At-Home Literacy Activities

image of four pillars

The focus of this page is on four evidence-based areas where parents can influence literacy development for their children without relying on teacher prepared lessons or activities. We will call these four areas the Four Pillars of Home-based Literacy. On this page, we are sharing ideas that parents can easily employ, while supporting literacy with their children, in the course of normal day-to-day living.

The four pillars are Talking, Reading, Thinking, and Writing. Daily life in the home is full of opportunities to engage children in all four.

So, why focus on these four?

Research evidence points strongly to all four pillars. In homes where these things are infused into family life, children develop stronger reading and school readiness and make greater academic progress. In fact, where children experience all four in their daily home and school experiences, both learning readiness and progress are significantly greater and more sustained!

Family Activities

Click the bars below to open drop-down menus of fun activities that promote HIL Project's Four Pillars of Home-based Literacy!

Pillar 1: TALK (Language acquisition)

Research says: Young children learn language best when it is connected directly to immediate  experience (i.e. what they see, touch, and feel). They need to hear language to produce it. Language connected to safe, affirming, and positive communication and interactions with adults produces the greatest gains in language acquisition. 


Take your child on a nature walk!

Description: Talk with your children about what they see as you walk around your neighborhood, a local park, a trail, etc.. Ask them to describe what they see including the animals, plants, and other pieces of the environment. Encourage them to use vocabulary they may have learned in school or around the house.

Storytelling bag or jar

Description: Put many different small objects/toys/cutouts in a bag.  Sit in a circle with family members (or work in pairs) and begin your story with “Once upon a time…”.  Take turns drawing an item from the bag without looking and fitting it into the story.  Pass the bag to the next person to continue the story until you run out of items.

Comprehension table talk

Description: Use meal time as a way of promoting the use of language! Ask your children questions where they describe their recent thoughts and/or experiences. Encourage them to answer using a variety of vocabulary related to the question. Example questions are below:

“What was the favorite part of your day?”

“What made you laugh this week?”

“What surprised you this week?”

What made you curious this week?”

“What do you hope will happen next week?”

Listen to songs or nursery rhymes

Description: This is a great activity to sing as a family! Prior to singing, you can instruct your children to listen for rhyming words or words that begin or end with a specific sound. When they hear the sound, they can raise their hand, clap, or make some other gesture that lets you know that they heard a rhyme or particular sound. After listening to the song, you can ask them what the song was about, who were the characters, how did the song make them feel, etc..

Finish the sentence

Description: You can use these sentence starters as a way to spark a conversation with your children. Prompt their thinking by modeling an example sentence. Then ask them to use their own words to finish the sentence. After they have answered, feel free to ask them for more detail. At any point, you may need to model what you are looking for with their answers.

“Today, I played…”

“I wonder about…”

“Something I worry about is…”

“In my book, I learned…”

“If I had a magic wand, I would…”

“Around the House”

Description: Students engage in “Around the House”, as they locate a variety of objects relating to prompts given by teacher, parent, or another family member. Examples could be finding objects that begin with a particular letter, blend, or letter pair, that are a particular color, that have certain ending sounds, that rhyme with a particular word, that have specified vowel sounds, or that fit specific adjectives. Children can engage in conversations regarding their choices, and make written or drawn graphs representing various categories.

Word Scavenger Hunt

Description: This activity can be used inside or outside! Pick a beginning sound and have your children find items in the environment that begin or end with that sound. You can take turns by having your children pick sounds for you to look for as well. Make it a fun and competitive game by seeing who can identify the most items in the environment! You can also adapt this game to take place when your children are reading. Pick a sound and read the book with them and every time they read a word with that sound, they can raise their hand or use a signal that you choose. On the next turn, you can play the part of the student!


What is phonemic awareness?

Definition: Phonemic Awareness is the ability to hear and distinguish sounds in words. This includes: recognizing sounds in words, adding sounds to words, breaking words down into sounds, and moving sounds in words.


Silly Name Game

Description: Replace the first letter of each family member's name with a different letter.  For example, for "Bob" you could say "Tob", for "Matt" you could say "Watt", etc.  You could even make up a song to go with the game!

Listen For The Sound

Description: You will need pictures of things that begin or end with a particular letter that you choose. If you chose the letter b you would have pictures that begin with the letter b and others that have the letter b at the end of the word.  Make a two column chart on a piece of paper, label the columns beginning and end.  Using only one letter sound at a time, say to your child, “We’re going to listen for where we hear the /b/ sound in this word*. If we hear it at the beginning, we’re going to sort the picture under beginning. If we hear it at the end, we’re going to put it under end.” Show your child how to do it with one card, then help him or her name each picture one at a time. *Make sure to say the letter sound, NOT the letter name.

“Where’s That Sound?” Clip Cards

Description: You can print free sound clip cards from this site.  Have your children identify the sound of the featured letter in the gold circle. Tell your children to say the name of the picture slowly, listening for the featured sound.  Have your children point to or clip the word “beginning,” “middle,” or end” to show where the sound occurs within the word.

Sound Boxes

Description: Use these sound boxes to help your children segment sounds in words. Simply print or draw your own. Place one game chip (you can use pennies, cheerios, or bingo chips) under each box. Have your children say the name of each picture and then push up a chip for each sound in that word. 

Guessing Game

Description: Use guessing games to give your children practice in matching letters, sounds, and words. A good example is the game, "I am thinking of something that starts with /t/."

Pillar 2: READ (Reading motivation and proficiency)

Research says: The single greatest predictor of reading development is the amount of time children spend reading, being read to, and engaging with reading opportunities (boxes, cards, notes, books, magazines, labels, signs, mail, screens, etc.).


Read to and with your children

Description: Read to and with your student as much as your schedule allows. Children learn how to read by listening to others read, by reading to others, and by engaging with reading opportunities whenever possible (i.e. reading recipes, cereal boxes, street signs, closed captioning on the TV, posters, books, magazines, etc.)

When reading to or with children, start with a question to provide a purpose for reading.  (Read to find out what is going to happen to Bill. Why do you think that happened, what do you think is going to happen next?)  Why questions and open ended questions work the best.

Creating a “book nook”

Description: Create a cozy “book nook” somewhere in the house for students--pillows in a corner, a blanket over a card table, a comfy chair, the bathtub and provide ample sources of children’s literature. Share your children’s reading place with them when time allows, and foster follow-up comprehension discussions drawing on prior knowledge, retelling, summarizing, new vocabulary, problem/solution. Find supplemental material to fit the themes of the books your children are reading, such as a youtube video about caves if the book featured cave exploration, or reading and following a recipe if the book mentions food.

Labeling the environment

Description: Work with your children to label items in your house/apartment. This is particularly helpful for learning new words and can assist our students that are learning english with expanding their own vocabulary.

Reading Authentic Materials

Description: Words are everywhere! Encourage your children to read authentic materials throughout their environment. They can read things like recipes, cereal boxes, instructions, magazines, bulletin boards, advertisements, and any other source of text that is current or relevant in their lives.

Choral and Partner Reading

Description: Children can read in unison with a parent or sibling. This activity improves reading fluency, vocabulary, and takes away the anxiety of reading alone. Reading with an older sibling allows them to read at multiple grade/skill levels.

Echo Read

Description: A parent or sibling reads a favorite book with the student. In parts (or all ) of the book, the parent or sibling runs their fingers along the words as they read a short passage.  Then the student “echo” reads the same passage.

Context Clues

Description: Read a book and leave out various words so that you can have your children supply the word.  Have your children read a sentence and then guess what word was left out. This is a great opportunity to engage in a discussion around what other words might fit and why!

Reading Calendar

Description: Make a reading calendar with a new reading challenge every day. For example, on the 1st, your children have to read on a blanket in their pajamas. On day 2, they have to read with sunglasses on. Day 3, they must read with a teddy bear, and so on.

Find it out!

Description: Find out what interests your children. What do they talk about? What are their favorite TV shows? What types of toys do they play with on a regular basis? Even if your children can’t express themselves, they will tell you their interests through how they spend their time. You can also talk with them about their interests to see what they would like to read. When children are interested in what they read, they will want to read even more!

Pillar 3: THINK (Critical and creative thinking and discovery)

Research says: Opportunities to think build efficacy, intellect, and emotional strength in children. This includes thinking through everyday situations and problems, making choices, making connections, comparing/contrasting one thing and another, solving puzzles, predicting and testing predictions, figuring out how something works, categorizing, sequencing, etc.


Discovery learning

Description:Provide your children with free time where they have access to a variety of toys. Encourage them to create a story. Join in and ddd details that may enhance their story! Ask questions about their thinking, like how does that toy work? Or can you tell me what you’re thinking about? 

Sock puppets

Description: The game from when we were kids! Create characters out of socks and encourage your children to create a play or musical. Encourage them to be specific about the traits of their character (i.e. are they nice, happy, thoughtful, kind, chatty, etc.)

Projects to spread joy and appreciation

Description: Have your children do a mini project to spread joy and appreciation. For example:  

  1. Use sidewalk chalk to decorate the sidewalks with happy/uplifting messages.
  2. Paint rocks with bright colors and uplifting messages.
  3. Send homemade cards to essential workers, family, or people in the hospital.
Word hunts

Description: They can take a notebook and pencil and pretend to be a detective “hunting” for words around the house or outside.  When they find a word they write in their notebook.  Have them share their list with you and encourage discussion around why they chose each word. This can be done in students’ native language as well.

The Natural World as Inspiration

Description: Provide your children with free time where they have access to a variety of toys. Encourage them to create a story. Join in and ddd details that may enhance their story! Ask questions about their thinking, like how does that toy work? Or can you tell me what you’re thinking about? 

Click here for supply list and instructions!


Description: Create binoculars out of toilet paper tubes, go on a walk and ask your children to share the observations that they make when looking through the homemade binoculars.

Daily Nature Walks

Description: Children take a daily, or frequent, nature walk, looking for changes in nature as they occur from day to day, and documenting the changes, through drawings, writing, or photographs, comparing and contrasting observations, and predicting future changes.

A brand new game

Description: Play a few favorite board games and/or card games.  Discuss and list favorite features of each favorite game.  Think of ways to combine favorite features of two or more games and create a brand new game.  Give it an appropriate title, rules, procedures, pieces, etc. Read rules, etc., aloud to see if they make sense.  Play the game and tweak it to make it a good fit for your family.  Design a box and items to make the game complete.

Time capsule

Description: Create a time capsule that represents this time in your life.  Use talking and writing to think about changes in routines, food, what does school look like?  Feelings? News articles, etc.)

Connecting to the show

Description: UseTV programs and, even cartoons, to have your children review what they just watched with you. Discuss information about the show like what just happened, what is the conflict, what are the characters like, which character do you like and why, etc.. They can also give their opinion and ideas around a possible alternate ending to the show. 

Pick a side!

Description: Make a statement that can have two different opinions such as “Children should be able to stay up as long as they like.”  “Allowance should be earned not just given”.  Ask your children to take a side and write or say out loud their reasons.  They could do this with a sibling or friend.

Pillar 4: WRITE (Written expression)

Research says:  Marie Clay's work showed that young children benefit from "writing" every day. That starts with scribble writing, labeling, and writing about what children see, hear, think, and feel. We write to share ideas, feelings, information, values, questions, dreams, values, discoveries.


Family traditions

Description: Have your children write about important family celebrations and traditions. This could involve the whole family and honors all cultures and experiences. Younger students can draw pictures and explain their pictures.


Description: Each child maintains a journal of thoughts for the day that can be conveyed using words or pictures. The expectation is that each child shares their thoughts around the words and/or the pictures.

Alternative journaling activity:  

Description: Make small journals so children can sketch or write about what they see during nature walks or experiential walks. Children may pause to observe and note important things about plants, animals, vehicles, etc. Writing doesn’t always have to be in complete sentences.

5-minute yesterday diary

Description: Either use a journal or piece of paper. Have children follow the directions below while they write about something they experienced yesterday.

Click here for supply list and directions.

Family Round-robin story

Description: Have one family member write the story starter.  Set a timer and each family member writes for the allotted time and adds to the story.  After a set time (typically, 3-5 minutes) the last member reads the story out loud.

Daily communications

Description: Have your children write daily letters to family members, neighbors, friends, or teachers.I don’t like chores!Description: List ten chores or tasks you hate doing. Cleaning my room is an example of a chore you might not like. Select four tasks from your list and write a creative excuse explaining why you can’t or haven’t completed each one. Make your excuses as original and wild as possible. When you’ve finished, share your work with another member of your family by reading each out loud. Discuss each other’s excuses. Have fun!

It’s my newspaper! 

Description: Children produce a newspaper, including Local news (what’s happening in and around their home and family, interviews with family members) National/International news (call friends and relatives living in other places, interviewing them to learn what’s happening with them), Arts (review a movie or TV show they watched recently), Sports (give a summary of family games, how they’re played, who won, etc), Editorials (student writes an opinion piece about something on which he/she has a strong opinion), Food (best meal they’ve eaten, dream meal, recipe) Comics, Advice, Weather, Puzzles, etc.

Family tree

Description: Have your children develop a family tree starting with your home. With your guidance, they can call other family members and interview them to fill out more branches on the tree. Encourage them to ask about a favorite memory that will help them build connections to their family members. At the end of their research, have them write about what they learned! Maybe even have your children do a presentation and record it to send to the family members that they interviewed as part of the activity.

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