Homemade Monday: Practicing letters and numbers with playdough

One of my favorite ways to laugh, play, and read is to use playdough. I try to incorporate it into a lesson, program, or storytime as much as I can. (Last week, I used it to make a volcano for a school literacy night!) Playdough is great as an early literacy tool because children can form shapes including letters and numbers with the dough and exercise the small muscles in their hands and fingers. This gets them ready to start holding writing utensils like crayons and pencils. It also helps develop creativity and imagination.


You may be wondering…how would challenging my child’s imagination or expanding his creativity really help him read? When your child begins to pretend an object represents something else (for instance, his hand can be a phone or a block can be a train), he is beginning to understand symbols. This leads to the idea that letters are just symbols for sounds. And those sounds create words. So playing pretend is a great way to begin the reading process. Using playdough is just one way to do this.

Do you remember playing with the Play-Doh brand playdough? Opening the container, squishing your fingers inside to squeeze out the dough, and then trying your best not to mix the colors–or maybe you liked to combine colors to see what would happen. It had its own unique smell. I can’t guarantee you’ll acheive that smell with these recipes, but you will have some inexpensive, beautiful playdough that’s edible but definitely not desirable. Let me know which one is your favorite to make! Right now, the Jell-O version is my favorite.

Basic No-Cook Playdough Recipe
2 cups plain flour
1 cup salt
1 cup cold water
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon cream of tartar (optional)
food coloring

It’s simple! Just mix together the flour and salt, then add the rest of the ingredients slowly pouring water in one half cup at a time. Knead the dough first, and then separate it into balls so that you can add different colors of food dyes. After you add the food coloring, you may need to dust a little more flour over the dough to get it back to the right consistency. Store in an air-tight container.


Jell-O No-Cook Playdough Recipe
4 to 5 cups plain flour
1 cup warm water
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons cream of tartar
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 –3oz. pack of Jell-O Gelatin

Mix together 2 cups of flour, salt, cream of tartar, oil, and Jell-O. Slowly add water and stir until combined. Begin adding rest of flour one cup at a time. After adding three cups of flour, then turn out the dough onto a floured countertop and knead, continuing to add flour until the dough is not sticky. Store in an air-tight container.
Adapted from: http://www.modernparentsmessykids.com/2012/05/play-dough.html


Kool-Aid No-Cook Playdough Recipe
1 cup plain flour
½ cup salt
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 pack unsweetened Kool-Aid
1 cup boiling water

While water is heating, mix all other ingredients in a bowl. Add boiling water and mix with a sturdy spoon. Allow to cool. Store in an air-tight container.

These blogs have created free, downloadable mats you can use to help your child begin to form letters and numbers with playdough.


Family Literacy: More than reading a book

Family Literacy is more than just reading a book together. According to SpeechBuddy.com, it’s the way families incorporate literacy skills into their every day lives. It’s reading the street signs on a walk or drive to the store; it’s reading the cereal boxes at the grocery store; it’s reading the words in a recipe as you are making dinner.


The idea of family literacy goes back to last week’s blog post about children who hear at least 30,000 words a day have a greater rate of success by the time they reach 3rd Grade than those students who heard less words. Family Literacy involves singing, talking, reading, writing, and playing–activities we strive to model during our storytimes and children’s programs at the Stark County District Libraries.

Family Literacy involves turning off the electronics–putting away the smartphones, turning off the television–and working as a family to model what reading is. Children who see their parents and family members read are more likely to pick up a book themselves if it’s what everyone else is doing.

Homemade Monday: Apple Picking Teaches Early Reading

It’s fall. There is a certain chill in the air. The leaves are beginning to change. It’s time to start picking apples and pumpkins from the orchards and patches in the area. It’s also a great time to teach early reading skills like letter recognition and matching.
This idea comes from Growing a Jeweled Rose.

You’ll need a few apple cut-outs, a tree with low-lying branches (or some branches to create your own tree) and a clip for each apple. Label the apples with letters, numbers, or words depending on where your child is developmentally. Use the clothes pin clips to attach the apples to the tree branches. Give your child a basket or paper bag and tell them it’s time to go apple picking in the backyard!

Give them instructions on what to do–perhaps they will match upper and lower case letters, identify each letter of the alphabet as they pick them off the branches, or count the apples as they pick them. There are so many different ways to make this game new each time you play it.

As you can see, I had to improvise to make mine. Since I’m located in an urban setting with very few trees around (and it happened to be raining the day I wanted to make mine), I found an old centerpiece and repurposed it.

What have you done to repurpose an object to help teach literacy in your house?

Are you talking to your child enough?

Recent studies are showing that the more you talk to your children between the ages of birth to 3, the larger their vocabulary and the better their reading comprehension by the time they enter school at age 5.

Graphic courtesy Ohio Ready to Read

Graphic courtesy Ohio Ready to Read

So what do we mean when we say “talking?” It’s more than just the directional speak or “business talk” we use on a daily basis. It’s the conversations and the questions we ask. Instead of saying, “Come sit down for lunch,” offer a question or explanation: “Come sit down for lunch. I’m making peanut butter and jelly. I’m going to put the peanut butter on the bread, cut the sandwich in half, pour a class of milk, give you a handful of pretzels. Would you like carrots or a string cheese?”

Not only are children learning sequencing by doing this, they are also hearing more words.  According this study done just a few years ago by professors at the University of Kansas, children who heard at least 30,000 words a day regardless of socioeconomic status, acheived greater success by third grade than those who heard less than 30,000. Just how much is 30,000 words, though? According to the article, it’s like reading Dr. Seuss’ Cat in the Hat 18 times a day.

So when you are talking to your baby just remember the influence you will have on your child when they reach 3rd grade. And talking is probably the most inexpensive way to increase your child’s vocabulary.

Homemade Monday: Sensory Literacy Game

Toddlers and preschoolers learn best through play, and it helps if the play involves sensory activities. Sensory activities involve anything that is tactile–slimy, gooey, doughy, smelly, rough, soft, colorful, sticky, smooth, etc. It is pretty simple to turn sensory activities into literacy activities.

photo 5

Sand play is a great example of a sensory game that can be used for literacy. If you do not have a big tub or box for sand or rice, go to your local grocery store an ask the butcher for a clean meat tray. They are usually happy to give you one or two FREE–especially if they know it’s for a children’s activity. You can use regular sand, colored sand, plain rice, or colored rice (see the recipe for this below). Pour the sand or rice on the meat tray or in your box and let the children explore. There is no structure to this play. They have to get a feeling for the sand or rice.

After the first play or even just the first few minutes, you can offer alphabet cards for your child to view while trying to draw the letters in the sand. Write out their name and ask them to draw their name in the sand. Some children may need you to help hold their finger as they begin this tactile way of writing–and that’s okay. They will get the hang of it eventually.

Messes will be made with sand and rice. So make sure to put a towel or newspaper under your sand or rice box/tray. Messes are okay as long as they are cleaned up–especially with preschool and toddler-aged children.

To color your rice:
Place rice in a sealable plastic bag. Pour in a couple tablespoons of vinegar or rubbing alcohol. Add a few drops of food coloring. Seal the bag and mix it up. Pour the bag on to a tray to dry–the vinegar or rubbing alcohol will allow it to dry quicker. For darker colors, use more drops of food coloring.

Stay Connected

I’m always looking for great resources to share with parents as they delve into the world of early literacy. It doesn’t have to be a scary or overwhelming task–and I’m here to make sure it’s not a scary task.

This week check out the Center for Early Literacy Learning. Don’t let the name concern you! This website has some nice guides, videos, and tools to help you promote early learning at home and in the community.

Click here to take you directly to the Parent Page.

Homemade Monday on a Thursday

I’m going to start a weekly post called “Homemade Monday” with literacy activities you can make at home. We are currently doing a program at the Main Library (and several branches) to show parents fun and easy ways to make reading fun at home. So this week (even though it is technically Thursday), I wanted to show you some of the fun activities planned for this evening. I’ve added credit where and when appropriate.

Cardboard Tube Letter Matching

Supplies Needed: Marker, Circle stickers, toilet paper or paper towel tubes.
Instructions: Write a random assortment of letters (capital and/or lower case), numbers (actual number, words, or dots), or even shapes on the tubes. Then write the matching letters, numbers, or shapes on the stickers. When you are ready, just place the stickers over the corresponding item on the tube. Thanks to Testy Yet Trying for this neat and very inexpensive idea!!



Spoon Matching

This fun matching game requires 26 white spoons and 26 clear spoons. You can use stickers for the letters or just use a Sharpie to write the letters on each spoon. You’ll want to do one set with capital letters and one set with lower case. You could also use one set of spoons for letters and one set for stickers or small pictures of objects that start with the different letters of the alphabet turning this game into a sound matching game! Thanks to From Kindergarten with Love.


Alphabet BookCreate your own alphabet book! Use stickers or draw each letter large on each page of your book. Cut out letters from different sources: newspapers, magazines, junk mail, etc.<br />By using different fonts and letter styles, children begin to recognize the many ways one letter can look!


This gallery contains 1 photo.

Legos and blocks. Great for building small muscle development. Great for creativity. Great for so many things. And now they are great for building vocabulary and letter recognition. Simply use a computer to type letters, words, or even numbers. Once … Continue reading

Things to Do in September

Think back to when you were in Kindergarten. What did you learn? Probably things like tying your shoe, memorizing your address, recognizing your name and writing it…Today, though, it’s so different. Children are expected to know more before they start school. They should already have an understanding of letter sounds and symbols. It shows how much our society is advancing. However, it may mean a little more work for you as a parent, and that’s where we, the public library, can help you! You don’t have to be a teacher or professor of reading to help get your child ready to read…it comes down to the basics of being a child: playing, singing, writing, reading, and talking.

Click the picture below to see a short slideshow on how we use them to help you get your child ready to read.

Each month we will post a special calendar of things to do with your child throughout the month. These activities are based on the early literacy skills and basic practices. Make sure to print a copy and keep it handy!!

You can download the calendar here: September_Things_to_Do


Hello World!

Welcome to the official literacy blog of the Stark County District Library!

Take some time to click around and get to know our blog. Obviously, we still have much more in the works, so make sure to check back regularly for the monthly calendar of activities, weekly posts on ideas for having fun with words at home, and other posts about what is going on at your local library.

You can also find us at http://www.starklibrary.org/early-literacy856.