Early literacy games – anytime and anywhere

Say the words ‘early literacy’ and many parents often feel a little lost. As if we weren’t busy enough, we also need to squeeze in activities to extend our child’s literacy skills… but where to start, and how do we find the time?

A child learns best from those around them, so you are the most important teacher your child will ever have. And research has shown that up to 90% of a child’s brain development happens in the first five years! So, these early years hanging out with Mum and Dad really are critical in their early literacy learning.

Thankfully, in a community such as ours, we are surrounded by literacy – and it’s not just books. From signposts and menus to billboards and playgrounds, the everyday streets we live in are filled with easy opportunities for a little early literacy fun.

At the supermarket

Turn a simple trip to the supermarket into a fun literacy excursion by playing games as you roll around the aisles. These games also keep the littlies occupied whilst shopping, making the experience easier for Mum and Dad!

  1. See if you can spot three vegetables that start with the letter ‘C’.
  2. See if you can spot all the letters of your name in the breakfast cereal aisle.
  3. For younger children, have them write (or draw) a shopping list before they go, and read out everything you need to buy as you go around the shop. Older children can be in charge of your shopping list, reading out and crossing things off as you go.
  4. Go on a word hunt, looking for fun words they don’t know. The fresh produce section is great for this where there is rhubarb, celery, squash and kiwi fruit.
  5. Older children can test out their maths skills, comparing prices or adding things up along the way.

At the park

There’s so many unique words and interesting adjectives to be found on a simple trip to the park!

  1. Go on a scavenger hunt and document what you see. Either take a notebook with you, so children can draw and write down what they find, and/or take photos on your phone. Hunt for different textures to learn words such as ‘crunchy’, ‘furry’, ‘tiny’ and ‘spikey’.
  2. Support those maths skills by counting how many trees or fence posts you pass, or rungs on the monkey bars they climb. Have older kids count in fives, or skip counting, or even counting backwards!

Out and about

Reading signs when you are out and about, on the bus or on the way to school, is another way of sprinkling a little literacy into your day without kids even realising!

  1. See if they can spot sight words on billboards, or pick out letters and numbers from signposts.
  2. Older children can play ‘road name mashup’, where you take the first syllable of one road name and the second syllable of the next, and blend them together to make new funny names!

Get baking!

Baking together is a great way to boost those literacy skills (and get a delicious batch of biccies at the same time!)

For younger children – reword the recipe together first in basic language so they can follow it. If it helps, have them draw pictures of the steps.

Older children can read the recipe, measure and count out quantities.

Use plenty of words along the way, such as gooey, sticky, delicious and tasty… and don’t worry about the mess!

Don’t forget the chores

The weekly chore board is a great support for everyday literacy. The repetition of seeing the words coupled with completing the action every week will have those new words learnt in no time! For younger kids, includes an image on the chart next to the words so they start to link the word to the action.

Other fun games you can create

License Plate Bingo

Going on a long journey? This is a great game for a road trip as it can be played repeatedly, and with several players.

You need:

  • Bingo cards with letters on them (rather than numbers)
  • Pencils

The game is simple. Kids look for the letters on their bingo card on license plates, and cross them off when they spot one. First one to get a full row is the winner!

Pool Noodle Alphabet Knock Down

You need:

  • A pool noodle
  • Marker pen
  • A soft ball

Cut a pool noodle into sections of around 15–20cm.

Stand the pieces up and write an alphabet letter on the front of each piece of noodle.

Spread them out around the room.

Shout out a letter and kids have to ‘bowl’ over the letter using a soft ball.

Take it one step further with older kids, where they take the knocked-down letters and make up simple words from them.

Splat on Sight

This game is super-messy, but a lot of fun and kids love it!

You need:

  • Paint
  • A large tray (to hold the paint)
  • A fly swatter (or two, if you have two kids competing)
  • A large piece of paper

Write a selection of sight words on the large piece of paper.

Shout out a word and kids race to splat the word with a paint-covered fly swatter!

Tip: Play outside and wearing messy clothes, the paint gets everywhere!

For a less messy version, use ink and stamps rather than paint and fly swatters.

Find and Rhyme Treasure Hunt

This simple game teaches rhyming words in a fun way – the kids will never know they are learning and it’s an easy way to keep them occupied and engaged.

You need:

  • Paper plates (or can use squares of card)
  • Marker pen
  • 4 hula hoops

Choose four sets of rhyming words, such as: cat, hat, bat; fun, run, sun; take, cake, rake; and head, led, bed.

Lay one hula hoop in each corner of the room.

Write one word on each plate. Then place one plate from each rhyming group into the centre of a hula hoop and hide the rest of the words!

Kids hunt around to find the missing words and when they find them, they put them in the correct hula hoop.

For more early literacy ideas, simply head down to your local library or visit first5forever.org.au.