We all want our children to do well at school, and luckily there are lots of fun pre-reading games to boost literacy and give your child a head start from a very early age.
The development of early literacy skills makes it easier for a child to learn to read, a fundamentally important skill for school and life in general. One way in which parents can nurture their child’s early literacy skills is through play which, according to the National Literacy Trust (2017), lays the foundation for literacy.
Through play children learn to make and practise new sounds. They try out new vocabulary, on their own or with friends, and exercise their imagination through storytelling.
Play naturally encourages learning but in a fun, organic way that feels effortless for the child. Through simple pre-reading games, your child can start to develop many of the skills required for reading, including phonics, phonological awareness and vocabulary.
Here are five simple pre-reading activities you can do with your child at home contributed by St Margaret’s Anglican Girls School.
Read to your child
An easy yet powerful way to make a difference to your child’s literacy development is by simply reading to them. In her book Reading Magic (2001) Mem Fox states: “The foundations of learning to read are set down from the moment a child first hears the sounds of people talking, the tunes of songs, and the rhythms and repetitions of rhymes and stories.” (p.13). Many experts purport children need to hear a thousand stories read aloud before they learn to read themselves.
St Margaret’s Head of Primary Angela Drysdale says: “For younger children, reading and sharing books helps to develop a connection and love of reading whilst also building a rich vocabulary. Reading aloud helps the listener understand vocabulary, the patterns of language and the choices that writers make to engage their audience.”
In preparation for your child’s first year at school and beginning to read, Angela says you can also start to develop their concepts about print. “During reading time with your child, point out the title and point to each word as you read. Discuss which is the front cover and which is the back cover, highlight the author and illustrator and discuss what is a letter and what is a word. These concepts are important understandings in the reading process,” she said.
Another extension of this activity is providing the opportunity for your child to ‘read’ by retelling the story or creating their own story to the pictures. This increases a child’s comprehension and helps to teach children about sequencing and that stories have a beginning, middle and an end.
St Margaret’s Pre-Prep teacher Belinda Knowles recommends a traditional game of “I Spy” as a simple pre-reading game for parents. Next time you are walking your child in the pram, take out your headphones, put away your mobile phone and engage them in this good old fashioned game which is helping your child make the critical connection between a letter and its sound, an important pre reading skill. For example, “I Spy with my little eye something starting with the letter c. What can you see that starts with the “c” sound?” The “I Spy” game also works well on car journeys.
Adaptations of this game that also help to develop a child’s language include colours or categories; for example, “I Spy with my little eye something blue” or “I Spy with my little eye something in the transport category”.
Loose parts play
Young learners love to be hands on so this activity leverages that fact and is disguised as a letter recognition, letter formation and pre-writing activity. Belinda suggests gathering loose parts located in or around the home like sticks, rocks or milk bottle tops and encouraging your child to use them to create letters. You can also use play dough which doubles as a fine motor development activity as well or turn this into a more sensory experience by setting up a tray of sand, rice or shaving cream that your child can trace letters in.
ABC scavenger hunt
Encouraging your child’s observation of environmental print is a great way to boost your child’s pre-reading skills. When shopping or out and about with your child, play an ABC scavenger hunt by giving them a letter from the alphabet and asking them to point it out in the environment you are in – for example, on street or shop signs, movie posters, items on the shelves of the grocery store or product packaging. Belinda says: “This allows children to observe the different lines and shapes that form letters in the different fonts”.
According to Mem Fox: “Being able to correctly identify the individual letters of the alphabet before school is a great predictor of a child’s future success as a reader.” (p.59) You can also encourage a game of ABC scavenger hunt while reading by simply asking your child to find, for example, all of the letter “p’s” on a page.
Alphabet fridge magnets are another way in which you can boost your child’s letter recognition which gives them the dual benefit of not only helping them to identify single letters but also spelling simple words.
Angela says that alphabet recognition is an early predictor of reading success and so building your child’s ability to recognise letters will assist them greatly when it comes time to read themselves.
According to Mem Fox, knowing as much language as possible is the second secret of reading. (p.77) To achieve this, children require as much experience of language as possible through books and conversations as well as songs and rhymes.
There are lots of ways in which you can introduce rhyming to your child whether through saying or singing traditional nursery rhymes together or through reading rhyming stories such as the classic Dr Seuss books.
The game based Rhyming Basket is another. This involves gathering objects in a basket, aiming for pairs that rhyme. The aim of this game is to have your child pick one object then look through the basket for another object that rhymes with it.
Rhyming activities can be the starting point for many children to develop their phonemic awareness and understanding that words are made up of different and discrete sounds.
To conclude, children start to develop their pre-reading skills from very early on and through simple games and activities such as these suggestions, parents can help refine and hone their child’s pre-reading development, supporting their early literacy skills and, importantly, helping to encourage a love of reading.
National Literacy Trust, 2017, London, viewed 3 December 2020,
Fox, M 2001, Reading Magic: How your child can learn to read before school – and other read-aloud miracles, Pan Macmillan, Australia.