Blending sounds is magic dust for children when they are learning to read.
It lets them progress from recognising the shapes of letters to actually reading words.
To blend sounds kids need to be able to “hear” sounds at the start, middle & end of words AND to be willing to “sound out” each sound.
Both of these are really tricky. So many mums I talk to say their kids are shy or defensive about sounding out. My daughter definitely is.
She can read simple sentences but is much more comfortable using context, whole word shape recognition or plain guess work to tackle new words.
It’s taken time for her to realise that blending sounds helps her read words she doesn’t know or can’t remember. She is using it more but reluctantly.
Building Sound Skills
Looking back, my hunch is this is because we spend lots of time with them when little on shape recognition and not enough on sound recognition.
And the sound activities we do are in the context of learning letters .. we get all excited about them recognising the shape B and knowing that it is associated with the sound b.
But we don’t spend so much time on simple oral activities such as wandering around the house together and collecting up everything you can find that begins with b.
To help children “hear” the separate sounds in words and build their confidence in sounding out its worth spending plenty of time on fun activities that are just about sound and listening and speaking and don’t involve any letter shape recognition at all.
They will really reap the benefits of these games later on.
Start Simple & Be Patient
I have included below a list of games that are just about sound. Many of them can be played at a very simple level with children as young as two.
When you’re starting out you can just focus on starting sounds and particularly those that are clearly different e.g. b, c, m.
As children become more confident you can adapt the games to include ending and middle sounds and sounds that are often confused e.g. b-p, d-t, th-f-v, ch-j, m-n.
In my experience you can actually introduce “word families” i.e. groups of rhyming words such as cat, mat and hat early on, as many children will get and enjoy these way before they would be ready to recognise their letters.
With all these activities, don’t just expect children be able to “do” them … it’s all about gentle repitition and practice and just enjoying the activities together not about getting them “right”.
Fun Games for Recognising Sounds
- Sound of the week shelf … create a sound of the week shelf or basket with lots of interesting physical objects beginning with that sound that can be picked up and talked about, and added to as objects are found … usually this would be done with a flash card of the appropriate letter of the alphabet but by ditching this you get everyone focused on just hearing the sound
- Scavenger hunt for anything you can find in the house that begins with a letter
- Big box sort … put 10-20 things that start with 3 or 4 different sounds … rummage and sort into piles depending on which sound they begin with
- Sand sort … hide lots of small things in a sand tray that begin with 3 or 4 different sounds, when they’re discovered sort into a different jar or box for each starting sound
- Rhyming pictures treasure hunt with red herrings that don’t rhyme
- Starting sound snap … snap any picture cards that start with the same sound
- Rhyming picture snap … you can snap any picture cards that rhyme
- Rhyming remember remember … turn rhyming picture cards face down and try to turn up pairs that rhyme … if you find a pair go again … if you don’t turn back down
- Read rhyming books … reading fun rhyming stories … like those from Julia Donaldson & Lynley Dodd … from when kids are very small will give them them loads of practice in hearing common sounds.
- Find that sound race … call out a sound and see who can be the first to find a physical object that begins with that sound
- I spy with my little eye … a classic but great starting sound practice
- Easy I spy … I spy is a bit tricky for little ones but you can turn it on it’s head and get them to give you a letter and then you have to spy as many things as you can with the letter involving them in deciding whether it starts with the right letter or not
- Make up silly words … children love making up silly words so have some fun starting words with the wrong letter … you don’t have to formalise it into a game, you can just talk silly starting words they know with the wrong consonant “Let me see is your name Bimmy with a B or Mimmy with a M”
- My Aunt Minnie went to the shop … a adaptation of the old memory game where you say My Aunt Minne went to the shop and bough bananas and then the next person says My Aunt Minnie went to the shop and bought bananas and a ball etc. The difference in this version that everything has to start with the same letter
- Word race … if your kids are competitive they’ll love this .. give each kid or team a letter and then see how many words they can think of beginning with that letter in 3 minutes … you help out by writing them down for the record
- Rhyme race … a version of the word race in which you try to think of as many words as you can that rhyme with the starting word
- Make up silly rhyming songs … make up daft rhyming songs … and if it helps to keep their interest … and you don’t object too strongly … indulge them with a bit of potty humour
- Rhyming turns … some one starts off a silly sentence e.g. My name is bingly bong and the next person has to come up with another rhyming sentence with a rhyming word that hasn’t been used until no more rhyming words can be thought of … obviously you can help out as much as needed
- Rhyming passwords … loads of kids love passwords … or at least mine does 😉 … invent a different rhyming password every day that has to be used to get into different rooms … the words can be nonsense words
- Missing words … make up a simple silly rhyming couplet e.g. I like to hop when I go to the shop, I’ll eat my hat if that’s a cat but don’t tell them what the last word is and see if they can guess it
I do hope you have fun with these activities. You really can make all the resources for them yourself but I can highly recommend Slug in a Jug from Orchard Toys which we love and which supports many of them. If you want learn to read ideas do check out the rest of our reading series.
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.