Preschool children may not be able to read and write, but they can be taught to recite the alphabet and to count. Young children learn through repeating sounds, so while they can learn to say the alphabet, they may not, at that stage, realise what they are saying, the alphabet will probably seem to be a stream of different sounds. They may not even be able to distinguish the sounds for each individual letter. For example there may be no rational way to deduce that 'double-yoo' (W) is one letter where as 'el-em-en' (LMN) is three letters. However, teaching young children to recite the alphabet, and to count to 10 is still a very valuable exercise because it will start to reinforce a familiarity with letters and numbers that they will take with them when they start school.
Practice counting and to recite the alphabet when you are out and about, sing numbers and letters as songs. Teach them the phonetic alphabet too which is probably how they will first be taught to say the alphabet when they reach school.
When you are at home or in a play setting, you can continue to say the alphabet and count using letter and number charts. Point to the letters and numbers as you pass them and this will help with visual learning, tying together letters and numbers with their sounds.
Before any child can even attempt to read, they need various basic skills which will stay with them throughout their reading career! Some of these skills come naturally through every day life. They hear and use words themselves, they have seen books and heard teachers or parents read from them, they have enjoyed the thrill or comedy of a good book etc. But there are also things you can do as a parent or carer to help your child come even close to that magical day when they pick up a book, and read it for themselves!
1. Read, read and then pick up another book and read!
- Reading to your children is the best way to get them interested.
- Use silly voices, choose exciting and a varied selection of books, act them out, dress up, find books with great illustrations and make reading fun!
- Read in bed, under a tree, in the car... wherever you can, but make it fun.
- If ever they are too tired, just accept it and do it another day.
2. Practice rhyming words.
- This a great way to introduce new words, and show children that words rhyme.
- Sing nursery rhymes together.
- When singing songs, stop and see if your child can finish the rhyme. Then change the words and see if they can think of a new word to rhyme?
- Play I Spy With My Little Eye but use rhyming words: try I Hear With My Little Ear Something That Rhymes With Tree... etc
3. Recognition and Matching.
- Matching letters with their sounds is a vital part of reading.
- To help, try playing some matching games Play Snap! and Pairs.
- Try playing Dominoes.
- Do some puzzles, and even try tricky ones together.
- Match socks when doing the washing and sort the cutlery into drawers when doing the washing up.
- Letters are vital when reading, so learning to be comfortable using letters and confident talking about them is vital.
- When you go out, stress the first letter as you get ready. So, put on your s-s-socks, j-j-jacket, g-g-gloves. As you walk down the road, see the h-h-house, and the c-c-car.
- Spot letters as you walk about round your home. Shop signs, traffic signs, road names etc.
- Sound out and using your fingers trace the letters on road names if you can reach.
5. Use words.
- Having chats about things you see and do is a great way to develop language.
- Try to use new words, describe things in an exciting way and encourage them to talk to other children about their experiences.
Using technology to teach and inspire children is vital in this day where computers are commonplace, digital gadgets are all over the place and technology is so much more accessible.
Many children have their own toy cameras now, which is great to see the world through the eyes of the children.
However, you can try to give the camera usage a little more direction by setting the children photography projects such as:-
- Things that make me happy (ice cream, friends)
- Things that are brightly coloured (coat, bike)
- Things that don't belong here (litter dropped on the pavement etc.)
- Things that are beautiful (nature, trees)
- Things featuring numbers (shop phone number, house number)
- Things featuring letters (road names, signs)
- Things we need (post boxes, front doors)
- People I love... etc.
You could set the challenge of photographing things that begin with the alphabet letters.
- Find an Apple, Bed, Cup, Desk, Egg, Fence etc.
- Find various colours: find find 5 red items.
- Find a certain number of things: find 3 socks, 2 teddies etc.
When the pictures are taken, show the children how to load the images onto the computer. Describe what happens as you flick through the pictures and sort them. Show them how you print them and trim to size etc. You could then create a booklet displaying the images in order and writing the appropriate letter on each page.
Learning phonics and understanding the sounds that different letters make is essential for reading and the earlier you start introducing letters to the children the better because as they become more and more familiar with the sounds, so they will find reading all the more easy. It's understandable to want to get children reading early, but in fact, it's better to get them 100% confident with the phonic sounds first, even if they can read whole words already. That way, once they see words, they will be able to easily combine the sounds to read the word.
Here are some easy and fun ideas to get phonics into your daily routine and introduce them to little ones in game format:-
- Pick a different letter each week to focus on. Start by drawing the letter on a big page and colouring it or decorating it. Say the sound together.
- Found a Sound Telescope: Make a telescope to look through to find the sounds. Simply decorate a kitchen roll tube and use it for hunting.
- Say the sound the letter makes and go on a sound hunt. Find things beginning with that sound.
- Sound box. When you find something beginning with the right sound, collect it in a box. Put any things you find that are not actually the right sound into a 'bin' box.
- Give masses of support, guidance and help as its hard to begin with, but once they get it the children will be off on an adventure with no trouble at all!
- When you have a few items, gather them onto a table and look at them and say the sounds and the words together to reinforce that the correct letter and correct item has been found.
Have fun, and expand this sound game with your own ideas too!
Now that summer is here, sand and water play are back on the agenda, plus lots of outside games. Here's a simple activity to encourage letter recognition and exploring.
- Go out and find lots of pebbles and little stones. Wash them together and clean them up. Dry them in the sunshine.
- Once dry, mark each one with an indelible pen with a lower case letter of the alphabet on one side.
- Once the ink is dry, select a few pebbles that make up some easy words: pig, dog, cat, cow. Head off into the garden or sand pit and hide the pebbles.
- Ask your little one to try and find them and name each of the letters. If they are good at this and recognise the letter, see if they can name the letters and make the sounds.
- Show how the letters make up the words and eventually they will be able to do this alone!
As little ones become more familiar with letters and their sounds and their shapes, encourage them to practice and learn with this simple activity that will help their literacy, writing and sounds...as well as giving them a great sense of achievement.
Take a note book and on each page write a letter, starting from letter 'a' on page one to letter 'z' on page 26 so you end up with a book that runs the whole alphabet from a-z. Use lower case letters. If your child is able to write letters themselves, get them to write the letters.
Gather magazines, brochures, family photos, spare stickers anything with pictures on them. Decide on which page each picture should go on. For example, a picture of apples on the 'a' page, bananas on the 'b' page. Fill up the whole book.
Use the book to practice sounds and to look through together naming all the objects in the pictures.
Getting young toddlers to sit still on the London Underground can be slightly tricky because it's such an exciting place to be, and lots of other tube passengers are standing, so why shouldn't your little one?!
Luckily there is so much distinct iconography inside tube trains that can inspire even the youngest traveller to play fun games. Look for different colours, shapes and letters. Look around a tube carriage and you'll see yellow warning triangles, red circles for London Underground's logo and no entry signs on doors between carriages, blue rectangles and squares with notices inside.
You'll see the tube maps with lots of coloured lines on - ask your little one what colours they see.
Look for letters in the signs and adverts stuck all over the carriage, look for the letters that your children's names begin with. Look for numbers - especially the number of how old they are.
Play I-Spy looking for items of different colours ('I-Spy, with my little eye, something that is red').
Older children can look around and spot all the different warning signs and instructions littered around the carriage - have you ever noticed just how many rules there are when you embark on an Underground journey?!
Of course most of these games will adapt to any train ride, and even journeys on buses or planes too.
You'll be amazed at just how quickly your journey goes, no matter how long it is. Just take care that you don't have so much fun that you miss your stop!
Bath toys can turn a fairly boring part of nighttime routine into a bit of an adventure - there are so many fun toys, games and ways to make bathtime interesting, why not treat your children to a new experience every few weeks?!
So you don't think there's room for doing craft in the bath? Wrong! Older children will love bath crayons which can be used for drawing on the inside of the bath. Rub them out after bath as otherwise they can be more difficult to remove, and if left too long, may stain permanently. Younger children will enjoy foam shapes, letters and numbers that adhere to the side of the bath when wet. All of these are widely available in toy shops.
Many more traditional toys allow children to play with water, experimenting with pouring, flowing and other properties. Bath toys can be quite expensive, so look at the value you think you'll get from the toy before buying. Well designed toys will teach children about the properties of flowing water, and of course, will offer hours of fun!
Bubbles and Potions
Children love bubbles, bath colourings and fizzy bath bombs or balls which you will find in most supermarkets and chemists. Do be aware that bubbles may dry your children's skin if they have sensitive skin so use a new formula with caution. You should find bubbles formulated for gentle skin but you may find even these aren't good for your little ones.
Your children may be more receptive to having their faces washed if they have fun flannels, and none are more fun than the magic expanding flannels that come as small dry blocks and unpack into full size flannels in water. These are widely available from toy shops and supermarkets, and make a great little stocking filler at Christmas time!
Today's children are spoiled for choice in the sheer array of bath toys on offer! Brighten up bathtime and have your children look forward to their evening dip, as much as anything, it will help make routine easier for you!
Walking to pre-school or nursery in the bad, autumnal weather can be a real bore for little ones, especially those who are only just out of the buggy. Here are a few ideas to perk up your walk together and do a bit of fun learning on the way!
Weathery Walk - walk the way you might in different types of weather.
- Trudge through snow
- Battle against raging rain
- Fan yourself in the heat of the hot sun
- Keep upright in the blowy wind
Colour-Spy - spot things that are certain colours. Find 3 red things (traffic light, post box, car) etc.
Letter Think - think of things that begin with certain letters. Name 4 things beginning with "d". Even little ones can do this with come help. Give a clue to help them get to a "d" word.
Wonkey Walks - Walk in different ways between the trees you pass. So, walk like a frog to the next tree. Then walk like a monkey to the next tree.
Tree Races - If you live on a quiet road you could race to the next tree. See who gets there first.
Count the Steps - estimate how may steps you need to get to the next landmark (tree/traffic lights) and simply count how many steps you actually take. How close were you?
Car Count - name a colour and count how many cars you see on the way of that colour.
Walking to school or nursery is a great, healthy way to start the day; these ideas will make it fun too! Have a good day!
Once pre-schoolers get interested in letters and sounds and writing, there is so much you can do to encourage them and inspire them to really enjoy the idea of writing and learning about words. Here are a few easy ideas to introduce words into their everyday life.
- Menu: Write a list of what's for breakfast; a choice of cereals, toast and spreads etc. Ask them to match the words on the menu with the words on the milk carton, jam jar etc. Look at the letters together and make a match.
- Name cards: If you have some friends or family over to dinner, write out some name cards. Write each person's name on a piece of card and place it around the table. Ask you little one to help with this and decide who sits where.
- Tea party: Get some tea things ready (sandwich, cake, tomato, cucumber) and write on some paper what each thing is. Stick the labels onto some cocktail sticks and ask your child to poke the labels into the appropriate food.
- Headed paper: Take some paper and write or print your child's name at the top in fancy writing. This can be used for thank you notes or letters. Get them to decorate it or colour in the letters of their name.
- Labels: Write some labels for items round the house: television, door, window, sink etc and ask your child to attach the labels with tape or blue tack to the right things. Take the labels off after a day or so and see if they can re-attach them on their own. They will eventually recognise the words and match them on their own.
- Letter spot: If you are reading a newspaper or magazine, see if your child can recognise some of the letters in the headlines. Show them and look at the letters and easy words together. Cut some out and make a sign or send a message made of letters cut from a newspaper.
Get outdoors and have some scavenger hunt fun: it's ideal for all kinds of situations and places! It takes just a little bit of preparation and the children all love scavenger hunts whether in a small garden or a huge park. Here are some ideas to get the children inspired outdoors no matter what their age!
Colour Hunt: Gather some things from round the house: toys, blocks, balls etc that are 4 different colours: red, green, blue and yellow. Show the items to your child and sort them into piles by colour. Keep one of each item and without your child looking, hide all the rest around our garden or around the park. Send your child off to search for all the red items, then all the yellow etc.
Buried Treasure: collect some pebbles or pieces of dry pasta and cover them with silver foil to make them into shiny treasure. Count them, and then hide each of the pieces in the garden. Send your child off to find them and count them all back in at the end! Perhaps if they find them all they win a piece of real treasure: a foil wrapped biscuit or a foil pouch of summer fruits to eat!
Shape Hunt: Make 16 cards and draw 4 coloured squares, circles, rectangles and ovals onto them. Give one of each to your child and hide the rest. Ask them to hunt for the others, matching them and naming them as they find them.
Letter Hunt: Write some letters on a page and ask your child to go off into the house or garden and find things beginning with that letter. For A find an apple, for B find a ball, for C find a toy car etc.
One day your child will learn to read, and there's a lot that you can do to prepare them and make learning to read an easier task. Before children can read there are some fundamental principles that they must understand. They must be able to differentiate letters, words and numbers from pictures, they should be familiar with books and know that pages read from top left to bottom right and they should be able to identify each letter and know the sound that each one makes. Even with all this there is still a lot more to learn before they can read, but at least they are in good shape to learn more easily.
Teach your child letters from an early age, sing the ABC song so that they learn their alphabet, and have them recognise their name. Spot letters when you are out and about and play phonic games to help grow familiarity with the sounds of letters. Write labels for things around your home and put signs up for your child to be able to spot different words. Part of reading is about being able to read letters and make out a word, but many words have irregular letters and sounds and are more easily learned through recognition by exposure to them over time.
There's no doubt that reading encompasses a lot of different skills and knowledge, but being surrounded by letters and sounds, your child really will absorb the knowledge required to learn to read, and you'll find that they will learn to read more quickly than other children who weren't given this encouragement.
There are times when you want a game that will occupy the children for a few minutes, and 'I spy...' has to be one of the best loved! The game probably originated in the USA in the early 20th century, and its original form is:-
I spy, with my little eye, something beginning with... [and the player names a letter]
Everyone else then has to guess what the object is. You can play variants of this game with younger children who don't yet know their alphabet. Here are our favorite variations:-
I spy, with my little eye, something beginning with... [followed by the sound of the start of the word, but not necessarily a letter, eg. 'Cl' for 'Clock']
I spy, with my little eye, something that is... [followed by a color, eg. green, for a green tree]
I hear, with my little ear, something that goes... [and mimic a noise, eg. 'tick tock' for a clock]
This is a great little learning game that helps to learn colours, sounds or letters, and the kids love it! It's great to keep kids entertained in confined spaces, such as on a journey, or in a restaurant, and it's fun to play with the whole family. Do you play any other variants of 'I spy...' that you can share with everyone?