When I think about my children’s literacy development as a mom, my mind often goes straight to the ABC’s. But did you know that literacy development actually starts much earlier than that?  Building oral language skills (the speaking and understanding of speech) is important to the literacy development of infants, toddlers, preschoolers and beyond.  Even older children who are already beginning to read and write need to continue to build oral language skills as they strengthen their vocabulary and story-telling skills. 

In our house, two of our favorite tools for building language are picture books and open-ended toys, and we find that they’re even more powerful when we use them together! Our waytoplay sets are among our favorite open-ended toys for building language. In just the way that real roads build connections between locations, our toy road and runway sets build connections between concepts in books and concepts in the children’s play. These connections build opportunities for growth and learning.


Here are some of my favorite ways to use picture books with waytoplay toys to build language:


Bring books into the play space. This can be as simple as displaying a few books in your playroom or as elaborate as putting out themed books near related toys or invitations to play. Some kids are actually more attentive to books while they’re playing- don’t be afraid to read aloud while they’re engaged with their toys. 


Introduce many books with vehicle and animal sounds, especially for older infants and toddlers. It can feel goofy and cumbersome repeatedly reading “vroom” and “moo” aloud, but learning those sounds is so important to young children’s acquisition of phonemic awareness (the awareness of sounds in oral language). We love books with fun sounds, like the ones pictured above (Cars Go and Planes Go both by Steve Light). Make those same vehicle or animal sounds when playing with corresponding toys on your waytoplay sets to reinforce your child’s learning, and encourage your children to do the same.


Use books to build vocabulary. For the youngest children, this can be pointing out pictures in books and labeling them, such as a picture of an airplane. This learning experience is so much more powerful when you’re sitting in your play space with your roads and toy airplanes out too!  It helps children to understand that the image of an airplane is a symbol for the toy. This understanding of symbols is a precursor to learning letters. Toddlers and preschoolers can have fun turning this into a game as they match their toys with images in a favorite book. 

Books with detailed pictures and many things to find (like In the Town All Year Round, pictured above) are great for building vocabulary as you ask children to find specific images in the pictures. They can also play that same look and find game in their play space to further build connections. 


Recreate favorite scenes from books to deepen children’s comprehension. We love using our waytoplay sets to build scenes from our favorite books. This gives us so many opportunities to label what we see in books, re-tell stories, and build sequencing skills. For example, one of my children’s favorite ways to engage with In the Town All Year Round is to find the parrot that’s hidden on each page. They had so much fun building their own town with our road sets and hiding and finding our toy parrot- all the while building and using vocabulary related to positioning (such as over, under, in and out). 


Build storytelling skills with picture books and open-ended toys. Before children can write a story, they need to be able to tell a story. Picture books and open-ended toys are both great tools for building that skill- and even better when you use them together. You can encourage preschool and school-aged children to use small world play toys (like waytoplay roads and cars, peg dolls, and blocks) to recreate a scene from a book and then tell you what might happen next to a character. Encourage the children to add many details to their play scenes - this will support them in learning to add details to their stories. Toddlers might not be ready to tell a whole story, but you can encourage them to extend their description of their play. For example, a toddler might say, “car goes,” as they vroom their car down their road, and you can ask or suggest where the car is going to. Having a picture book on hand is a great way to generate some ideas!

Our waytoplay road sets have helped our children to build so many great language and literacy skills. I love seeing how they nurture the children’s imagination and learning!

A big thanks to our guest blogger Larissa from @kindnesscastle

If you are new to waytoplay, you can check out this blog for an in-depth look at our flexible roads!