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13 powerful letter learning games

Learning Letters is the first step in learning to read. Children in preschool and kindergarten largely focus on letter identification and letter sounds. While some kids are naturally inclined to learn letters from a young age, others take longer and that's okay.

My mission is to making learning letters and how to read fun and hands on. So if you're looking for a letter sounds worksheet or some alphabet flashcards, this isn't the place.

Instead I'm going to show you my most favorite, hands-on letter learning games so that your kid is just as excited about the alphabet as I am (that's super excited...ahem...kindergarten teacher).

Is there a correct order of teaching letters and sounds?

There is not one correct order of teaching letters but instead many different ways to choose which letters to focus on first.

  1. Alphabetical Order - this is often very common in classrooms that have a "Letter of the Week" curriculum.
  2. Learning letters of child's name first - Kids are excited and drawn to learn about the letters in their name, and one of the most important things to demonstrate kindergarten readiness is writing one's name. For that reason, I do recommend we begin letter learning with the letters of your child's name.
  3. Learning letters based on their shape - this method is recommended by Handwriting Without Tears, a writing curriculum. Basically, they recommend teaching letters that are easiest to write first. That would mean letters that are made with straight lines first (L, T, I, H), followed by ones with curves next (D, B, S, C), and finally letters with diagonal lines last (R, Z, K, N).
  4. SATPIN - These are part of a phased learning of letters that recommends teaching SATPIN first. Apparently, those letters are the most common ones that can also make the most words: pin, sat, tin, pat, pan, sit, etc. Learning SATPIN letters first gives kids the ability to work on other reading skills without memorizing all the letters first. After SATPIN comes... m d g o c k  e r u b h f  l   j w  v x y z q

No matter what order of teaching letters you choose, I would recommend only working on 5-7 new letters at a time to avoid overwhelming your child. They'll need lots of repetition for those letters to stick in their minds, so always add in some letters they already know when you're playing these games.

14 Hands-on Games for Learning Letters and Sounds!

1. The Letter Sounds Swat:

All you need are some Post-its, a fly swatter (or a hand), and you're ready to go. Call out letter names or letter sounds and have your little one jump and swat the letters. You can use numbers too!

Swat the Letter!

2. Letter Sounds Toy Rescue!

Hide toys around the house or even just on a door with blue tape. Invite your child to play by telling them that the Toy Thief has stolen their precious toys and they, and they alone must rescue them.

At the rescue station, toys must be matched with their beginning sound, reinforcing the letter sounds while also working on phonemic awareness!

Learning letter sounds with toy rescue

3. Rescue the Letters:

Got salad tongs? Blue tape? Any container? Combine with letters for this fun challenge!

It's simple, really...call out the letter sound and have your child pluck the corresponding letter from the container below, maneuvering through the blue tape.

It's a wonderful chance to practice fine motor skills as well!

4. Letter Sounds Stomp!

Active kids don't like to sit to learn. Try Letter Sounds Stomp to get your child smashing their way to all their letters and sounds.

learning letters gross motor

5. Hidden Object Letter Learning Game:

Got some tricky letters that continue to confuse your child? Pick out those 5 or so letters they're learning and place them on Post-its for this surprising little game that kids love!

Learning Letters Hidden Object Game

6. Pom Pom Toss for Learning Letters

Much like my very viral Pinterest post for teaching Sight Words, you can place letters on Post-its, lining them up with a muffin pan.

Throw the poms poms at the muffin pan and yell the letter name and sound! Kids and adults love this hands-on learning game that happens to also improve your aim.

Loving learning letters yet?

7. Letter Sounds Post-it Hunt:

Pick out those target letters your child is working on and write them separately on a piece of construction paper. Hide 4 Post-it notes of the same letter around your home and have your child seek out those Post-its.

As your child matches the Post-it letter to the matching construction paper letter, they say the matching letter sounds!

learning letters post it matching game

8. Learning Letters with Bear's Bag:

Surprise! Your favorite stuffed animal is going on a trip, but you need to pack some intriguing objects for it!

Place different letters in a bag. Take turns pulling out different letters and searching around the house that you can pack that begin with that letter sound.

Place the item with the letter and pack them for Bear's trip! Bon Voyage!

Learning letters with Bear

Learn letter sounds as Bear packs for a trip!

9. Toy Rescue by FamilyEdventures.com

In this creative game, kids rescue their toys from under a laundry basket, unlocking the "code" by writing the letters that match the beginning sounds for each item. Genius!

https://familyedventures.com/toy-rescue-preschool-writing-activity/

10. Zig-Zag Letter Sounds Balance:

Got some blue painters tape? Create some zig zags for your child to traverse. Along the way, place some Post-it notes with letters they're learning on it.

Give your child a way they must cross the path: tip toe, jump, hop on one leg, walk, skip.

Each time they come to a letter, they need to stop, name it, and say it's letter sound.

Do your kids love trains and cars? They can even use their vehicles to traverse the zig zag path encountering letters as train stations or stop lights.

Zig Zag Balance for letter learning

11. "Noisy Jump" Letter Learning by Theimaginationtree.com

Take the fun outside with some chalk and play this silly, active hands-on learning game from The Imagination Tree. Draw letters on the ground and have children jump on the letters you name!

12. Alphabet Glow Up

Grab those plastic Easter eggs and get ready for the most epic letter learning experience. Match the letters in the eggs to the mat, and we even added a secret ingredient! WOW!

alphabet learning activity

13. Lowercase Sensory Soup

Practice matching letters with lowercase and capitals in this sensory soup bin that will keep even toddlers engaged!

learning letters sensory soup

Searching for beginning sounds worksheets? You won't find those here. My goal in creating Forward with Fun is all about using play to create unique and memorable learning. Kids are more likely to engage and remember new skills when they are actively participating in experience, especially if it's a game! That's the secret to getting kids to LOVE learning!

Isolating beginning sounds is part of a set of early reading skills called phonemic awareness, the understanding that words are made up of sounds. When kids connect a specific sound to a letter name, that is called phonics.

*As an Amazon affiliate, I may get a small commission for purchases made through links in this post.

learning letters and beginning sounds gross motor

How to Play: Beginning Sounds STOMP

Materials:

Prep for beginning sounds fun:

  1. Write the first letter of each item on the index cards. Make sure you pick items that have first letters that match the most common sound of that letter. Things like “phone” or “ice cream” will confuse them!
  2. Make sizable balls with the Play-Doh, one for each index card and place them beside the index card.
  3. Put all the small items in the bag.

Invite your child to play:

beginning sounds games

I'm sure the set-up laid out before your child is sure to inspire and delight them. To invite them to play share your Bag of Items.

As you pull items out, one at a time, ask your child whaat sound they hear at the beginning of the word, then find the matching letter on the ground. Once they find the letter that makes the beginning sound of that item they can jump, hop, or STOMP the Play-doh ball next to it!

Here is an example from our beginning sounds STOMP game.

Me: What's this? A hammer. What sound do you hear at the beginning of the word hammer?

Big Sis: /h/ /h/ Hammer.

Me: What letter makes the /h/ sound?

Big Sis: The H!

Me: Alright, let's stomp the H!

If your child doesn't know a letter sound, remind them. No big deal. We love to sing this phonics song we heard from a Leap Frog toy, "The B says /b/. The B says /b/. Every letter makes a sound. The B says /b/." If they don't know any letters, start with 2-3 objects. You can always simplify a game so they can still get important practice in with beginning sounds without knowing many letters names.

When should my child know all their letters and sounds?

Before starting kindergarten, kids should be able to write their names and name some letters and sounds. (To grab your FREE kindergarten readiness checklist, check out this post.)

Mastery of all letter names and their corresponding sounds are expected at the end of kindergarten, according to USA Common Core standards:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RF.K.1.D
Recognize and name all upper- and lowercase letters of the alphabet.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RF.K.2.D
Isolate and pronounce the initial, medial vowel, and final sounds (phonemes) in three-phoneme (consonant-vowel-consonant, or CVC) words.1 (This does not include CVCs ending with /l/, /r/, or /x/.)

How to Introduce Letters and Beginning Sounds to Kids:

When your child starts showing interest in books and the words on the page, you can begin pointing out letters. This can be as early as 2 or even as late as 4 years old. All kids are different and show interest at different ages.

Here are some tips for practicing letters before kindergarten:

Letter learning games

What is phonemic awareness? We have all heard of phonics when it comes to how to teach reading; remember Hooked on Phonics? But why have we never heard of phonemic awareness?

Well, it's the missing piece. If your child knows all their letters and sounds, but they cannot read, it is because they need to build their phonemic awareness. The best part is that it's not difficult to do, and I want to share how with you!

Phonemic awareness is the understanding that all words are made up of sounds, and those sounds can be manipulated to change words. It's an umbrella of auditory skills, so kids can actually practice these reading skills without even knowing any letters. These skills will be outlined in this post but include rhyming, blending, segmenting, sound isolation and others.

*As an Amazon affiliate, I may get a small commission for purchases made through links in this post.

Phonemic Awareness vs. Phonics:

Phonemic awareness is based on AUDITORY skills that manipulate phonemes (sounds) in words, while phonics' definition is based in VISUAL skills. Phonics is the teaching of reading through the understanding that letters or groups of letters make certain sounds.

An example:

Phonemic awareness: The word dog is made up of three sounds: /d/ /o/ and /g/.

Phonics: The word "dog" is made up of 3 letters: D, O, and G.

Phonics is all about LETTERS (that you see) and phonemic awareness is all about SOUNDS (that you hear).

5 Skills for Phonemic Awareness Mastery:

Here are the major phonemic awareness skills to know.

Rhyming- Phonemic awareness skill #1

I can assure you that you've already been teaching your little one to rhyme without being that aware of it. Each little rhyming song, and every rhyming book is building your little one's knowledge of phonemic awareness.

Rhyming words have the same ENDING SOUND.

Incorporate rhyming exercises next time to you sing a rhyming song. Stop before the rhyming word and take notice of it together:

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, how I wonder what you ___?

What word is missing? Are. Star and Are rhyme!

They have the same ending sound.

You can also do this as you read aloud to your child using a favorite book that is written in rhyme. My favorite series is the Llama Llama Red Pajama Books.

Another strategy is by using a "nonexample." This way kids pick out the word that doesn't rhyme: rat, bat, dog, cat. A hilarious book I always recommend for rhyming that teaches through nonexamples is called Rhyming Dust Bunnies.

*I'm a part of the Amazon Affiliates program which means I may get a small commission if you purchase through my link.

Sound Isolation: Beginning, Middle, and Ending Sounds-Phonemic awareness skill #2

I could probably write 3 blog posts about this phonemic awareness skill, but I'll give you the briefest version.

Beginning Sounds:

Sound isolation is something you're sure to be familiar with too, especially using the beginning sound.

What sound does rabbit start with? If you said R, you're wrong! The letter R is not a sound, it's a letter.

If you said /r/ (the sound that R makes), you would be spot on!

Sound isolation is the ability to isolate a sound in a spoken word. There is no need to put pencils onto paper when practicing this reading skill, in fact, my favorite way to teach sound isolation is to go on a scavenger hunt.

Go searching your home for 5 things that start with the sound /b/. Kids can engage in this without even knowing the letter B makes the /b/ sound.

Beginning sounds are the easiest to isolate because from an early age, kids are taught to associate regular life objects with a certain sound or letter. Once you throw in the letter it become phonics. "The word ball starts with /b/ /b/ /b/ /ball/." Speaking about the sounds in the word help your child discern those sounds on their own.

For a game that combines beginning sound phonemic awareness and phonics you've got to try Beginning Sound Stomp!

jumping feet on letters with playdoh next to them

Phonemic Awareness + Phonics: Beginning Sounds Game

Ending sounds:

After beginning sounds, I recommend isolating the ending sound of a word with your child. It takes some time, but practice stretching out a word by saying it as long as you can, and then emphasize the last sound: DOOOOOOOOG! (with a hard G).

In my classroom we often did this as a whole body exercise. Standing up we would choose the word, then we would stretch the word by elongating it all the while moving our hands from our heads down to our toes. The final sound that came at the toes was the ending sound.

If your child knows their letters, they can strengthen their phonemic awareness of ending sounds by playing toy rescue. In this game I taped small toys to the door with painters tape.

My kids had to rescue the items and place them on the correct ending sound. Because we are working on ending sounds the toys are not sorted by their final letter. Horse is sorted to "s" because that is the final SOUND in the word.

toys taped to a door

Ending Sounds Toy Rescue- Phonemic Awareness

Middle sounds:

Oh the middle sounds are one of the hardest phonemic awareness skills to teach. My theory is that they are usually vowel sounds, and often vowels sound similar or have multiple sounds.

When I talk about middle sounds, I mean the middle sounds of CVC words. These are the first words kids learn to read phonetically and they stand for consonant vowel consonant. If you want to know all about CVC words, check out this blog post that explains all about how to teach them.

Missing Middles is a game that fuses phonics and middle sound isolation. Check it out!

child placing magnetic letters on a tray

Missing Middle Sounds: Phonemic Awareness activity

To teach the middle sound kids will need to stretch out the word and hear what's in the middle, but often they'll learn middle sounds through our next major phonemic awareness skill.

Segmentation- Phonemic awareness skill #3

It sounds like what it is: segmentation is the ability to segment words into parts or individual sounds.

child's hand chopping playdoh worm

Karate Chop Words: Phonemic Awareness - Segmenting

This could be breaking down a word into syllables or into individual sounds, and it is most

often used as kids begin to sound out words as they write them.

Active learners love using "karate chop segmenting" to make this difficult auditory skill into a physical one. For beginners, start by segmenting words into syllables to get the hang of "chopping" the word. I have even used a long Play-doh worm as the chopping block. Kids practice segmenting the word by chopping the worm with their hand.

Rabbit becomes /ra/ and /bit/. Alligator becomes /a/ /li/ /ga/ /tor/.

Once kids understand they can move on to segmenting words into sounds, and often CVC words are the best way to do this. Dog becomes /d/ /o/ /g/.

This is an advanced phonemic awareness skill that takes time and patience. Other ways to make segmenting fun is to clap the word or break the word using a robot voice.

Blending- Phonemic awareness skill #4

Blending is a complementary to segmenting and is a bit easier to do. Given the segmented sounds, blending is the ability to put them together and hear the word they make.

Readers need blending skills to successfully decode words. As a child reads, they say the individual sounds that they see on the paper: /c/ /a/ /t/. This is called "sounding out."

Blending is the ability to take the sounds and combine them to make the word. In my years of teaching 100's of children, a majority of them would sound out the letters of the word but get stuck blending the sounds together, holding them back from reading.

I created an engaging, silly game called Guess the Animal that you can practice anywhere, anytime to help make blending second nature to these kids (and my own). We play it all the time!

Me: Guess the animal - /go/ /rilla/

Kids: Gorilla

Me: Guess the animal - /d/ /o/ /g/

Kids: Dog

Me: Guess the animal- /p/ /i/ /g/

Kids: pig

If you're just starting out with blending, I would start with the longer animal names before CVC animals because those are easier to pick out by hearing: turkey, alligator, gorilla, etc. You don't need to segment every single letter, you can even say "Guess my animal /a/ /ligator/" This gives kids practice blending the beginning sound onto the word.

As they get better, they can move onto the CVC words. Some animal CVC words are: pig, dog, cat, rat, bat, ram, fox, hen.

 

Phoneme Replacement- Phonemic awareness skill #5

Remember those classic Raffi songs Apples and Bananas or Willoughby Wallaby Woo? If you don't remember those, you'll for sure, have heard The Name Game (Shirley Ellis).

Those songs take a word in the song and replace the sound with another one. Nothing is written down, it's all spoken, making it a phonemic awareness skill.

Singing songs like these with your kids will help strengthen their ability to manipulate words which in turn assists them to become strong readers and writers.

Building Phonemic Awareness in Your Home

If you nurture your child's mind practicing these 5 phonemic awareness skills, they're sure to have success when it comes to reading. If you're still unsure how to incorporate these skills in a progressive format that will entertain your child and build a love of reading, I can help.

In The Fun Club I bring these skills (and many others) to your home through learning games and activities in an order and pace that makes learning to read easy and fun.

With 5 weekly activities and games that are simple to do and highly engaging, The Fun Club has transformed learning into a bonding, play-time between parent and child. I've had so many happy emails sharing that Fun Club kids are beginning to read, one of childhood's greatest milestones!

"These are perfectly thought out activities that get us up, moving and enthusiastic about learning. Now I have a 4 year old applying what she's learned from these activities on her own and beginning to read! I'm blown away." -Gladys, a Fun club parent.

Check out The Fun Club to learn more or try a week for free right here.

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