What is the first letter of the alphabet that most young children learn? The first letter of their name. Why? Because they care; it means something to them. This concept kind of defines natural, functional literacy. It's natural because it's part of the child's everyday life and it's functional because it serves a purpose. The child can say "This is MY name."
Our question as educators and/or parents is how to maximize the opportunities for natural, functional literacy development in our programs. We have to provide a print-rich environment. We should set up an attractive library that is in a quiet part of the room and offers a wide variety of books that cover a wide range of reading abilities. Ideally, some of these books will stay the same to provide continuity and repetition, but some of the books will rotate, perhaps according to the season or according to concepts being taught.
In addition to reading, children can learn to read by writing as well. Writing stories may be interesting to some students, but this is certainly not the only way to encourage writing. How about simple recipe cards and blank cards for children to write their own recipes? Long strips of paper for children to create shopping lists? Maybe a menu from a local restaurant and an order pad for the child to take your order or jot down their own? You could also include stationery, envelopes, cards and postcards so that children can write letters to parents, grandparents or friends.
If you take a mental break and let the child spend a few minutes building with blocks, you can also provide books about architecture or particular interesting buildings. Or paper and pens so that children can label their buildings. How about graph paper so that they can draw "blueprints" of their creations? Did they build a McDonald's or Home Depot? Let them make a sign for the building. Adding cars to the mix? How about including maps, auto repair manuals, or receipt books for those auto repairs?
Look around and think of other ways in which you can make language more meaningful for your children.