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Learning to read starts with letters and sounds. It seems simple enough.
Plenty of 2 year olds can put an A in a lift out puzzle and tell you that it’s an “A”.
Whoah!!! Not so fast there mama.
I learnt the hard way, it’s way, way more complex than that …
Children need much stronger shape and sound recognition skills before they are ready to learn to read. Investing in these skills early … and patiently! … will help them big time later on.
Matching a letter in a puzzle is one thing, but to read children need to recognise a letter:
- In different contexts … even if they recognise the letter in one puzzle it doesn’t mean they will be able to recognise it easily in a different puzzle
- In different fonts … and handwriting
- In a “jumble” of other letters … which is how writing still appears
- Within words themselves … at the beginning, middle & end of words
- In upper and lower case … and understand those are connected
And critically, to be able to distinguish a letter from a mirror letter e.g. d-b, f-t, w-m, n-u, q-p. My 4 year old read sentences happily but still often struggles with d and b and p and q.
And then … yep, there’s more! … there’s the whole business of sounds.
Recognising that the letter A and the sound A are associated, doesn’t mean your child will be able to “hear” the a at the beginning of apple or in the middle of bag.
And hearing the sounds is the fabulous magic dust that takes a child from saying invidual letters to actually blending those sounds into words and reading them.
Laying the Foundations
This seems all horribly complicated, but there are loads of simple, fun games you can play … outside as well as in … that help children build strong shape and sound recognition skills.
Children find reading much easier if they’ve honed these skills independently before they have to do the incredibly tricky business of bringing them together when they start to read.
Practicing shape and sound recognition repeatedly in lots of different ways will give them the foundation that they need to actually start reading.
Shape Recognition Games
This is a list of simple shape and letter recognition games you can play from when children are very young and adapt as they get older … I have made quite a few of them competitive but they don’t have to be, tweek them to suit your child or the mood they are in that day …
- Shape Sorters … give your kids ever more complex opportunities to sort shapes … don’t worry about what the shapes are called, this is all about sight skills
- Shape Sorting Race … put a bucket of coloured shapes in the middle of a circle of hoops into which the shapes have to be sorted. Let the kids race against other to put their colours shapes into the right hoop & empty their bucket first
- Trap Snap … make simple snap cards based on collections of lines and shapes … make some of the cards very similar but a little bit different … helps children identify fine differences
- Mirror Snap … a variation on trap snap in which some cards are mirror matches … many children will instinctively think the mirrors are matches … differentiating between mirror shapes is a key reading skill
- Decorate Letters … introduce a letter at a time with some fun letter shaped sticking and crafting …. Crystal & Comp has a lovely series of printable templates for each letter
- Relief Painting Letters … stick letter stickers on card … they need to be quite big … or make your own with masking tape and then paint over … when the paint is just about dry pull the stickers / tape off and see all the letters appear magically
- Add Letters to Building Blocks … put letters on building blocks with stickers or wipeable pens on mega blocks or duplo and just let them explore letters as they are building
- Hidden Letters … hide 5 lots of 4 different plastic letters in the sand (or rice or something else sensory) and encourage the children to find them and sort them into the right jar for that letter … try this focused on a couple of pairs of mirror letters
- Letter Search … cut out a jumble of letters from newspaper & magazine headlines, stick them on card and find and circle different letters with different coloured felt tips
- Letter Lotto … make a simple lotto game with with six letters on each board and cut out letter cards … we make this a bit more fun and competitive by including a “thanks” card and a “sorry” card … if you get a “thanks” card you can nab whatever card you like from someone else’s board and if you get a “sorry” card you nominate someone to put ALL their cards back in the pile 🙂
- Case Snap … make cards with a mixture of lower case and upper case letters and let players snap on upper and lower case matches … don’t put the whole alphabet in, better to go for 48 cards with 8 different letters so you get plenty of snaps
- Musical Letters … place big letter cards (A4 or A3) around the room … 8 to 10 letters is fine and start the music … as the music stops shout out a letter which everyone has to run to
- Playdough Letters … super simple, just make some play dough and provide a set of letter cutters so that particular letters can be cut out
- Letter Run … chalk the letters onto different corners of the playground or yard or write on paper and weight down … everyone stands in the middle and tries to be first to to reach a particular letter when it is shouted out
- Stepping Stones … make letter “stepping stones” … just writing them on scrap paper is fine … and place them jumpable distance apart across the living room or in the garden … each player has a bean bag and shouts out the letter they are going to jump on before throwing the bean bag and then jumping … the winner is the person who gets to the other end of the room first … we play this endlessly in our house and it’s always fun
- Word Search … cut out words from newspapers & magazine headlines in which a particular letter comes at different places in the word and stick them onto card … highlight the letter in the word
- Car Reg Letter Hunt … simply pick a letter each and count who sees the most of that letter on the car registrations as you walk down your street (this works better in the UK where the plates have lots of different letters in them)
- Street Sign Letter Hunt … as with car registration letter hunt
- Magnet Matches … write out a jumble of letters (or words including key letters) on a magnetic board or (if you can spare one) a cookie tray and get them to put a magnetic letter on each instance of the matching letter
- Dot to Dot Drawing … draw out dots on paper for children to join up to form letters
- Font Jumble … print out a 10 or 12 different letters in 8 by 8 rows with the same letter appearing in a range of different fonts … don’t make them too tricky … have a race to see who can circle a particular letter first … this is another good opportunity for mixing in the mirror letters
- Remember Remember … create a pack of cards with either 2 sets of the whole alphabet or multiple sets of whichever letters your child has learnt … place all the cards face down on the floor … each player takes turns to turn up two cards … if they get a match they keep the cards and have another go .. if they don’t match, they turn them back over and try to remember where they are in case they need them again .. the player with the most cards wins
- Letter Link Up … get a really big sheet of paper … some ripped off a roll of lining or butcher’s paper would be perfect … and write pairs of lower case and upper case letters in big letters all over the paper … ask your child to link up the letter pairs with different coloured pens … they’ll love the fabulous spaghetti mess they create
- Letter Bingo … write out about 20 upper and lower case letters on sheets of paper … different sheets need different letters … put small slips of paper, one for every letter of the alphabet in both cases in a pot … every time a letter is pulled out of the pot each person colours in that letter … first to colour in all their letters wins
- Sticker Match … what kid doesn’t love stickers? write out a mixture of upper and low case letters on stickers and then write out a jumble of letters (or words) on all sides of a cardboard box or cube or even just a big sheet of paper and get them to find the sticker matches
- Hidden Words … write or print out 10 cards with words that start with a particular letter and 10 that start with a different letter and hide them in the sand … or round the house or garden … it doesn’t matter what the words are (you just read the word out for them once they’ve found the letter) but you could personalise with words they are interested in … when they find the words they need to put them in the right jar depending on whether the word does contact the letter or not
- It’s All In the Word … write or print out on a piece of paper 8 to 10 words that have a particular letter in them mixed up with words that don’t have the letter in … ask them to highlight with a pen all the words that have the magic letter in … this is a good opportunity to practice mirror letter differentiation by including plenty of words that have the mirror letter in them
- Alphabet Soup … a lovely activity from Dirt and Boogers in which you make a big pot of pretend soup with water and e.g. coloured rice and add letters as ingredients calling them out as you add them
- Letter Tatoos … letter stamps are a really fun toy for all sorts of reading and writing activities … we have this set from Melissa and Doug … and you can commandeer them to print letter tatoos on each other’s arms or hands
- Lego Letters … lego lovers will enjoy this fab idea from Frugal Fun 4 Boys … build simple letter shapes e.g. E, L, F, I, T on lego boards and let the children build them up keeping the shape the whole time …
All of these activities focus on shape recognition … next week I will be providing another 30 fun ways to develop sound recognition skills. As your child grows in confidence in both you can start gently to mix them up ….
I do hope all these ideas help, I would love to hear yours …
P.S. I am a massive convert to online reading programs … they really help with the repetition which is essential to learning to read but can be a bit dull.
We use Reading Eggs just about every day for 10-20 minutes and totally love it … my daughter’s reading ability has shot up and it has taught me so much as a parent about how best to support her.