Phonics for Active Kids

Phonics for Active Kids

Pointer Reading

When I was teaching elementary school I had a mantra: The person doing the work is the one doing the learning.

This idea came from Harry & Rosemary T. Wong’s classic book for new teachers,  The First Days of School.

I can’t tell you how many hours I wasted coloring, cutting, gluing and laminating really cute learning centers only to have children complete the activities in 5 minutes flat. Who was really doing the learning? Not the children.

Fast-forward several years. I’m now a busy mom of two active boys. I often have to remind myself to let go of my perfectionist tendencies and let them do the work.

When I wanted to help my eldest with reading at home, I did a Google search for ideas. I discovered pages and pages of adorable activities on Pinterest. When I visited the pages and took a closer look, I realized just how much parental preparation was involved.

I know better now. These great ideas involve a lot of work by parents with very little learning as a result. So, I have compiled a list of my top phonics activities for busy parents and active kids. The beauty of these activities is that you can reuse them for all kinds of learning from spelling practice and vocabulary development to memorizing math facts…the applications are endless.

Keep in mind the importance of novelty for active children as well. When they start getting bored, switch it up and try something new.

1.  Word Hunt    

Hiding Word

It’s a Monday after school. As soon as I unlock the front door my son dashes into the living room to find his phonics words. Why is he so eager to do phonics?

He’s excited because his task is to find the words of the week I have hidden around the living room. It’s like a game of hide-and-seek except he finds eight words instead of a person.

These eight words usually follow a phonics pattern I introduce every week or two (depending on how organized I am). Last week we worked on words in the -an word family (can, Dan, fan, Jan, man, pan, ran, tan….).

As my son seeks the hidden words I tell him if he is freezing, cold, warm, hot, hotter, or red hot chili pepper hot…Ay! Yay! Yay! He loves it.

When he finds a word, he reads it to me. Once he has located all of the words we stick them onto a large piece of construction paper and hang it on the refrigerator.

Preparation: 5 minutes                                                                                                                       

First, fold a piece of paper in half vertically. Then fold it in half horizontally two times so you have eight rectangles. Write 8 words on the paper and quickly cut them up. Hide them around a room in the house.

This is your chance to use all the scrap paper you save to be more environmentally-friendly only to have your children pull out a brand new sheet of paper for every project.

How This Activity Fits Into a Phonics Scheme?

 How does this activity fit into a phonics scheme for young children? A Word Hunt is good to do once a child knows his/her letter sounds. For more on introducing letters and sounds see this blog post:  Teaching Letters and Sounds To Young Children

My son has just started decoding (reading) short vowel words so I am focusing on word families first. By learning just one pattern your child can learn many words at the same time. I have included a chart of common word families at the bottom of this post.

If your child’s teacher assigns words each week, just hide these around the house.

2.  Finger Spell the words of the week.

Only use this for words that can be decoded (read) using sounds. This is a great activity for beginning readers and kinesthetic learners.

I start with c.v.c. words (consonant vowel consonant – e.g. cat). First, I say “cat”, then I make each sound and hold up one finger per sound (like I am counting to three).

Once I have all three fingers up and I have made each sound c-a-t, I then bring my fingers back together as I say the entire word again.

There are many variations of this. You can tap each finger with your other hand as you make the sounds or tap them on the table. Here is a good video of finger spelling in practice.

3.  Read a word, shoot a basket.

This is pretty self-explanatory. For an easy indoor activity (when it is wet or cold outside) you can use a crumpled up piece of paper and try to shoot it into a wastebasket.

Have your child read the word and then shoot a basket. You can make each basket worth 10 points. Keep score. Encourage your child to beat his/her score the next time you play. You can even take a step backward each time your child scores to make the activity more challenging. Play outside if you have a basketball net or just use a large trashcan and a real ball.

4.  Read a word, score a goal

 This is the same idea with a soccer ball and a goal. Do it at a park or at home and make your own goal with cones or even backpacks strategically placed on the lawn. You can set this up indoors and use a soft ball, too. If you are at a restaurant have your child read a word. If he reads it correctly he gets to flick a crumpled up napkin ball or candy wrapper ball through your finger goalposts.

5.  Write the words on a whiteboard

Once you kids are writing, have them write on different surfaces. Let them use dry erase pens to write on a whiteboard, or use sticks to write words in the sand. Go outside with the sidewalk chalk or even make the letters against a wall with a flashlight (torch) in a dark room. Have your child “write” a word on your back with his/her finger and you try to guess what it is.

6.  Use a pointer to “teach” the words to other family members.

 Have your child use a pointer to “point” at each word as he reads it to an audience (a play sword works well if you don’t have a pointer). My son uses his pointer to read the words hanging on the refrigerator after breakfast. These are the same words from the word hunt activity above so I don’t have to do any extra preparation.

7.  Read a Phonics Book to a family member or pet.

 I have printed up a few word family and cvc books from The Measured Mom website and my son reads these to me before bed. Or, we read his book from school.

If my son complains about reading I tell him I will read the book to him. When I read his book I proceed to get the words all muddled up. This makes him laugh and he usually ends up supplying the correct words after I read the wrong ones. This makes the reading experience more fun for him. I exaggerate the wrong words and come up with ever more ridiculous words that rhyme with the originals.

Another strategy to use for reluctant readers is to alternate reading the pages with them so they don’t feel like they have to read the entire book.

8.  Matching

 If you have the items at home, have your child find them and match them with the words on the kitchen table. You can read “bag” and then have your child find one somewhere in the house to put with the word. (Other examples include: ham: a piece of ham, yam: pull out your yam so your child can see what it looks like, etc.).

This is a great activity for vocabulary development and can be especially good for English Language Learners. We used to call this using realia (real objects for vocabulary development).

9. Phonics Hopscotch

 Use your sidewalk chalk to write a word in a column on the sidewalk. Put a large square around each letter with the entire word together at the end. Have you child hop on one foot making each letter sound when they land on it. When they reach the end, they can hop with both feet on the whole word as they read it. If you have children of different ages you can make a more complex gameboard with longer words for older children.

10. Ping-Pong Phonics

Use a sharpie to write some letters or words on ping-pong balls.

Float them in a water table (or bathtub). Children can then fish for words by pulling them out and reading them or pulling out some letters and trying to make words with them. This can be a fun way to liven up bathtime. Once they make a word have them try to toss the ping-pong balls in a floating bowl.

11.  Magnetic Letters

Magnetic Letters

Put some magnetic letters up on your refrigerator. Start by encouraging your child to make his/her name. You can then have them put together the words of the week with the magnets.

Sometimes, I leave a little message for my son on the refrigerator. This is a good way to get him wanting to read.

Beware if you have older children! You might start to find words like “poo” and “fart” on the refrigerator as well.

Ideas:  Let me know if any of these ideas worked for you or if you have any great ideas to add to this list.

*Here are some words families you may want to introduce to your children. Depending on how quickly they pick up reading you may only use some of these…

– am – it – et – ot -ut
– at – in – ed – og – un
– an – ig -em – ock – ub
– ag – ip – el – ud
– ad – ing – ep – uck
– ack – ick – eg – ump
– amp – ell – unk
– est











Author: beckygrantstr

Writer. Teacher. Coffee-loving, car singing American mother of boys living in the U.K. Learning right along with my children at

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