Most children learn best when they are doing something for a real purpose and because they want to, so playing fun games is an easy way to support their learning. Here are some great suggestions for activities and games you can do at home or while travelling over the school holidays.
Speaking and listening
- Play "I spy". (Use letter sounds rather than names.) Change it to “I hear with my little ear.”
- Share fiction books together and develop your child's ability to predict, by pausing during the story to ask what they think happens next. Make a book, puppet or a board game based on the story. For example, a game based on the "Snakes and ladders" game using characters from your story, perhaps dinosaurs... If you land on his head, you move on between one and ten spaces or if you land on his tail you move back between one and ten spaces.
- Share reference books together about your child's favourite sport or interest. Look at the maps, information on posters, menus in a restaurant etc and talk about them. Read the information to your child and point to it as you read. They will perhaps point out letters they recognise.
- Look at two objects and ask your child to describe what is different about the objects and what is similar. This is hard to do so at first, so ask them to state just one difference and one similarity. As they get the idea, challenge their thinking by asking them to list two, then three differences etc.
- Say a rhyming string e.g. mat, cat, hat, bat, sat. Or ... pin, bin, win, fin. Make a rhyming string word wheel with two cardboard circles. Make one circle larger and place the smaller one on top of the larger one. Link them together in the centre with a paper fastener. Write " at " on the inner circle and the initial letters on the outer circle e.g. m, c, s, b. As your child turns the circle ask them to segment and blend each word. Accept ‘nonsense’ words, as long as your child is blending the sounds accurately.
- Play "Kim's game" to help develop memory skills. Place five objects on a tray, cover them up and your child must name all the objects. Take one object away and ask your child which object is missing. Increase the number of objects as they become more proficient.
- Play "I went to market” Say “I went to market and I bought a toy car.” The next person plays and says "I went to market and I bought a toy car and an ice cream.” To make it harder, ask everyone to think of something to buy which begins with the initial letter of their name. Mix it up by changing it to “I went on holiday and in my suitcase I packed…”
- A good game for the car; “Where in the World?” You decide to hide something e.g. a tennis ball, anywhere in the world. You can only answer yes or no questions and your audience have to guess where you have hidden the ball. This leads to great geographical discussions; “What is our country called?” “Where is the Eiffel tower?” “Is it in a country we have visited?” and so on.
- Give your child a highlighter pen or felt pen and ask them to highlight or circle a certain letter in a newspaper or magazine. Ask them to cut out the larger letters from headlines in the newspaper or magazines and make words by sticking them together, for example can they find letters to make their name?
- Segment short words for them by sounding the letters and ask them to blend the sounds back together to make the word e.g. c-a-t blended together is "cat”. Make an action game out of it; “Can you j-u-m-p?” They have to respond by jumping.
- Use cards with letters on to make their name or some words. Help them to arrange the letters in alphabetical order, place them in the shape of a rainbow so they are in one curved line. Ask them to point to the letter which comes after d or before g etc.
- Look at carrier bags and ask the children to name the store. Can they see any letters they recognise?
- Write, draw and colour using pencil crayons, wax crayons, felt pens and chalks. Make rainbow letters ... You write a large letter and ask your child to go over the letter using lots of different colours. Try this on paper, blackboards, outside on the patio etc.
- Find some large pieces of paper such as the back of some wallpaper or just use a small piece of paper. Ask your child to draw as they listen to some music. Let them draw to a quiet slow piece and then a faster louder piece and compare the patterns they make. You can do this with many people, all using different colours.
- Make patterns or letters or trace a path using your fingers. For example, writing and drawing in sand on a beach or sand in a tray, sand paper, a tray of water, writing on the rough surface of a carpet, the smooth surface of wood or soft fabrics.
- Develop and strengthen the hand muscles by using Lego, making jigsaws and playing with dough. Make salt dough with your child by mixing flour with half the quantity of salt e.g. two cups of flour to one cup of salt. Mix with a drop of cooking oil to stop the dough cracking and stir in some water. If it is too wet, add more flour. If it is too dry add more water. Add food colouring or glitter. Roll the dough and form letters or make animals, pictures etc. The dough will keep in a plastic box or a plastic bag or you can bake it on a low temperature until it is dried out. You could make a play shop or play cafe, by making pretend cakes, sausage rolls etc. and let your child paint the items to make them look e.g. red jam in some jam tarts.
- Give them an empty washing up liquid bottle filled with water to "write" by squirting the water. Give them large paint brushes and a tub of water to use outside.
- Look for numbers in the environment such as car number plates, house numbers, numbers on lampposts etc.
- Use a pack of playing cards (if you don’t have these, make some number cards) and play a memory game by placing five pairs of cards face down and turning two over. You keep the cards if you turn a pair and have another go.
- Play "doubles" by showing double one (one finger on one hand and one finger on another) place in them side by side and say, "double one is two". Then show double two, double three etc. Make it into a game- you hold up one finger, they hold up 1 finger, you both say “Double 1 is two.”
- Ask your child to show you three fingers, seven fingers etc. Can they show you seven in different ways e.g. two on one hand and five on another, three on one hand and four on another? Keep it fun, this is a hard concept!
- Show your child a number on a card and ask them to show you that number with their fingers. Ask them to show you one more than three, one more than four etc. Then ask them to show you one less than five, one less than nine etc.
- Make a number sentence e.g. 5 + 3 = 8 and then make up a "story" about this number sentence. For example, "I had five marbles and my friend gave me another three marbles, so I now have eight marbles altogether.” Once they are familiar with the format phrase your sentence as a question “… so how many marbles do I have altogether now?”
- In the car or waiting at the airport play what comes next? They say a number (they will try and trick you with big numbers) and you say the number that comes next.
- Look for two dimensional flat shapes such as circles, squares etc. in tile patterns, pictures, out shopping etc.
- Describe three dimensional solid shapes using mathematical language ... Will it roll or slide? Can you touch the straight sides, the corners, the curved sides? Building blocks are good but everyday packaging such as a Smarties box (hexagonal prism) or a Toblerone (triangular prism) a Pringles box (cylinder) an Oxo cube or a cereal box (cuboid). Play “Match the shape” with different sized boxes so that they begin to understand you are looking at the shape of the box not the size.
- Buy something in a real shop, using real coins. Then when you get home, use empty boxes to make a play shop. Take turns to be the shop keeper and the customer.
- Sort out a pile of coins, placing all the one penny coins together, all the two penny coins etc. Make a line of one hundred pennies. Use positional language to compare a row of ten one penny coins with a row of ten two penny coins... Which row is longer, which is shorter?
- Russian wooden stacking dolls lined up together are wonderful to help understand size...which is the tallest / shortest, how many dolls are shorter than this one? How many are taller than this one? etc.
- Tell the story of Goldilocks and the three bears... All the mathematical size vocabulary is there. The bowls... wide, widest, narrow. The spoons ... long, short, longest. The chairs ....tall, short, medium sized, middle sized. Get various sized teddies out and bowls, spoons etc. from the kitchen cupboards and act out the story.
A wonderful website to try is www.letters-and-sounds.com .
You will see lots of ideas for games to play for all the phases of the children's phonic development. Also on the same website, ‘IXL Maths Practice’ has lots of ideas too.
Don’t forget to go with your child’s interests too; you may have a budding horticulturalist or archaeologist on your hands. Most of all have fun!
Suzanne Kemp (Head of Early Years)