A lot of parents get a little jumpy about teaching their kids to read at the earliest age possible, but how do you do it when your kids won’t just sit down, listen, and do a worksheet?! Here we have lots of ideas on getting your movers and shakers to learn their letters, letter sounds, sight words, and start reading little words–all while being allowed to play and, you know, be KIDS!
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Learning the Letters
Trace the letters in flour. Grab a baking sheet (big and flat, but with a little lip around the edge). Put flour in the bottom of it, and show your kid how to make the letters.
- Using sound effects for each line helps them remember and makes it fun!
- Draw the letter, then have them draw it and erase. If that’s a struggle, draw the letter, and have them trace over yours and erase.
- If you have an independent child, you can place the picture of a letter in front of them and have them draw it (I don’t usually prefer to do this because I want them to see the correct way to write it, but that’s a preference, not a demand).
- PRO-TIP: Worried about mess? Instead of using flour, try using rice. Rice doesn’t stick to hands. However, if there’s still concern about rice on the floor, this would be a great time to help your kid learn how to vacuum (chores are excellent for kids)!
Get a Letter Puzzle. Foam Letter Puzzles are great; they can take them out and put them back in. Alphabet Wooden Letter puzzles are also great! My kids had one that had all the letters and pictures of things that started with that letter, but I didn’t like it as much because it’s best if each letter can be its own individual piece. They should be able to feel the curve of the B and C, the straight lines of the A and H, and so forth. I wanted my kids to hold the specific letters in their hands, not puzzle pieces with the letters printed on it.
Sign Language: ABC sign language is a good way of teaching that each letter has an individual sign, so it can prevent some of the “elemeno” (LMNO) blends. So say the letter while you show the ASL sign for it, have your child follow you. You can do it to the ABC song or make up your own tune. (Music- also great for development!)
Get themed letter books: My kid likes birds, so here’s a bird ABC book that he LOVES and I have read 1,000 TIMES!! Another one we like is in the Ken Ham series- N is for Noah. (He also has A is for Adam and others, but this is the one we own and like.) There are ABC books for TONS of different subjects!
Sidewalk Chalk Letter Game: At the beginning, start with just two letters. Make two squares and write one large letter in each square. Ask, “Can you jump from B all the way to H?” (or whatever letters your learning).
My child, Ninja, likes me to put the squares really far apart. Add more squares around and tell them, “Jump to an H… Another H… Now a B, etc.” Fast, slow, have fun!
Ideas on Discerning if They’ve Mastered the Letters:
- Make a new square. Ask the child, “Which letter should I write this time?” If they say B, put an H, then ask if it’s right.
- Alternatively, have them be the boss and tell you which letters to jump to. Look like you’re deciding between two squares, and then jump to the wrong one. See if your kid corrects you. If not, ask if you got it right, and see what they say.
If they’ve got it, start learning another letter or two so that the next time you play the sidewalk chalk game, you can be using three letters or four letters.
Refrigerator Magnets: If you’ve been reading for a while and you’ve been looking at and drawing the letters, then play the magnet game. I like to be in one room and ask Ninja to run to the fridge to get the letter “B.” I put all the letters she doesn’t know to the top half of the fridge (where she can’t reach), then I put out three letters for her to choose from. Ninja likes running, so she digs this game. I’ve put Xs on the floor in painters tape, so she has to jump from X to X (Ninja also loves obstacle courses). You can usually find refrigerator magnets at garage sales and thrift stores.
Memory: It can be a lot of fun to play memory with a child. Start with all capital letters (finding matching capital Bs), then play capitol letter and lower case letter (each pair is one capital letter and its match is the lower case of the same letter). You can use letter flash cards (like these $3 Alphabet Flash Cards) or make your own if you’re on a budget!
- ProTip: Get 2 sets of the flash cards if you purchase them. Then you can match a capital letter to a capital letter before moving on to the more difficult “capital letter to a lower case letter” game. These could make great stocking-stuffers or birthday gifts, if your family asks what you want for your kid!
Go Fish: You can play Go Fish with letters (I made my own, but there are lots of Alphabet Flash Cards). Do you have any B’s?
- You can play with just two of each letter to make a quick game.
- You can play two or four capital letters.
- Then you can make two capital and two lower-case letters for a set of 4 cards (again, if you’re purchasing cards or getting them as gifts, you’ll want two sets for this game).
Tic-Tac-Toe: It’s traditional to play with X’s, O’s, but you can play with other letter combinations (just pick the ones you’re learning). Then you can work to one person having capital B and the other having lower-case ‘b.’ I’d recommend making it a rule to say the letter as you put it down. Switch letters each time (if your kid will let you… Ninja can be kind of possessive of her favorites).
Scavenger Hunt: Spread out some letters around the room. Similar to an Easter Egg hunt, have them search for all the letter Bs, but don’t get the Hs yet! Then find the H’s, etc.
Learning Letter Sounds
Songs: My kids really got a lot out of watching The Letter Factory videos. I’m not big on screen time, but once they learned those songs, they wanted to sing them. So when I’d ask them what something starts with, I’d sing the song, and they’d remember.
Toys of the Target Letter: Grab an item that starts with the letter and play with it, making the sounds. The B says ‘b’. B-B-B-Ball! Catch the B-B-Ball!
Books of Letters and Sounds: You can use the same letter books you used earlier for this one. If the page talks about a box, ask them where the box is. They’ll point to it, and then ask them where the word ‘box’ is. Give them hints, break down the word, saying it slowly, and ask them what sound starts the word. Then help them look for words that start with B.
Fridge Magnets: Similar to before, but now you give the sound the letter makes, and they run and get the right magnet. Start with just a few, then work your way up to more letters in their reach (run and get the letter that says, “b”).
Scavenger Hunt: Let’s run and get things that start with the letter “B”! It’s wise to already have things set out in the room that start with the letter, like a banana or a ball. Great job! Now let’s get things that start with the letter H! (here’s a hat!)
Things in a box: Put objects in a pile that start with different letters that they know. Ask them to put all of the S objects in the S box (you can have a literal box or basket, or just a square of masking tape on the floor can be its designated area) and all of the B words in the B box.
Include running if you have the S box on one side of the room and the B box on the other side of the room and the pile of objects in the middle of the room.
Let them race a clock! Or you!
- BONUS: (Sorting and Classifying is also a great MATH skill!)
Bingo: Have a bingo chart with letters on it, you say the sound, and the kid covers the appropriate letter. This is great in reverse, too. You have the bingo chart, and the kid draws letters (or fridge magnets) from a hat and says their sound. They can watch you cover a letter, and you can ask if you got it right (and discern their mastery in so doing).
Side Walk Chalk: Similar to the game before, but instead you say the sound and they jump to the right letter. Or you say the letter, and they jump to it while saying the sound.
- Level Up: You say a word, and they jump to the letter sound that starts that word (You say Book, they jump to the B).
Learning Small Words- Sounding it Out
Say It Fast: This game came from Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. Once it actually came time to read, this game helped my kids tremendously with being able to sound something out. Take a word and say it super slowly, breaking down the sounds without separating them (no pauses or breaks between sounds). Then tell the kid to “Say it Fast!”
So it could sound like this: SSSS “T” OOOOOO “P” (remember, no breaks between sounds)
You: Say it fast!
Your kid: STOP!
This is a great car game!
Word Puzzles: These are little 3-4 piece puzzles where each piece contains a letter, and together the pieces make a word (there’s often a picture that also spans over all three pieces).
Try to find ones where the word follows CVC format (consonant vowel consonant) and can be sounded out (not ‘boy,’ which they won’t be ready for yet, but ‘kid’ and ‘cat’ would be good). I have two sets of these, but honestly, I had to make my own because they both were busts. Most purchase sets will come with 4-5 CVC words and 15 words that they can’t actually read yet. They’ll do KITE when they’re ready, but when they’re just learning to sound stuff out, those words can be frustrating.
Sidewalk Chalk: Make lots of boxes with letters in them again. Say a word (UP or IT or AT, two letters to start). Say it slowly, and have the kid spell the word by jumping to the different letters. Don’t put all 26 letters down at once- just maybe 5 or 6 to start with. The “Say it Fast” game really helps with playing this game, too.
Spelling Hopscotch: If you have those floor mats that are letter squares, that would help you do this indoors. Otherwise, you can sidewalk chalk outside. Or you can tape down papers on your floor with letters.
They have to get from one end to the other, while spelling the word correctly. Make something like this:
You can have them TUG, so they’d have to step on the T, then the U, then the G. And so on.
Avoid “AN” sounds at first, because the nasal A should be taught separately. The A sound in CAT is different than the A sound in CAN or CAM. I’d do those as a separate unit later.
Read to Your Kids:
This one seems obvious, but there are several strategies you can incorporate into your reading time to make it more enjoyable and more educational!
Here are some things you can be doing while you read that will also teach your child:
- Hold the book correctly, let the child hold the book correctly.
- Read to them, let them pretend to read to you.
- When reading, use your finger to point to the words as you read them, running your finger underneath sounds.
- This gives them practice in seeing the letters and hearing the sounds associated.
- It teaches that we read from left to right.
- It teaches that the letters and words associate with specific objects and ideas.
- Let them turn the page; they can practice turning the pages in the right direction.
- Occasionally let them see you sound out a small word (2-3 letters). Just saying “I-T. It.” Making the I sound and the T sound slowly, then putting them together quickly.
- Make sure you don’t separate the sounds [‘i’ sound] BREAK [‘t’ sound]. Slowly stretch out the ‘i’ sound and go straight into the ‘t’ sound, slowly, but which fluidity.
- Have a crisp ‘t’ sound. It’s not ‘tuh.’ Just ‘t’–You don’t pronounce the word ‘i-tuh’, just ‘it,’ so make sure your ‘t’ sound is correct and short.
- Don’t do this more than once or twice per page; you don’t want to slow down the story or lose engagement. You just want to model sometimes.
- Let them ask questions! That’s a great sign of engagement!
- Ask them open-ended questions.
- What do you think will happen next?
- Why do you think they did that?
- What’s your favorite part?
- What’s happening in the story right now?
- Who’s your favorite character?
- Was that nice or mean? What should they do?
- You read, then your kid reads (my kiddos prefer to do this by the book- I read the book, then they do. I have a friend whose kids prefer to re-read each page after their parent).
It’s really important that the kids like reading. There’s a time and place for powering through and discplining yourself to study anyway.
3 years old isn’t it.
If you’re frustrated, that’ll suck the fun out of the activity, and they’ll dread reading exercises. If they’re bored or frustrated, just call it a day and put it away. Go back to it in the next day or so. It’s important to realize that your child may not be developmentally ready for reading yet, anyway. So don’t try to force something they’re not ready for. Let them lead how long you do it, and when they’re done, just be done.
If they repeatedly don’t have any interest in learning, then put it away for a few weeks. If the child reaches 5 and still has no interest, then consult with someone (maybe a teacher or childcare professional) to see if the child isn’t ready, is being stubborn, or needs to learn in a different way.
No matter what, remember the big picture behind parenting–it’s all about parenting for their hearts and building that family bond. Learning, parenting, discipline, everything in the home needs to fall into that paradigm, especially learning to read. So get out there and have fun!
Do you have more ideas on teaching letters and letter sounds to energy-filled kids?! Let us know in the comments below!