Five ways to introduce literacy to a toddler

I really wanted to name this post “Five ways I am introducing literacy to my toddler,” but that made the title too long. Although I was a teacher for eight plus years, teaching English as a Second Language and/or French and incorporating my love for literacy with students along the way, I make no claims to be an expert.

I’ve had a lot of time to work with students and try many different activities to varied degrees of success. I’ve never worked with toddlers to teach any sort of literacy skills, although I’ve read, studied, and applied many different theories regarding language and literacy development. I feel sufficiently qualified to play around with language and literacy with Mon Cœur (MC).

The five ways I am exposing MC to literacy, below, are what I’ve found works for us – it’s fun for the both of us and it’s teaching her about literacy along the way.

The Alphabet

Ah yes, the alphabet. Such an obvious choice! We love to sing the song, we read alphabet books, we take alphapup on walks…

MC’s love for the alphabet goes back to when we got her first alphabet book and were beginning potty training. We always stock books in the bathroom to keep her entertained, and so we kept the alphabet book in there.

It was her top choice for about two months before we cycled books out. We would sing the alphabet and I would point to each letter on the inside cover. Then we would read each letter, point to it and look at the corresponding animal – with Eric Carle’s colorful illustrations- on every page.

After a few weeks of reading this book, MC would burst into the alphabet song by herself. The alphapup also helped her learn the alphabet, as she would walk him he would sing the alphabet and she would chime in.


Another evident choice of activity to expose toddlers to literacy. Hello. Let’s dive a little deeper, though.

We love story time at home and the library. We probably read about ten books a day. Aside from reading books and talking about the pictures and stories found in those books, we like to read other (real-world) literature.

On occasion, MC receives a card or letter in the mail and I read those to her. Sometimes, when we have a lot of housework to do, I will make myself a list and I will make MC a to-do list, too. I read it to her and let her choose what she wants to do first. We check things off as we complete them and re-read the list as we go.

When we are out and about and I want her to heed an instruction, it is often conveniently noted on a plaque. So I will go up with MC, and pointing to each word as I read it, let her know about a certain rule for where we are.

For example, in the Paris Catacombs, I wanted to make sure she didn’t touch anything. Conveniently, there was a sign mentioning the same wish, “You are invited to not touch anything and not smoke in the ossuary.” That’s quite an invitation. So I read it to MC, and we talked about the symbols too before entering into the catacombs.

Any time I have an opportunity to read her a sign that gives her a behavioral cue, I like to read it to her. She appreciates the signs, and it’s not me telling her she can’t do something; it’s the expectation of the place where we are for all people, including me.


We do writing two different ways. Sometimes MC wields the pen and makes her scribbles. Then I ask for the pen and simply say, “What did you write here?” and I write exactly what she tells me.

I make an honest effort to create my to-do list for the day every morning over coffee, and MC often wants to help me. Other times I’m making Chouchou’s lunch (or dinner) and I ask her to write a note to put in his lunch box. She makes the scribbles, then tells me what she wrote and I write it verbatim.

I also like to do dictated stories with her. We like to get the stickers and a sheet of paper out. She will make a scene using the stickers and then I will ask her to tell me the story. I ask the names of each person, animal, and character, and then I ask her to tell me a story. Sometimes I have to ask her a question or two to keep the story going, and then I read it back to her. Then she chooses where to hang it so we can see it and read it later.

Letter exposure

I am in the process of making a little nook in the corner of our living room for MC – right now it’s just a couple of file cabinets and a bench…it’s a bit of a hot mess, but I have dreams for this space.

The file cabinets are perfect because they hide a bunch of my school resources and they are also the perfect spot to put magnetic letters so we can “play” with the letters of the alphabet.

We’ve played with the letters a bit, I’ll ask her what she wants me to spell, and I’ll make words like “horse” or “Bingo,” depending on her focus for the day.

We haven’t really done a lot of practice with matching letters to their name, putting the alphabet in order, etc (I haven’t made that a priority yet) so I am not really pushing that. Instead she sees the forms of letters, and we focus on color, shape or size and sort a couple of letters at a time according to one of those themes. Later, we will look at the letters, I will orient them correctly and point and say the name of the letter.

Additionally, I recently rediscovered a learning toy a friend had given us – Leapfrog’s Fridge Phonics. This is a handy little toy which teaches her the name and sound of each letter in a sing-songy, can’t get it out of your head rhythm.

It also doubles as a simple puzzle for her – she has to insert the letter piece in the correct orientation so that the toy will tell her the letter and sound of the letter.

Name games

MC has her full name down pat, thanks in part to a bedtime book we read – On the Night You Were Born, and bedtime prayers. When she first said her full name unprompted I was surprised. Then I remembered how we would repeat her name every night when reading the book. I decided to run with it.

One of the easiest ways to start with literacy awareness, learning letters and simple spelling is by using her name. It’s a word every child is invested in – their own name, so it makes it high-interest.

I have her name written on a slip of paper on the file cabinet and she uses the magnetic letters to match each letter of her name. The other day, I wrote her first name on her table, and then I cut up her name into individual letters. Then, making it into a “game” for her, I placed each letter in an Easter egg. She had to open the eggs and match the letter in the egg to the letter in her name, on the table. We’ve only been doing this for a couple of days now, but she matched letters quickly and accurately even the first time, and now she is starting to recite letters (not necessarily correct ones!) when she opens the egg and “reads” the letter card. Sometime in the near future, we’ll get the letter stamps out and let her stamp her name, matching each letter.

These five foci on literacy are helping to expose MC to the world of reading around her, in bite size chunks, without being pushy, and instead being playful. These stepping stones show MC the relationship between print and speech and are building on her alphabet knowledge, concept of what writing is and the many purposes of reading (for pleasure and for information).

All of these reading experiences are paying off, as she is exhibiting emerging reader signs. It is so rewarding to watch her and share in the experiences with her. She pretends to read our magazines (holding the magazine and flipping pages as we would), she reads simple, repetitive books from memory (Like Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?), and she’s even begun to read and recognize book titles when she’s choosing books to be read to her.

If you have any questions about the tips above or want to share any ways you expose your toddler to literacy, I’d love to read in the comments section!


A Trip of Firsts

Although I had made many trips to France before now, for many reasons, this trip was the first time I had traveled as a family, with Chouchou and Mon Cœur (MC), our toddler.

For me, this trip was not only about introducing them to people and places close to my heart, it was also about helping me heal by spending some time with our adopted French families for the first time since the stillbirth.

Although we did not speak much about it at all (that wouldn’t be very French, I’ve been told), the time we were able to spend together helped me to heal.

I know that sounds silly, but it’s one thing to share news over the phone, and it’s another to truly embrace another person who feels the same grief and share it together, physically.

After almost a year, I am still healing in this regard, seeing family and friends for the first time and sharing a long hug.

But what this post really is about, is some personal and family firsts.

Personal firsts:

First AirBnB booking:

I have researched bookings on AirBnB before, but we had never booked a place.  For our stay in Paris, we spent three days at a lovely AirBnB in the same neighborhood, near the Eiffel Tower, where I studied years ago.  It was a wonderful experience and a cheaper alternative to staying in a hotel. 

We also felt “at home” since we came back every evening and made a meal.  The neighborhood was quiet at night and conveniently located to many different grocery stores, the metro, and a fresh air market.  

The host, Nicholas was excellent about getting back in touch with any questions we had.

First Uber trip: 

I really didn’t think I’d ever use Uber, but after our metro adventure with all of our luggage, I investigated. For 20 Euros more than what we spent taking the metro in (and only a total of 47 Euro), we had an Uber driver pick us up and take us door to door from our Air BnB to the airport terminal.  Totally worth every centime (cent).  Plus, our driver, David, was amazing.  Courteous, kind, and punctual (I was so worried an Uber wouldn’t come at 4:30am).  

The ride to the airport was a nice calm way to say adieu to the city as we passed by the Eiffel Tower and other landmarks in the dark of the morning, with only a few hints of street lights. Had we taken the metro, we would not have had such a smooth exit from the city and start to our next leg of the trip.

Between the AirBnB and the Uber experiences we had as our firsts, the bar for expectations in the future has been set high.  Both were such positive experiences that as we plan travel in the future, we will definitely be using them again.

New places:

What I loved most about this trip was Chouchou’s wanting us to experience new things together.  In Paris, among other places, we visited the Catacombs, the Palais Garnier, and les Invalides.  While with friends we all experienced Lourdes, Chambord, and the Cathedral and town of Bourges together for the first time.

Mon Cœur’s Firsts:

MC had many firsts on this trip too, and it was so amazing to watch her reactions to each.  As an adult, I take for granted many aspects of my life, so it was so refreshing to see her experience something otherwise banal to an adult.

Airplanes, trains, metros, and buses!

It was MC’s first plane ride, train ride, bus and metro rides.  The plane ride was non-eventful just as I wished.  She was entertained by the in-flight movies or her tablet, and aside from some walks around the plane, and some normal toddler restlessness, she was absolutely fabulous.  

She kept her nose pressed to the window, watching the countryside zoom by in the train.  It was so nice to travel this way – we could walk up and down the aisles to stretch our legs, and we got a close up view of the country. An added bonus, since MC traveled on my lap, she was free!

MC is enchanted by school buses, and so any bus is a school bus to her.  We decided that we would take the bus whenever we could to see more of the city.  Watching her face as we went through the city and she saw everything, her enthusiasm for everything was contagious. From dogs being walked to monuments we passed – she pointed it all out.

First trip to the beach:

The first evening we were in Biarritz, we went to Socoa, a little beach/bay area.  MC wanted to run out on the sand and so Chouchou went out there with her. They ran around to all the drawings in the sand, then made their own baby shark drawings.  

Her face lit up to be on the beach, with other kids, running around, playing soccer, and giggling.  It did my heart good to watch her and Chouchou out playing.  When she came off the beach, she wanted to take me on the sand and share this new place with me.

We enjoyed just watching her run around on the beach in February, but I am looking forward to this summer when we can take her to the beach and experience it in a different season.

This is part of a mini series of stories shared from our recent trip to France. Visit my Instagram for more pictures from the trip. Previous posts include:

Do you have questions about our trip? Please email me or share in the comments section – I would love to answer them!

International Family Travel: Three Lessons Learned

I’ve had the good fortune to travel many times before both solo and with Chouchou. After this trip, I realize how different the dynamics are when you travel as a family, especially when traveling internationally and crossing time zones. Below are three things I learned from this trip.

Pack light.  No, lighter than that.

Our trip lasted 16 days with travel included. As I was preparing suitcases, I packed eight changes of clothes for me and eight for Mon Cœur (MC).  I knew we’d have access to a washer, so I thought we could bring half the clothes we needed.  

In total, we had two large rolly suitcases, a trunki, and a stroller.  MC had a her size book bag that was too heavy for her, and I had my huge pink purse.  This was way too much for us.  

I really believe we could have taken clothes for a third of our stay and made it work with just 4-5 days worth of clothes. Looking back, we should have been able to pack lighter ditch a rolly and the trunki in exchange for a carry-on book bag.  The kid-sized book bag and the trunk were cute in concept, but lacking in practicality.

The packing cubes (Dot & Dot 4-pack large set) (Bagail 6-pack set, 3 different sizes) we bought were extremely helpful, and I’ll use them again in the future.  It helped keep everyone’s clothes organized by outfit and with different cubes for everyone. It was also super helpful for stowing away gifts we had purchased for our friends – when we arrived at each destination, I just grabbed the packing cube, and everything was already there! I loved the Bagail 6-pack set because the medium size was perfect for the trunki suitcase for MC, and since it was awkwardly shaped (like a snow sleigh from Frozen), the cubes helped me pack the maximum amount of clothes in the space. The large suitcases were perfect to stack on top of each other and side-by-side, allowing for four cubes to fit in our large rolly suitcase.

What may be captivating to us may not be to MC and vice versa.

MC really did do amazingly well for all the sightseeing we packed in.  She’s two and a half, and we didn’t expect her to be as captivated by all the places we visited.

When we toured the Paris Catacombs, we were unable to take the stroller, so MC had to walk the whole way. It was a 1.5 km walk (just under 1 mile). She walked almost the whole visit, did not get bored, and wasn’t scared by the macabre.

She waited patiently in the line for the Eiffel Tower, and enjoyed walking around and seeing the city from up high. She spied a soccer game, boats, and the gold roof from the Invalides, a visit from our first day.

In the Palais Garnier, while Chouchou looked around and took pictures amazed by the architecture and elaborate details, while MC rushed down the hallways running and giggling.  

She was totally over sightseeing by the time we got to Sainte Chapelle, of course, the one cathedral that had security guards shushing any loud guests. MC decided it was her playground – she ran around until I caught up with her and went on an “eye spy” hunt around the room. Then she found a young man to play peekaboo with, and all was right in her world for five minutes.

At each place, we found ways to hook her, by tying in to her interests. She’s incredibly observant too, so as long as we got on her level and listened to her, that helped extend our time at a place.  We also let her run her energy out when there was space!

Be flexible and be prepared.

MC and I have a routine at home.  Meals are served at a pretty consistent time each day, she stills takes a nap, and we have snacks and activities that we do throughout the day.  

From the beginning I knew our trip would not allow for this time of schedule, and I was okay with it because – hello, when does your toddler get the chance to travel to France? and – we needed to seize every opportunity to soak in the sights, the food, and the culture.

During our travels, we were running all day in a new town, or staying with another family in their home, so we needed to be flexible.  MC either refused a nap in order to catch all the sights with us or passed out in her stroller, typically as we were arriving back for the evening.  We tried to keep meal times consistent and did so for breakfast and lunch.

Dinner, though is a different story.  At our home, MC eats around 6pm every night and is in bed by 8pm.  The traditional French schedule has a snack (la quatre heure or le goûter) at 4pm and dinner at 8pm.  This may be different with French families of young children, but our hosts (who are lovely, perfect, and amazing!) did not have young children.  So, sometimes, after a day of many sights, overstimulation, and an empty belly and heavy eyelids, MC would MD (meltdown).

We accepted these meltdowns as they came, knowing that we really had put her through a lot changing her schedule, thing her to many places in a day that were not necessarily fun and changing time zones. We also kept in mind that despite the meltdowns, the overall experience our whole family was sharing was absolutely worth it!

I would totally take this trip again with the family – I’d pack lighter and try to better remember a healthy-sized goûter for our pint-sized American.

What are some lessons you’ve learned through traveling with little ones?

This is part of a mini series of stories shared from our recent trip to France. Previous posts include:

Preparing to leave: Tips I found on the internet for traveling with a young family.

Do you have questions about our trip? Please email me or share in the comments section – I would love to answer them!

Book Review: Serious Goose

Another great read Mon Cœur (MC) received for Christmas was Serious Goose by Jimmy Kimmel. Everyone knows what a silly goose is, but what exactly is a serious goose?

Kimmel recognizes the serious side of parenting while letting those of that flock know sometimes you have to loosen up and let your feathers fly. I love how the inside flap reads, for all parents (including me!) who may have flustered wings, and be pressed to get some other project accomplished.



This is a great book to read when you’re in any mood, and especially helpful for me if either I am in a grouchy mood or if MC is being a grump. Below are three reasons MC and I love this book:

It lends to role playing

We make faces to correspond with the goose in the book – we love looking serious and playing with our eyebrows to look mean, mad and angry. I mean serious.

When the goose makes her transformation from serious to silly, we enjoy smiling and giggling with her.

We use our serious voices and our silly voices, use lots of finger pointing to act serious. We also make faces, silly noises, and are goofy to try to make the goose laugh.

It’s so silly and punny

Who would think to dress a goose as a moose or order a pizza with snails? The illustrations, especially the one where the goose finally smiles, make me laugh.

The pizza is “Honk & delicious” The serious goose reads headlines from the paper, “Take a Gander!” He also delights in reading the tome War and Geese. Kimmel adds these small details which delight the adult reader and perhaps, help make him/her less of a serious goose!

It issues a direct challenge

Everyone loves a challenge and there’s page with a mirror where the child is challenged to make faces, sounds, and be a silly goose. But it doesn’t matter, the book says, because the goose will not laugh – she’s a serious goose. We like to spend extra time investing in all sorts of goofy faces to try to make the goose laugh.

It really only does take a few minutes to read, and by the end, if you haven’t cracked a smile at least, you really are one serious goose.

What do you love about Kimmel’s Serious Goose? Do you know of other books that can crack a smile when you’re feeling otherwise irritable?

Book Review: Little Prince Board Books

Ever since I read Le Petit Prince in high school for French class, I have loved it.  Like, from the first page and the first picture.  If you’ve never read it – I highly recommend it.  It’s a quick read (85 pages with pictures sprinkled throughout).  Although may be a quick read, the content settles in your soul and makes you contemplate all the symbolism for much longer.

I’ve read the book many times since then, and every time I do, something new speaks to me.  Every time I read it, I’m a little wiser.  Below are some of my favorite gems from the book:

The Fox on being tamed

“One does not see well except with the heart.  The essential is invisible to the eyes.” Fox shares his secret with the Little Prince before his departure.

The fox also tells the Little Prince how words create misunderstandings, but by just sitting next to someone, investing time in them, creating a bond with them, one can tame or domesticate them.

The Rose and what makes someone special

The fox teaches the Prince that despite there being a whole garden of roses, his rose can be special and unique to him.  

The Little Prince visits the rose garden again. “You’re lovely, but you’re empty,” he went on. “One couldn’t die for you. Of course, an ordinary passerby would think my rose looked just like you. But my rose, all on her own, is more important than all of you together, since she’s the one I’ve watered. Since she’s the one I put under glass. Since she’s the one I sheltered behind a screen. Since she’s the one for whom I killed the caterpillars (except the two or three for butterflies.) Since she’s the one I listened to when she complained, or when she boasted, or even sometimes when she said nothing at all. Since she’s my rose.” 

Mono No Aware and the color of honey

“I had drunk the water. I could breathe easy now.  The sand, at daybreak, is honey colored.  And that color was making me happy, too.  Why then did I also feel so sad?”

When I read the final chapters with a class this past semester, I had a whole new context that I was bringing to it, a whole new level of understanding. And a boat load of tears.

Recently, I learned about the Japanese concept of Mono No Aware. The bittersweet feelings of happiness for having known or experienced something that will not last. As I read the quote above, it hit me again – Mono No Aware. It’s so remarkable that a simple scent, color, sound, or texture could provide a link to a memory and concurrently a pang of sadness, too.

The Little Prince is a book for kids, but the message speaks to us all.  Even though this is a “kid’s book,” it’s a little above Mon Cœur’s (MC) current attention span or word to picture ratio.  I can’t wait for the day when we can read this book together.

So I was more than excited to find Little Prince board books – Meet the Little Prince and Travels with the Little Prince at a local bookstore.  It introduces the characters (the Prince, the fox, and the rose) and the story in a concise, toddler-friendly fashion.  Bonus: Meet the Little Prince, was written bilingual French-English.

MC enjoys these books immensely, and tells me the characters each time.  This is a great way to introduce the story without reading the book, and it will build interest and background for MC for when we do read the book together when she’s a little older.

Have you read The Little Prince by Antoine de St. Exupéry? Please share your favorite gem in the comments section!