Learning That Sticks: How to Use a Post-it to Build Language Skills


Being quarantined at home to avoid the novel coronavirus means parents are understandably stretched to their limit. Instead of having 14 separate jobs (e.g., chef, babysitter, teacher, human laundromat …), you now simultaneously perform all these roles at once – without a break – and with whatever you have at home. Dig up that stack of Post-it notes you got from your pediatrician six years ago. Let’s use them to mix fun with learning, in a way that really sticks.


Vocabulary is more than just learning the definitions of words. Effective vocabulary learning comes from building context around that word. We call the context and meaning for a word a “semantic network.” In the brain, semantic networks are made of pathways of neurons connecting one idea to another. The more relationships your child can build with a word, the richer, stronger and faster your child’s semantic neural network becomes. In other words, the best way for children to use new words is for children to understand a variety of things about that word.

  • Shop talk: Make a shopping list and use a Post-it to categorize items by type: fruits, vegetables, canned goods, etc.
  • Feeling cloudy : Draw and label different kinds of weather words on Post-its and put them on a window. Make another collection of feeling words with matching faces or emojis. Report the daily weather and daily mood. Make a forecast video for the week.
  • Where is it?: Label objects with prepositions. For example, label the “top” and “bottom” of different toys. Label the “front, back, over, under, next to, up and down,” of your couch … or napping sibling.
  • Operation : You are a boo-boo-fixing surgeon. Prep for surgery by using a Post-it to label the parts of your stuffed animal, or lamp (e.g., bulb, cord, switch, shade) or child!
  • Night at the museum: Have your child set up an art gallery for you to visit as a mini-vacation from your Corona-staycation. Pull out or create art to hang as a collection. Use a Post-it to name each piece of art, cite the date it was created, list the materials used to create the art and write a description. For older children, consider writing an artist bio or describing the inspiration behind each collection. Different parts of your home can feature themed collections: art through the seasons, yellow art, crayon art, etc. Or scrap the art altogether and label everyday items, as if your home were a museum: Microwave (2014) Where cold food gets hot. Toothbrush (December, 2019) Used to clean teeth. Do not use enough.
  • Build it up : Take up an entire floor with words on Post-its. Arrange them by parts of speech (e.g., nouns, adjectives, verbs, prepositions) and have fun building complex sentences on the wall. Use these categories to fill in a mad-libs and mail it to a friend. Make a game of upping complexity by adding silly conjunctions likeif, or, and, but; or negation like not, won’t, don’t. Consider having older children look up word parts such as prefixes (e.g., pre-, multi-, a-, re-), and suffixes (-tion, -ed, -ing, -s, -ment, -ness, -er).
  • Find it : Build categorical knowledge by having your child put a Post-it on everything that matches a particular adjective, attribute, category or function (e.g., color, shape, used to get ready in the morning, bigger than you, makes sounds, are soft).
  • Not like the other: Build category knowledge and problem-solving skills by collecting items where, “one of these things is not like the other.” Take turns putting a Post-it on the item that doesn’t belong in the category.
  • 20 questions : Put a mystery item under a box or blanket. Play “20(ish) questions” to guess what it is, by using pre-labeled Post-its to build understanding of the attributes that meaningfully describe something. Each Post-it can feature a different attribute such as: size, what does it do, weight, texture, where you find it, color, does it smell, does it make a sound.


Books are the most language-rich items you have in your home. Research shows that children will hear nearly two times more unique words from books than from everyday conversation (Montag, Jones, Smith, 2015). Books also contain more abstract language, varied sentence structure and complex social narratives (Montag, 2019). As you long for the days when it’s okay to visit the library again, give the books you already have at home a makeover.

  • Where’s Spot?: If you have young infants and toddlers, you can turn any book into a “Where’s Spot?”-type book by covering up the main character with a Post-it. Repetition is the key to learning, so use one question for the entire book: “Where’s ____?,” “What’s that?” or “Who’s that?” This tip is especially handy if you are exhausted and do not want to read all the words.
  • Act it out : Make a character bank with Post-it drawings on a popsicle stick (chopsticks, cereal box strips or ruler). With your new puppets, act out the story to practice narrative retell and dialogue skills.
  • Part with it : Develop the pre-literacy skill of print knowledge or knowing the different parts of the book. Use a Post-it to label the parts of a book: spine, author, illustrator, cover, title page, dedication, glossary, appendix, table of contents, etc. Transfer these sticky notes to other books. Before you start reading, be silly. Give your child a chance to show off his print knowledge by pretending you don’t know how to orient the book. Let your child correct you when you hold the book upside-down and backward or start reading from the last page, bottom to top or right to left.
  • Word hunt: Build the pre-literacy skill of print awareness or recognizing where there is text in our environment. Put a Post-it on 10 things in your home that have words on it (e.g., shampoo bottle, your watch, produce sticker).
  • Label the pictures : Use Post-it strips to label pictures in a book. Build print referencing skills by going through the book and pointing to the word (not the image) that names the picture.
  • Feel it out : Build social-emotional awareness and vocabulary. Pause to discuss feelings, “She has her arms crossed, her eyebrows are tense and her lips are pressed together. How does she feel?” Draw and name the feeling on a Post-it to label the illustration. Talk about times you feel that way, too.
  • Tell it like it is : Practice narrative retell and sequencing by drawing Post-it pictures to summarize the first, next and last parts of a story. Consider doing this with movies or YouTube videos as well.
  • Write it : Use Post-its to make a flip book or write a short story. [ *See below for a two-part Post-it flip book about one dad’s infamous parking fail. ]


One of the best pre-literacy skills children can build is “phonological awareness” or mapping letters to the corresponding sound. To help with speech sound production, point out cues to produce the sounds correctly. For example, “P, B and M” sounds are always made with the lips together and “K” is the sound dinosaurs make when they walk with high heels.

  • Scavenger hunt: Put a sticky note on items that start with the “puh” sound or the letter “P.” Remember to always pair the sound with the letter to build phonological awareness. Help younger children sketch or label the object. Have older children practice looking up the spelling in a dictionary.
  • Rhyme time : Explain that rhymes are words that sound alike. Give examples from Dr. Seuss or kid-friendly poems from Shel Silverstein’s books, for example. Ask your child to put a Post-it on “something that rhymes with or sounds like mat.”
  • Guess who or what : Use rows of Post-its to cover up the entirety of a picture (e.g., a photo of grandma, drawing of a flower or a picture in a book). Give your child the first letter & sound, then see how many Post-its they have to peel off before figuring out what it is.
  • Tapped: Arrange five numbered Post-its in a number line. Tap out the number of syllables in words from books, a YouTube video, song or objects around your home.
  • TikTok : Pick different dance moves and give them all names that start with the “wuh” sound or the letter “W.” Have fun sequencing the moves on a wall as a visual cue for your next viral TikTok video.


  • Montag, J. L., Jones, M. N., & Smith, L. B. (2015). The words children hear: Picture books and the statistics for language learning. Psychological Science, 26(9), 1489-1496.
  • Montag, J. L. (2019). Differences in sentence complexity in the text of children’s picture books and child-directed speech. First language , 39(5), 527-546.