38 Phonics Games and Activities for Preschool and Kindergarten

While I firmly believe there is nothing wrong with flash cards or simple write-what-you-hear activities (and in fact some kids learn fastest and best with them -- my eldest being one of them), there are MANY ways to squeeze more phonics into your day by making it fun. 

On this page, I'm sharing a master list of phonics activities you can play to get your kid excited about letters and learning to read! Just this morning I was playing "Letter Sound Scavenger Hunt" with my nearly 4 year old. I can't even describe to you her outbursts of pure glee whenever she picked up an object, said its name, and realized it had the letter sound she was looking for! Especially if she discovered it was tucked away in the middle of the word. Sheer joy.

Here is a collection of a whopping 38 play-based phonics activities (plus a ton of bonus spin-off ideas) to suit all sorts of kids and their many interests.

On this page, you'll find







Game-Based activities,

as well as a few ideas for setting up your home for Casual, Child-Led Learning through letter and word encounters!

Pick one or two ideas and get started!

Kinesthetic Phonics: You Got to Move It!

1. Letter Sound Scavenger Hunt
I don't know about you, but I have a hoarder. My 4yo loves to collect anything and everything. So the other day we decided to put a phoneme-twist on her usual "put everything in the basket" scavenge through the house. We got our basket and only collected things that began with the letter-sound we were focusing on (in our case, S). This is a great activity for building phonemic awareness (the awareness about the letter sounds that make up words). We held up each item and I prompted: "Does this have the SSSS sound in it? Doll... Dooollll ...? No. Okay, what about this one: Sticker ...  Ssstiiiickkkeerrr ...? YES! She was utterly delighted whenever we discovered an item that had a SSS sound and we could pop it in our basket. By the end of our scavenge we had a hefty haul, which you've already seen in the picture to the right!

Middle and End of Word Sounds: Beyond just beginning letter sounds, you can have your kiddo listen for the target sound in the middle or end of the word. I wasn't initially going to do this on our hunt, because I didn't want to make it too difficult, but since my little did it automatically after grabbing a dress ("dresssss"), I rolled with it!

Extension for Sound-Letter Matching: My 4yo is starting to match phonemes to letter shapes. So, after we collected our haul, we spread it out on the floor and picked up each item in turn, making a list of what we'd found, and underlining the S in each word. And of course I totally forgot to take photos of our list. But because my little is 4 and hasn't mastered her pencil yet, I wrote the list so as not to frustrate her. So it wouldn't have been a cute photo anyway ;o)

Now I will say that when I was doing this activity it was all a bit spur of the moment, and thinking of places where we could look for plentiful SSS sounds for her to collect kept me on my toes.After the fact, I found this fabulous list of letter-of-the-alphabet toys and objects you can use in these types of games over at This Reading Mama. I'll definitely be looking into those lists before we play next!

More like this: Phonics Sorting Baskets - The Imagination Tree

2. Word Arm Slide
This is the classic multi-sensory Orton-Gillingham approach to learning phonics, and is a particularly useful activity if your kids need a little extra sensory help when learning to blend each letter sound together to form a word. Begin by having your child hold a card with the CVC word they are trying to blend in their LEFT hand, and with their RIGHT hand tap once on their shoulder, then elbow, then wrist as they sound out each letter (x3). Next, have them slide their finger down from their shoulder to their wrist while trying to elongate or sliiiide each sound, where possible (x3). It's a little easier when you see this demonstrated, but darn it, I'm having trouble finding a great video right now, and as it's midnight I can't record my own. Over at Pride Reading Program they have some more tips and visuals, though I must add the caveat that they have instructions to use whichever hand you wish to do this, and from what I've read elsewhere, using your left hand to tap and slide can unfortunately reinforce children to think of words backwards. So do read up on that before proceeding!

3. Letter Say, Letter Do!
"The S says SSSS! What does it do??"
Make up your own movements to pair with each letter sound as you hold up flashcards of each letter. You could pick a theme (animals, superheroes, fairytales, vehicles, etc), try to make each action match the letter sound (for example, moving slowly while saying: "The T says TTTT, like a TTTTurtle."), or come up with something completely unique! Stefanie Hohl has a series of books designed to teach children their ABCs and to read simple words using this approach.

4. Reading Races!
This is such a simple game and one of our all-time favorite go-tos because my kids love running. Bonus? The game is SO simple to set up. All you need is a whiteboard or chalkboard or a set of flashcards, and a long hall or a bit of space. You'll sit at one end and the kid at the other. Write or hold up a letter or word and the kids will race toward you and yell it out when they get there. (Protip: they find this even more fun if they catch you panicking to write the word on time because they were so fast). We do this for my 3yo and 6yo at the same time. She gets individual letters on the top half, he gets a word on the bottom half. They LOVE it.
This Reading Mama spices this game up by turning it into a Make-A-Puzzle Race!

5. Say It, Stack It, Crash It

This one is a seriously fun upgrade of the old flash-card standby. 
Grab some old blocks, some boxes, or like Megan over at Coffee, Cups, and Crayons, a dozen plastic cups, and write the letters or words you're practicing on them. We repurposed egg cartons to make our own lightweight stackables. 

Hold up one at a time and have your kiddo say the letter-sound or word. When they get it right, let them stack the item on the edge of a counter or table or at the end of the hall. Each letter/word correct means one more item on the stack. Once the stack is complete in all its teetery-tottery glory, let your kiddo grab a lightweight ball and crash it all down!

For another twist on this, check out: Alphabet Bowling - Toddler Approved

6. Train Word Crash
While we're crashing things, you could try using blocks or letter dice to build towers for your kiddo to crash into after they say the word, like Jessica and her Little Engineer did over at Play Trains!

7. Alphabet Ball Game
Jamie at Hands On As We Grow lists a whole bunch of ways you can turn a simple game of toss the ball into so much more. The most simple? Call out a letter name as you toss the ball and have your kid respond with a word as you toss back. Sound out CVC words with a phoneme each toss. Endless ideas and best of all no prep required!

8. Letter Mat Twister
Shout out the letter sounds and get your kiddos to twist themselves into wacky positions on a foam letter mat while they practice their phonics skills! When they progress to being able to spell simple CVC words, shout out a word and see if they can stretch their limbs to spell it all on their own!
               "Left hand /e/! Right foot /v/!"
Don't have a foam letter mat? Write some on paper or cut up boxes and tape them to a twister game or the floor itself. Just be careful not to slip!

9. Alphabet Hopscotch
Using an alphabet mat indoors or a chalk-drawn board outside, have your child hop to the letters, and say each sound as they hop on it!

10. Rainbow Hop Letter Sounds
While you're hopping, check out this game from Fun Learning for Kids to get your littles practicing their counting AND their phonics at the same time.

11. Treasure Hunt
For kiddos who are starting to decode CVC words and know a few basic sight words, you can use short clues to do a treasure hunt all over the house.
Here are some ideas to get started: In the tub // Look in the bed // In my cup // On Dad's hat // On top of the pan  // etc etc.

12. Phonics Fly Swatter
We actually don't own any fly swatters, so I've yet to try this, but I might introduce it with our own fly swatter -- a hand towel! I've seen this activity so many places so it's sure to be a hit. Check out how Danielle at Fun Learning for Kids does it.

Want more Kinesthetic Phonics Activities? 
Check out:  30 Kinesthetic Activities at This Reading Mama || Early Literacy with Action - Playdough to Plato || My Three Readers - Letter Sounds with Movement ||

Get Tactile with Letters

13. Raised Cards for Finger Tracing
Form letters on cardstock or cardboard for your child to trace over with their finger as they make the letter sound. While they can trace a 2D letter, these are all the better if you can make them 3D using any of a number of materials:  Yarn, Pipe Cleaners, Glue, WikkiStix/Bendaroos (Beeswax dipped candle wicks). These will take a bit of prep on your part, however, so you'll want to experiment with different materials to see how your child responds before making a whole alphabet.

14. Letters on  ... Rocks ... Legos ... Blocks ... Scrabble Tiles
Is your kiddo ready to spell but not to write? If your kids are like mine, they'll hit a phase where their brains are up to spelling, but their fingers aren't up to writing ... at least not without a lot of frustration. So if your kid is showing interest in reading early, you'll likely want to get yourself a set of letters so they can start spelling out words even if they can't master their pencil grip.

While there are a lot of great products out there, there are a lot of DIY options that are absolutely fantastic (and you might have them in your house already!). Scrabble tiles, Bananagrams tiles, or letter blocks are great. Don't have those?  Write on smooth rocks, legos, duplos, wooden blocks, squares of cardboard that was going to go to the recycling, cut up yogurt lids, squares of felt (bonus for these is they have slightly velcro properties), bottle caps, shells, etc etc!

Bonus idea: check out Construction Time Scoop and Spell || Squeeze Pouch Letter Twist Boards

15. Write In  .... Sand!  .... Salt! .... Slime! .... Dough!
A really gritty-gooey approach to writing can be perfect for little hands that are still too frustrated with their fine-motor skills to do much writing with a pencil. If that's the case, or if you just want to mix things up a little, have them write in slime, sand, salt, sugar, shaving cream, play dough, or even dirt using their finger. You can spread it out on a tray or pan, or if you want less mess, put some in a sealed ziploc bag with all the air removed (just keep in mind with this last option that if they scratch it with their fingernail straight away before you double-bag it ... well you might have an issue like we did!!).

The key here is to go for a thin layer of whatever substance you use, so that it can be easily scraped through to reveal the surface underneath.

16. Sandpaper Letters
Okay, big confession here, as I know this is a really really popular one. BUT. I personally cannot stand the feel of sandpaper on my hands. As in, heebie-jeebies, spine-crawling, can't stand it. So we haven't ever done these ourselves. That said, I know that SO many people love them so if you don't have a sandpaper-aversion like me, give them a go. There are beautiful examples of inexpensive and DIY sandpaper letters over at Living Montessori Now.

17. Playdough Letters
If you're salt dough fiends, you can roll playdough into logs or have kids stick it in clumps to trace out letter shapes on phonics mats. To be perfectly honest, my kids don't have the patience for this, so they prefer to use our alphabet cookie cutters to cut out letters and spell out words.

18. Wash the Letters

If you've got some foam or otherwise waterproof letters, try setting up a washing station like the one over at Little Bins, Little Hands.

19. Push-Button Phonics for CVC Word Sound-Out
I haven't tried this one out yet, but I'm excited to for my little as I think she'll love it! We're going to do it on a yogurt top with whiteboard markers for maximum reusabilitiy and minimum waste.
The basic idea is this: Write a CVC word. Beneath it, creat "buttons" that your child can push as they say each letter sound in turn. I think we are going to try simple "buttons" made of salt dough first, but over at Planning Playtime I saw some really cute ones made with folded paper accordion-springs for some added *boing*

20. Build Your Letters
Got a builder? Take things slow and practice your letter sounds while constructing letters. Amy at Wildflower Ramblings has a fabulous printable Alphabet Lego building template that kids can copy. Once they are learning to spell words, take a page from This Reading Mama's book, and write letters on a set of legos so they can build their words!

21. ABC Sensory Bins
Burying letters in fun-to-feel materials so that little ones can dig through them with their hands, sand shovels, or toy diggers can be a lot of fun. Have your child say each letter sound as they pull it out!
The materials you can use for these sensory bins are endless, and if you've got a tub with a lid you can keep it for many many reuses. Bury letters in lentils, dyed macaroni, colored rice, sand, aquarium gravel, coffee beans, bark, cotton fluff, shredded paper, bubbles, smooth pebbles, or scraps of cloth. The letters themselves could be magnets, foam letters, written on cardboard, cut out of felt, painted on rocks, penned on the undersides of shells or bottle caps, stuck on cars with stickers, etc, etc,

For some beautiful Sensory Bin ideas, visit Fantastic Fun Learning ||  1 plus 1 plus 1 equals 1 ||

Need more Tactile, Multi-Sensory Phonics Ideas?
Check out the ideas at: Make, Take, Teach

Musical & Auditory Activities

22. Phonics Songs 

Need something to sing? Here is my master list to all my favorite Phonics Alphabet and Letter Sound Songs for Preschool and Kindergarten as a YouTube Playlist

23. Phonics Percussion

Grab a drum, a maraca, or some pots and pans and tap them each time you say a letter sound while reading out a word. When you're practicing blending, try writing each letter of the word on a xylophone or keyboard key with whiteboard markers. Tap out and say each letter sound. Then run the stick along them as you say the word to illustrate how each individual letter sound strings together to make a word.

24. Musical Letters

Over at Reading Confetti they do a fun, cooperative twist on Musical Chairs!

25. Can You Say ...

This is a super simple Phonemic Awareness game that you can play anytime, anywhere, with no prep. My kids love the challenge, and whenever we play it at the playground, other kids always want to join in too! You can play at varying levels of complexity but the basic idea is to get your kiddos to manipulate the letter-sounds in words. The easiest is to get them to remove a sound at the end of the word or beginning of the word. More challenging is asking them to remove a sound from the middle of a word, or to swap out a sound for a new one. For example:

          "Can you say CAT without the TTTT sound?"               (Answer: "CA!")
          "Can you say CAT without the CCCC sound?"              (Answer: "AT!")
          "Can you say STRAIN without the RRRR sound?"       (Answer: "STAIN!")
          "In the word CAT, can switch the CCC to a HHH?"      (Answer: "HAT!")

26. Say it Fast, Say it Slow

This is a simple activity to help kids practice blending letter-sounds to make words. You can play this in a solely auditory way, or with a printed word in front of you. 

        "Can you say this fast?  CCCCCCCCAAAAAATTTTT?"   (Answer: "CAT!")
        "Can you say this slow?  DOG?"                                           (Answer: "DDDOOOGGG!")

Game Time!

27. Word Family Freight Yard
In a guest post at Learn, Play, Imagine, Jessica shares a brilliant idea for loading up wooden trains with letter dice and sliding them back-and-forth for some really creative CVC and word family word play. It functions a lot like a standard word-building flip-book or word family slider, but with an oh-so-fun train twist. Although my oldest is too old for CVC, I'm definitely going to see if I can adapt this one for him because he loves loves loves trains. You really have to see this one to understand it, so do click over and have a look!

28. Letter Sound Blackout
In this blackout BINGO-type game, kids are shown a letter and have to find a picture that starts with that letter on their card. The game goes on until someone has covered their whole card!


Or you can play the other way around, with a gird of letters and a picture held op:


29. Word Searches  / Letter Searches
There are buckets of these available online, or you can build your own. Have your child circle the words they can find or highlight each letter sound you call out with a different color. When they're older, they'll get even more out of them if they make word searches for one another.

30. Squirt the Letter
For some summer fun, stick up a bunch of letters on a wall or fence, call out a letter sound, and have your kiddo squirt the letter that makes that sound! Sarah at Stay at Home Educator plays a version of this with sidewalk chalk on the driveway. Danielle at Fun Learning for Kids uses window crayons (you could also tape letters to the interior) and gets her kids to squirt clean the windows while doing phonics. Brilliant! Malia at Playdough to Plato does a firefighter ABC version of the game, and Hands On As We Grow does it on a chalkboard. There are so many possibilities! You could write letters on frisbees or water bottles that they try to topple over, on balls in a kiddie pool. You could even do double duty by putting popsicle sticks with letters on them in the garden so your little ones can help you water-by-letter!
So. Many Options.

31. Initial Sound Guess Who
Karen at PreKinders has a great no-prep Phonemic Awareness game that is a twist on the traditional I Spy game. "I'm thinking of someone in this room (or an object on this table) whose name starts with the same letter as the words ... lilac .... lorakeet  .... lollipop." For more advanced play, you could do this with rhymes, middle phonemes, or ending phonemes.

32. Sound it Out Parking Lot
If your kiddo loves vehicles, Malia has a guest post over at I Can Teach My Child with a super simple way to incorporate a spin-off of Elkonin Box phonics into car-play time. Draw a "parking lot" on a sheet of cardboard or a portable whiteboard.

For Phonemic Awareness: Have your kiddo park a car in a parking slot for each distinct letter sound they hear as you say a word.

For Letter Sounds Learning: Write letters in each parking slot and ask your kiddo to "park the car on the letter that makes the nnnn sound."

For CVC Words: If your child is a bit older, you can try this in reverse with CVC words. Draw three parking slots and write a CVC word, then cover each letter with a car. Have your kiddo back each car up in turn to read the word you've written beneath. An alternative to this would be to place alphabet stickers on each car and use them to spell words!

33. Car Ramp Race to a Letter
Need another car activitiy? Janine at True Aim came up with a fun game using a cookie-tray car ramp and a sheet of paper with the alphabet written on it. The cars race down the ramp, and wherever they stop, the kids shout out the letter.

34. Animal Matching Breakfast
Cindy at The Play Based Mom made up a really cute game called Animal Breakfast, where she sets up toy animals with play foods and has her kiddo match the initial sound of the animal to the initial sound of the food (e.g. Mouse / Melon)

35. Real Word or Silly Word?
Jenae over at I Can Teach My Child has a really fun game for kids learning how to read CVC words. Write out, (or let kids spell out with letter tiles) a CVC combo. Then have your child sound it out and determine if it's a real word, or a silly one!

36. Fishing for Letters
Depending on the sort of letters you have handy, you could play this a variety of ways. Got ping-pong balls you can write on or foam bath letters? Use bathtime as letter-fishing time! Use a net or scoop-spoon for added fun. Amy on the Kids Activities Blog does a spin-off of this called Alphabet Soup!

A drier alternative would be to attach paperclips to your flashcards and use a magnetic fishing reel to reel in the letters!

37. Phonics Apps

My kids actually took a long time to care about apps and videos. But now? They're hooked. And if they're going to do a bit of screen time while I'm making dinner, I'd much rather it was an educational video or app. So! Here are my phonics apps recommendations.

I know that a ton of folks recommend Reading Eggs, but my kids found it too repetitive. Give it a trial run and see how you go, but for our household, Teach Your Monster to Read has been a much bigger hit. It's not without its issues: whereas Reading Eggs moved too slowly to keep my kiddos' interest, Teach Your Monster to Read moves kids through the different letter-sound relationships quite quickly. There are also a couple words that seemed to have slipped into the wrong lesson (i.e. why is the word LOOK in a unit on the other pronounciation of the "OO" grapheme??? But I digress.). Overall, it's a solid program. And my kids love it. It's also free right now, so definitely grab it! Other faves in our house include Khan Academy Kids, and Duck Duck Moose Reading.

Looking for More Phonics Games?
Check Out the Ideas at:    PreKinders  ||

Quiet Phonics Time

38. Seek-And-Find Tube
Mama Miss has a sweet and simple idea using colored rice and alphabet beads placed in a clear plastic tube (a water bottle would work too). Give the tube a gentle shake or a twist and see which letters surface. At the phonemic awareness stage before they learn their letters, follow lead of Anna at The Imagination Tree and use small objects (dinosaurs, rocks, beads in the shapes of various objects, etc) instead of letters or words. Have kids whisper out the first phoneme of each object the spot. For example "Dddddd-Dinosaur starts with Dddd."

39. Phonics Coloring
There are a lot of options out there for coloring-in phonics printables (or as we like to call them at our printer-free house ... tablet-ables!).  Check out The Measured Mom for free Beginning Sound Coloring Pages, and Kids Activities for Color-By-Letter to get your started.

Social: Bonding with Writing  

Beyond cuddling up with a kid to read a book (which is of course the most important thing you can do to help foster a love of books and a desire to read in your kids) here are some other things you can do to show them the way the written word can bring people together:

40. Secret Message
In the same spot every day, whether it be the corner of your dry erase board, or a tiny card tucked by their bowl at breakfast, deliver a secret letter or word of the day.
Over on a Guest Post at I Can Teach My Child, Carla had a brilliant tip for writing the messages invisibly with a white crayon, which kids reveal by coloring over with a marker. Over at Busy Toddler, they use watercolors too <3

41. Post Office
This is a household favorite: Play Post Office! My kids love scribbling out letters to me, and I ask them to sound it out to me when I receive it from the "postal-worker!"

42. Shopping List
Our Cafe Menu was divided
by color that day!

This one comes from my grandmother! She helped her children practice their letter-sound relationships by assigning them the job of "shopping list writer." She'd dictate her shopping list, and they'd write it out for her. I love this activity because it's a perfect blend of fun, learning, and actually helping out around the house. An all-around win! 

** We sometimes do a variation on this with fake food. My youngest particularly loves writing out menus for her "Cafe"

Casual Encounters &
Invitations to Learn

Looking for something a little more child-led? Here are some ideas for setting up your space for more of an unschooling, child-initiated learning experience.

For starters, you could think about setting out some invitation to play activity baskets from any of the activities and games listed above that you think might interest your kiddos. When your child gets curious, let them explore, and be there to provide help! This is exactly what I did with my 6yo today, when setting up the train activity. I know he loves trains, so I asked if he wanted to play a game with them. He said "No MOM" I shrugged and said fine, stuck the letter stickers on myself, built a bit of track for them in the corner and left them be. Five minutes later he was over in the corner moving the trains all around, sounding out CVC words.

Casual, self-initiated encounter. Buy-in to learning. Score!
However, these so-called "casual encounters" do take an awful lot of planning and readiness to shift gears and suddenly be present to assist on the adult's part, so I know this strategy isn't for everyone.

How can you set up your home to allow for more of these emergent, organic learning experiences?

Pull out all the alphabet toys. Magnets on the fridge. Alphabet cookie cutters. Letter blocks. Foam alphabet letters in the bath. Alphabet Puzzles. Alphabet Soup. Alphabet Cereal. I've even heard of people labelling things or making "road signs" around the house! Provide LOTS of books about topics they are interested in. Read books books and more books aloud to them while following along with your finger. Set up play baskets with the materials for any of the activities above, especially if you can link it to their current interest, and your kids might just get curious.

Decodable Books
When your child has developed their phonemic awareness, knows many of their letter-sound relationships, and is practicing blending letters together into words, you're likely ready to incorporate some decodable passages and short decodable books into your day.

I've posted a few Decodable Books here. And you can find more on my list of free and affordable decodables. Hope you enjoy! 


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