On the way to preschool, my four-year-old asked if we could play the “Grandpa Wandpa” game. It’s a silly wordplay I made up one day when we were stuck in traffic and the kids were getting cranky.

“What if every name in our family began with the W sound? So Mommy would be called… Wommy! Grandpa would be… Wandpa!” Cue the giggles.

When we play this game, we make our way through aunts, uncles, cousins, and even friends and neighbors. And then we choose a new opening phoneme (or letter sound) and start again. “What if our names all began with the S sound? Lilly would be… Silly!”  Sometimes we change things up: “What if all the food in the fridge started with T sound? A pickle would be a tickle!”

Driving to school. Waiting for the bus. Standing in line at the grocery store. Taking a walk around the block. Sitting around the dinner table.These are great moments to play simple games that delight kids and engage their brains. Word games can boost children’s literacy skills by helping them recognize sounds, master letter identification, and build attention and working memory.

Here are four other simple games that don’t require any materials — so you can play them anywhere!  

  1. I’m Going on a Picnic: The game begins with the first person choosing a food that starts with the letter A and saying, “I’m going on a picnic and I’m taking ________.” The next person repeats what the first person is bringing, and then adds something that starts with the letter B.  For example: “I’m going on a picnic and I’m taking an apple and bread.” Try to make it all the way to the end of the alphabet! You can try a similar game using animals: “I’m going to the zoo and I’m going to see __________.”
  2. I Spy: Give the classic “I Spy” game a phonics twist. For example, “I spy with my little eye something that begins with the letter M.” Then provide contextual hints as necessary (like, “It starts with mmm and you can drink it”).
  3. Finish That Rhyme: Nursery rhymes are a great way to support phonemic awareness. After your child is familiar with a few rhymes, pause when you get to the final word in a line and let your child finish it. For example: “Hickory, dickory _____; the mouse ran up the _______.” Point out that “dock” sounds like “clock” and see if you can come up with other words that rhyme with that pair. How many words can you and your child think of that rhyme with hat, pin, top, jump, or pet?
  4. Alphabet Hunt: On a long car or bus ride, try to find every letter of the alphabet using street signs, stores, license plates, billboards… any words you can see! Write the letters on a piece of paper, and let your child cross them out as they find them. 

Digital Resources

As parents, we can also use digital games to help kids strengthen their reading skills. PBS Kids offers dozens of free reading games, including these Super Why!-themed games:

About Deborah Farmer Kris

Deborah Farmer Kris spent several years as a K-12 educator and as an associate at Boston University’s Center for Character and Social Responsibility. She is a regular contributor for MindShift and the mother of two young children. You can follow her on Twitter @dfkris.

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