Active Literacy


Children are naturally active. However, challenges of technology, urban lifestyles and security have resulted in limited physical activity for many young children. Literacy and communication skills can be developed in conjunction with play-based physical activity. Physical activity can provide meaning for the ideas, language and skills they are developing.

Books that encourage movement are natural partners in active literacy. Many lend themselves to active participation if you and your child do the movements as the story is told. They invite you to stomp your feet, clap your hands, flap your arms, touch your toes, touch your nose, hop around or jump up high, touch the sky!

Many books also invite children to make connections between the book and their play. They can retell the story through actions and possibly props to extend the activities in the story. A favorite of mine is Animal Boogie. It encourages children to be physically active in response to the story.  Children will move like the animals: shaking, swinging, stomping, flapping, leaping, slithering, swaying while building vocabulary and rhythm skills.

Teach your children rhymes, songs and poems.  Skipping, clapping or rolling a ball to the distinct beat of a song or chant enhances the activity. Finger plays and rhymes are another way to combine rhythm, rhyme, motion and vocabulary development.   Shaking your Sillies Out or doing The Hokey Pokey are easy ways to engage young children and get everyone moving.  Many are available at  which lists a variety of finger plays and rhymes with a brief description of the concepts that can be taught. 

Another great way to promote active literacy is to build obstacles courses. They can be set up indoors or outside. Not only are they fun, but you are also developing your child’s listening skills, vocabulary and imagination. You can base it on a favorite story or add music. You can keep it simple for younger children and add challenges for older children.

  • Climb over the pile of cushions
  • Crawl under the table
  • Jump like a frog from one carpet to another
  • Crawl through the balloons under the table
  • Slither around the box
  • Jump over a rope on the floor

Many games are natural partners for literacy and movement. They can be adapted for indoor or outdoor fun with multiple ages. A variety of children’s games, playground games, verses for jump-rope rhymes and verses for clapping games can be found at .  It is a great reference for teachers and parents who can’t remember the rules of the games they grew up playing!  For younger children visit Active Alphabet: a guide for parents.  Although the information focuses on toddlers, the activities and games can be enjoyed by older children.

By combining emergent literacy opportunities with physical activity, parents and caregivers encourage learning by doing and can promote a child’s development in profound ways.

Recommended books to promote active literacy:

  • Children on the Move:  An Active Living Alphabet   By:  June E. LeDrew           
  • Clap Your Hands      By:  David Ellwand           
  • Creepy Crawly Calypso     By:  Tony Langham           
  • Down by the Cool of the Pool      By:  Tony Mitton           
  • Duck on a Bike     By:  David Shannon           
  • Earthdance     By:  Joanne Ryder           
  • Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush      By:  Sophie Fatus & Fred Penner               
  • I Can, Can You?       By:  Marjorie W. Pitzer               
  • Mama Don’t Allow       By:  Thacher Hurd               
  • Shanna’s Hip, Hop, Hooray!         By:  Jean Marzollo               
  • The Animal Boogie       By:  Debbie Harter               


Target Age
0-3 , 3-6 , 6-12 , 12-18
Engagement , Skill Development
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