy trains or the one you created above and ask your child questions like: “Where should the train go?” “Who rides the train?” “What do they do on the train—do they sleep? Do they eat?” Together, you can create a story about trains which helps your child develop problem-solving, literacy, and language skills.

5) In this book, you can see the child’s train tracks go under his bed and over his fish tank. Ask your child to take his toy train or car on a wild ride “under the chair” or “over the table” or “around the bed.” This helps him learn new concepts and the meaning of new words.

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