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Literacy across the Preschool Curriculum

preschoolers writing with colored pencils at a table with a teacher

Reading and writing develop naturally when children use print every day. Adults can combine words and pictures to create printed materials that children can easily read. Preschoolers can be encouraged to do much of the writing themselves. They can also dictate words that adults write for them. Here are some ways to include print across the curriculum.

Post signs where children can see them.

Label activity centers, shelves for toys and supplies, the restroom, the library, and playground areas. Put up daily snack signs or meal menus. Combine print and pictures to create directions for classroom pet or plant care. Provide a sign-up board where children can choose their day’s activities.

Adaptations for children with significant support needs

  • Ensure all classroom labels include a picture of the center activity. Photos should be enlarged for students with low vision.
  • Students may require a tangible item to identify the activity/center. For example, a spoon for mealtime, a blanket (or piece of blanket material) to indicate reading/quiet area.
  • Consider using a “choice board” with pictures of available centers for students who cannot verbalize their preferences for centers

Bring print materials into dramatic play.

Help the children make menus for a restaurant, signs for a dental office, or shelf labels for a store. Provide materials to make mailboxes for a post office, and invite children to send each other mail.

Adaptations for children with significant support needs

  • Provide items with a variety of sizes. Some students may have fine motor issues that require different sizes of utensils. For example, use a grip crayon to assist with grasping a utensil or a small “broken” crayon to encourage a proper grip. Large paper can be used for students with less motor control.

Encourage children to communicate in print.

Help the children write brief letters to send home about classroom activities. Show them some ways to invite family members or children in other classes to special events. Ask them to write thank-you notes to visitors or field trip hosts.

Adaptations for children with significant support needs

  • Provide alternative “writing” materials such as letter stamps, thick crayons, or pictures for students to use to create materials.

Use children’s dictations to document their work.

Involve the class in writing a story about a field trip. Have some children help you label photos from a project. Ask children to dictate information about a project or a pet to share with visitors or others who use the classroom space. Encourage them to make signs with titles for the block structures they have built.

Adaptations for children with significant support needs

  • Help children use alternative communication methods (e.g., sign language, communication devices, picture communication) to dictate their work.
  • Provide questions framed as “yes/no” or “choice” questions in lieu of dictation. For example, “is this your mommy?” or “is this a cat or dog?”

Use words and pictures to create cards showing simple movements for children to act out. Add signs to an obstacle course. Post a list of songs children often request during classroom sing-alongs. With the class, write new words to familiar songs for group singing.

Adaptations for children with significant support needs

  • Have enough space for students to maneuver with their equipment such as wheelchairs, walkers, and standers.

Set up a reading center.

Stock a variety of reading materials related to topics the class is studying. Include fiction and nonfiction, picture books, and magazines. Add books made by children and audio books or e-books. Help the children make a classroom dictionary of new words. Provide journals for children to write about their interests.

Adaptations for children with significant support needs

  • Provide adaptive books for students with significant communication or motor needs.  For example, tape popsicle sticks to pages to help turn the pages of the books. Insert picture icons to indicate what is happening in a story (e.g., an icon for brown and an icon for dog to “say” brown dog).

Provide simple instructions for cooking and crafts.

Make illustrated cookbooks with recipes that children can follow on their own. Post picture-based directions for making play materials such as play dough, finger-paint, baker’s clay, and bubbles.

Adaptations for children with significant support needs

  • Ensure participation by having students pour or stir items with assistance or select colors for clay with yes/no or choice questions.

IEL Resource

About this resource

Setting(s) for which the article is intended:
  • Family Child Care
  • Child Care Center
  • Preschool Program

Intended audience(s):
  • Teachers / Service providers

Age Levels (the age of the children to whom the article applies):
Related Illinois Early Learning and Development Standards:
Reviewed: 2023