It’s a funny thing, how these weird squiggly shapes turn into letters and words.
Our brains pick out their individual patterns, provides a meaning, lumps them together with others to form a word, then melts them together into sentences with nary a hiccup, providing stories, knowledge and communication. We learn how to read so young that most of us have forgotten how tricky it was to form those neural pathways.
First, we learn letters, then the phonetics of those letters and how those phonemes blend together to distinguish words from one another. It’s a beautiful moment when the concept clicks in a child’s brain and they put all the pieces together.
While it has a big payoff, learning language is hard work and children aren’t really a fan of hard work. Now, you could try to explain to them the benefits of long-term payoffs and the wonderful impact it will have on their scholarly careers, but it may just be simpler to turn all that hard work into fun games!
Take a Hands-On Approach
Sometimes you just need to get your hands in there to really understand a concept. A hands-on approach to letters and phonics invokes sensory learning and turns letters into more tangible things.
For instance, if a child is struggling to understand how to form letters, they can follow along with the grooves of the Feel-Write Writing Stones. Available in Pre-Writing, Lowercase and Uppercase, the stones have deep divots so children can practice the patterns that form letters, either with their finger or a pencil.
For an arts and crafts spin, use dough to shape letters on activity cards with the Dough Language Kits. Kids are still learning about the different parts of the letter but now they get to play with dough while learning the patterns. Plus, the activity cards are write and wipe, so students can progress into using the included dry-erase marker or crayon.
For letter recognition, the Alphabet Pebbles are fantastic. They appeal to children's natural instincts to explore and are great to use in sand, water and outside. Bury them and have children identify the letters they find or sort and match the upper and lowercase stones. For a group activity lay out the stones and choose a letter. The child that finds the letter first gets to keep it and whoever has the most letters at the end wins!
Once the kids are ready to progress, you can play these games and more with Phonics Pebbles. Designed like the Alphabet Pebbles, this set includes 64 stones that cover 44 phonemes, making them perfect for developing word building and blending skills.
Incorporate Letters into Dramatic Play
Nurture their imagination and language skills at the same time! You can sneak letters into almost any scenario, but it’s super easy to incorporate language learning into kitchen play.
Kids can practice their writing when they draw up a menu, take your order when playing restaurant or make a grocery list before shopping in their toy chest.
Colourful, realistic groceries, like the A To Z Alphabet Groceries, provide a fun way to introduce early language skills and inspire hours of imaginative play. Each of the 26 groceries is labelled with a letter, word and colourful picture. They’re great for reinforcing letter recognition, everyday vocabulary and creative role-play.
Even better is eating a delicious bowl of Alphabet Soup. This bowl is full of 26 colourful noodles, from A - Z, to practice the alphabet and colour recognition. Kids can pretend cook the soup, then practice spelling out words with their culinary masterpiece. Plus, real alphabet noodles can be found at any major supermarket, so you can recreate the situation at lunch time!
Turn Language Learning into Active Play
Who says writing or reading is a stationary activity?
Alphabet Marks The Spot is a high-energy introduction to letter recognition, phonics and word building. With 8 different games to choose from, you can burn off some of the kids’ energy by making language learning feel like gym class. This is perfect for rain or snow days where the kids can’t go outside, and it breaks up the monotony of traditional learning.
To keep the fun rolling, Alphaballs have endless possibilities. The lightweight balls are made from durable vinyl and feature a letter of the alphabet in both upper and lowercase. Play a version of Go Fish, where kids ask each other for a letter and toss the corresponding ball to the other player. Any game you play with a normal ball, you can play with Alphaballs, with the added benefit of building letter recognition.
Games and Toys
There are wonderful language games made to teach letters and phonemes, like Alphabet Bingo, Sight Word Swat and the Pop Language Series.
Alphabet Bingo is a fun exercise for the whole class or smaller groups, encouraging letter recognition and phonics. Sight Word Swat encourages even the most reluctant readers. Kids can swat 220 Dolch sight words in a fun, competitive and silly game.
The Pop Language Series has four varieties: Letters, Sight Words, Word Families and Blends, targeting the different elements of reading. The games progress with the reader, helping them continuously develop their skills.
For more advanced readers, Fox In The Box Positional Words Activity Set teaches rhyming and positional word vocabulary or the Word Trapeze Language Game takes the fun of Monkey’s in a Barrel and incorporates it into word building. Children can build short and long words and carefully dangle them from the trapeze.
Sorting and Matching toys are wonderful for building pattern recognition. Alphabet Acorns match upper and lowercase letters or the colourful acorns to their corresponding coloured counters. Mix and match Snap-N-Learn Rhyming Pups for over 55 rhyming words, with colour identification for self-correction.
Play these fun games with your kids, and suddenly, these complicated things we call letters and phonics are now toys. Learning about language isn’t hard work because it’s so much fun. When things are fun and kids know they’re getting a short-term reward for a little bit of effort, they’ll be so much more eager to participate.
That’s how we build strong readers: we make learning to read and write so much fun that kids always want to do it!
Written by Maria-Antonia Urso, Staff Writer,
B.A. Rhetoric, Writing and Communications