kid playing with toy animals indoors

10 Fun Animal Activities That Encourage Early Language & Literacy Skills


Animal activities are a great way to expand young children’s early language and literacy skills. Today’s blog post brings you 10 creative activities that help teach new vocabulary words, reinforce correct grammar constructions, and encourage talk with adults and other children. Share these ideas with families and use them in classrooms and childcare settings to build these important communication skills.

Farm Fun

Have young learners act out the different activities associated with caring for farm animals. Designate barn and corral areas, and gather toys that represent farm animals to care for, such as cows, horses, pigs, and chickens. Facilitate role play and promote language and literacy skills by talking with children about different farm activities (“I am feeding the hay to the cow. Do you want to help me?”), providing a sentence and asking for the missing word (“This bucket is empty, and this bucket is _____ (full),” and expanding on children’s speech (if a child says “Him big,” say “He is a big horse”).

What a Zoo!

Create a zoo with a variety of animal toys in defined spaces—for example, use field areas for large animals, a cardboard cutout of a pond for ducks, a small baby pool for bears or penguins. Strengthen language skills during this activity by modeling phonological awareness (“Lion and like both start with the letter L”), introducing new vocabulary (“A baby elephant is called a calf”), and reinforcing concepts like color and size (“The baby monkey is small, and the daddy monkey is large”).

Animal Classification

Designate a farm area (such as a toy barn with a toy fence) and a zoo area (such as a plastic or cardboard mat with zoo scenes drawn on it). Tell children that they are going to put the farm animals by the barn and the zoo animals in the zoo. Distribute different toy animals to the children and have them come up one at a time to identify their animal and decide whether it belongs on the farm or at the zoo. You can also ask children to think of other animals that are not among the toys and identify where those animals live.

Pet Store

Set up a pretend pet store with a variety of stuffed animals, such as dogs, cats, birds, hamsters, turtles, and fish. Children can be customers or workers in the store, caring for the pets by feeding and grooming them. Pretend pet food, leashes, collars, and pet toys can also be sold at the pet store (making signs/labels for the items and reading them together can help expand early literacy skills). A clerk can ring up sales on a cash register and be given money for the purchases.

Jungle Safari

Set up a mock jungle with palm trees, vines, and a river, along with stuffed animals to inhabit it. Children can take pictures of the animals, pretend to be the animals, or be the tour guides and tell tourists all about the animals they see. Model language elements like vocabulary words and rhymes: “The jungle has very thick vines,” “The words green, seen, and mean all rhyme.”

Creature Campout

Have children act out a camping trip where they look for animals that live in the forest. Talk about the forest animals that children might see on a hike, and then take a hike around the room to spot different animals. You might have a pretend bear cave with stuffed bears in it, a stuffed raccoon behind a tree, and some birds perched around. After the hike, talk about the animals you saw and ask children open-ended questions.

Animal Role Play

Animals easily capture the imaginations of children. First, read young learners books that invite them to pretend to be animals or to imitate their movements. As you try out a turtle’s crawl or a lion’s strut together, get kids talking about what they’re doing and feeling. Look up more information on the children’s favorite animals and talk about how they behave and communicate.

Animal Puppets

Puppets are great for pretend fun and language practice. Have children make their own puppets of their favorite animals. Show them how to draw the animal on cardboard and attach a Popsicle stick, paint-stirring stick, or chopstick for a handle. Or give them paper bags that they can draw animal faces on and demonstrate how to put a hand up into the folds to make the animal “talk.” Encourage kids to talk to each other through the puppets using their best animal voices.

Critter Picnic

Have the children bring favorite stuffed animals to a picnic. Pack a separate basket with a blanket, napkins, pretend food, and plastic plates and teacups for all the animals. Have snack on the floor and encourage the kids to “feed” their animals. Ask the children to talk about their animals and share stories about them.

Bird Café

A classic activity children love! Give each child a medium pinecone or dried corncob. Have children use a plastic knife to spread peanut butter on it. Roll it in bird seed, sunflower seeds, or crushed granola. Hang your creations on a string outside your window. Observe the birds that come to your Bird Café and talk about how they look, what color they are, and what they sound like.

For more activities that encourage language and literacy skills—and expand other skills critical to healthy child development—refer to the books behind today’s blog post: