Adapting Literacy Activities for Young Children

by Linda Robinson

Young children learn literacy skills in a variety of ways as they play, handle books, observe adults using print materials, and interact with others during storybook reading. One of the keys to successful acquisition of literacy is children's active participation in literacy activities. Children need to be actively involved in handling books and interacting with family members and teachers during reading time.

The importance of active participation in reading for all young children was recognized by the International Reading Association (IRA) and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) in their joint position statement on early literacy published in 1998 (IRA & NAEYC, 1998). Their recommendations for literacy learning are based on the principle that reading and writing develop through careful planning and instruction. They emphasize the importance of exposing children to a wide variety of print in order to develop concepts about it and its functions. NAEYC recently restated literacy guidelines as developmentally appropriate practice and included an emphasis on providing a variety of teaching strategies and materials to meet children's diverse needs (NAEYC, 2000).

Although active involvement of children in literacy may seem natural, for children with disabilities active participation may be a challenge. Children who have physical and cognitive limitations may miss valuable opportunities to develop literacy in the same ways other children do. Literacy learning opportunities offered through dramatic play activities may not be realized by children who have no means to express themselves through play. Children may want to manipulate books, but handling and turning pages may be difficult. Without assistance these children may not develop book interaction skills which support the learning of concepts about print (McWilliams & Pierce, 1993).

Children with disabilities may also lack control of the parent-child interactions related to book reading which are an important part of home literacy experiences. This lack of control can effect early literacy acquisition. A parent of a child with disabilities may have difficulty physically supporting the child along with the book, making interactions with book handling difficult. The parent may also dominate the communication exchanges if it is difficult for the child to communicate (McWilliams & Pierce, 1993).

Although the computer offers one alternative for assisting children and families with interactive literacy experiences, there are also many adaptations can be made to books and other print materials to insure that children are active participants in storybook reading. Children with disabilities as well as very young children who do not have the fine motor skills to turn pages can benefit from page turners, communication boards and aprons, and a book holder. Visual adaptations can also be made to make materials more interactive and appealing to young children.

Page Turners

To make books easier for children to manipulate, adaptations can be made for page turning. Page fluffers can be made by putting a large dot of hot glue in the upper right hand corner of the page. This will help to hold the pages of the book slightly apart so that a child can slip his/her hand in between the pages to turn it (Musselwhite & King-DeBaun, 1997).

Another adaptation can be made with velcro for page turning. Attach a small piece of velcro about mid-way down the page on the far right side. Attach a velcro band around the child's hand so that he/she can touch the page and pull the page over the next one. Small ponytail holders can be glued to the movable part of a book that has pop-up features. Children can then pull the holder to enjoy the pop-up part of the book.

Communication Display

Since language development is an important part of early literacy acquisition, activities can be designed around software to encourage communication for children with disabilities. Communication displays can be used beneficially with all children. Figures from commercial software or customized programs can be printed and used on a board, book or apron for communication activities. Children increase understanding of early concepts about print when they use communication boards to act out stories (Musselwhite & King-DeBaun, 1997; Pierce & McWilliams, 1993).

Figures can be laminated and velcro attached to the back so that children can play with them and attach them to a board covered with special velcro-sensitive material. An apron or vest can be made out of the same material so that figures can be attached easily. Children can retell a story as they place figures on the apron.

Book Holder

Very young children learn literacy skills as they explore and manipulate books, however keeping a book in place during reading sessions may be difficult for some children. A simple adaptation can be made by placing male velcro on the back of the book so that it will attach to carpet. If the room does not have carpeting, a small carpet sample can be used to hold a book in place.

A book holder can be made out of plastic piping to elevate a book to a comfortable eye level for children, as well as hold it in place (Musselwhite & King-DeBaun, 1997).

Once the book is attached to the stand, the child can look at the book and turn pages by him/herself. Storybook reading sessions can also be conducted with the book holder. This frees the adult's hands and arms to better support the child.

Visual Adaptations

Pages from a HyperStudio or Intellipics book, or scanned pages from other books can be printed onto overhead transparencies. These can then be placed on a light box to help children with visual impairments see the pages. This adaptation may draw any very young child's interest to a story.

Books can also be adapted with tactile material for all children, and especially those with visual problems. Very young children need a variety of sensory stimuli in order to construct knowledge about objects around them. By adding material to printed books, children will enjoy exploring the characters and learn more information about them through touch. An advantage to printing books from the computer is that you can enlarge the print and the images for children who have difficulty seeing the smaller size books.

Since repeating lines are a component of books selected for very young children, it is a common activity to encourage children to repeat the lines. Children who are unable to speak the words could use a small communication device which would say the words for them when they press the surface. There are a variety of such devices on the market, all having the capability of recording a phrase of speech which is then repeated with each press by the child.

SoftKeys, a new product by Creative Communicating, allows children to manipulate objects which attach to a velcro-sensitive cover on the IntelliKeysĘ. As the child touches the objects, the program is activated. Children can take an active part in using the manipulatives to communicate about a story or to create their own story. Further information is available on Creative Communicating website,


Assistive technology can provide the environmental support children with disabilities need to participate in literacy activities. Low tech adaptations, such as page turners, book holders, communication boards, and tactile materials allow children to actively participate in storybook reading. Adaptations in materials and the environment help families and educators meet the challenge of assisting young children in gaining literacy skills at a young age.


International Reading Association (IRA) & National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). (1998). Learning to read and write: Developmentally appropriate practices for young children. Young Children, 53(4), 30-46.
Musslewhite, C., & King-DeBaun, P. (1997). Emergent literacy success: Merging technology and whole language for students with disabilities. Park City, UT: Creative Communicating.
National Association for the Education of Young Children. (2000). Learning to read and write: Developmentally appropriate practices for young children. Washington, DC: NAEYC.
Pierce, P.L., & McWilliams, P.J. (1993). Emerging literacy and children with severe speech and physical impairments (SSPI): Issues and possible intervention strategies. Topics in Language Disorders, 13(2), 47-57.

IntelliKeys is a registered trademark of IntelliTools, Inc.

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