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 early educators 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 class library that is in a quiet part of the room and offers a wide variety of books that cover the range of the reading abilities of the children in our care. 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.
Your dramatic play / housekeeping center probably already has food boxes with printed labels. 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? A telephone book? If you change this center out occasionally, how about a menu and an order pad for the customer and server in your restaurant?
Your writing center is a great place for a simple dictionary. It may include stationery, envelopes, cards and postcards so that children can write letters to parents, grandparents or friends.
Your block center can include 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 your block center? How about including maps, auto repair manuals, or receipt books for those auto repairs?
Look around your program and think of other ways in which you can make language more meaningful for the children in your care.