Get Ready To Read By Playing

By Laura Grace Weldon


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To learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable that is spelled out is a spark.  – Victor Hugo


Reading readiness doesn’t come from educational toys or programs. It rises from exactly what kids already like to do: moving their bodies, enjoying words, and free play. Why?


Movement helps children develop the necessary brain-body maturation that must be in place before they can make sense of something as abstract as symbols that decode into words. Find out what kinds of movements are essential here.


Reading aloud every day is important. But even more vital is the moment-to-moment back and forth of regular conversation, including all those questions kids ask.


And finally, play helps children develop the skills necessary for reading. It may look like fun, but in ways deeper and more vital than we can imagine play is a process of learning. We don’t have to engineer that fun but we can play along. Try these activities.





Jokes, tongue twisters, rhymes, and songs help children increase vocabulary, develop auditory discrimination, and understand syntax.


• Make hand puppets for impromptu plays.


• Call each other by silly names.


• Sing songs with invented lyrics to familiar tunes.


• Jump rope to made-up chants, or bring back old chants using Anna Banana: 101 Jump Rope Rhymes by Joanna Cole.





Games typically include sequence, grouping, keeping track and memory. Their rules reinforce reading and writing skills, which makes games of all kinds wonderful learning opportunities. No need to choose specifically educational games.


• Set aside one evening a week as family board games night or set up a children’s board game club.


Make your own board games along with your child.


• Play impromptu memory games. For example, take turns tapping out a beat, seeing if the next person can repeat it.


• Check out the ideas in Games for Reading: Playful Ways to Help Your Child Read by Peggy Kaye.


• Introduce classic sidewalk games like hopscotch and four square if your kids haven’t already discovered them.


• Encourage active games. Consult Great Games! 175 Games & Activities for Families, Groups, & Children! by Matthew Toone and Mom´s Handy Book of Backyard Games by Pete Cava.





Directional games reinforce abilities necessary for correct letter orientation, remembering sight words, self-organization and reading left to right.


• Draw maps of places you know well and maps of imaginary places (alien planets, undersea castles).


• Encourage children to set up obstacle courses. Indoors this may include three somersaults through the hall, chairs to wriggle under, a rope to hop over, and climb up a bunk bed ladder. Outdoors the course can be more ambitious. The key is following the leader’s directions.


• Enjoy regular treasure hunts. First hide a prize or two. Then place clues through the house or yard. These can be simple words or sentences, symbols or pictures. Each clue leads to the next. The prize doesn’t have to be a toy or candy; the fun is in the hunting. Encourage children to set up their up treasure hunts too.


• Letterboxing combines walking, navigation and solving riddles. Clues help seekers find “letterboxes” hidden outdoors. Seekers mark their logbooks with a rubber stamp found in this box, mark a logbook in the box with their own personal stamp, then leave the box for the next seeker. For more information and links to regional clues, check with organizations such as Letterboxing North America  or Atlas Quest. Or use the guidebook, It’s a Treasure Hunt! Geocaching & Letterboxing.


• Try orienteering. This sport combines navigation, map reading, and decision-making. Participants walk, run, bike, or ski using a map and compass to choose the best route on or off the trail. Consult Orienteering Made Simple And Gps Technology: An Instructional Handbook by Nancy Kelly.


• Take turns playing Line Zombie. Draw a line on paper with a pencil or on the ground with chalk, using arrows to indicate direction. The other person must follow the line either by tracing on the paper with marker or walking on the chalk line. Zombie noises optional.


Activities adapted from Free Range Learning.




About Laura Grace Weldon

Laura Grace Weldon is the author of Free Range Learning: How Homeschooling Changes Everything. She lives on a small farm with her family where they raise bees, cows, chickens, and the occasional ruckus. Laura writes about learning, sustainability, and peace. Connect with her at

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