5 Word Games to Help Preschoolers Get Ready to Read

Use these playful activities to get your preschooler engaged with language, and more prepared for kindergarten.

By Jodie Rodriguez
Feb 20, 2019



Featured Photo Credit: © bo1982/iStockphoto

Feb 20, 2019

We often wonder what to do to help our preschoolers get set for kindergarten. Reading aloud to little ones is probably the single most important thing, but helping your kids develop their phonological awareness is also a huge stepping stone to becoming future readers.

Phonological awareness is the ability to recognize and manipulate units of oral language. Units can include syllables, individual letter sounds, or rhyming phrases. The key is that this awareness is developed orally — and not associated with written letters or words.

There are oodles of playful, oral games that are engaging and filled with language learning. Playing these a few minutes each day will help build your child's phonological awareness. We've also suggested fun books that will give mom and dad more ideas and expose your child to important sounds as a read aloud.  Give these a try!

1. Rhyme Time

Rhyming is one of the easiest activities to do with your little learners to develop phonological awareness. Call out a simple word such as cat, bun, or dig. Say another word that rhymes with the first word. Then, ask your kids to name another word that rhymes with your pair. Continue to trade turns until no more rhyming words can be named.

Adult: I'll say a word and name another word that rhymes with it.

Adult: bun-sun

Adult: Can you name a word that rhymes with bun and sun?

Child: run

Adult: done

Child: zun (nonsense words work too)

Book Pick: BOB BOOKS: Rhyming Words teaches your child all about simple rhymes perfect for beginning readers. With ten mini-books, 30 flashcards, and a great boost in your child's vocabulary development, this read is sure to make learning a blast and rhyming struggles a thing of the past! 

2. Silly Sayings

Build alliteration recognition and generation by calling a sound to work within the first round. The first person names a word that begins with the chosen sound and then each player takes a turn adding a word to the saying with the same beginning sound.

Here are a few examples that my kids and I created: 

Grandma gave Gabriel gobs of green grapes.

My mom must make millions of mushy marshmallows.

Jumping Jack just joined the jelly jamboree. 

Not only will your kids be laughing with their silly sayings, they will be brainstorming words that begin with the same sounds.

Book Pick: If You Give a Moose a Muffin is a must-read to teach your child about alliteration. Focusing on the letter m, your child can learn about what happens when a moose wants more and more muffins while practicing important letter sounds. When you're done reading this silly story, trying finding more words that start with the letter m with your little one!  

3. Not Like the Others

Ask your kids to tell you which word is not like the others. Tell them that three of the words have the same ending sound and one word has a different ending sound. Then, call out four words. Here are a few sets to try: 

bug, rig, bed, hog (bed)                                                bed, road, loaf, pod (loaf)

rat, sock, hit, that (sock)                                               duck, has, was, does (duck)

Book Pick: Learning Mats: Word Families is a fun way for your growing learner to interact with word families. As your child begins understanding the way different words go together, use these colorful mats to sound out word endings, then as your child advances her literacy development she can practice reading and writing too!  

4. Stomp the Parts

This activity gets the wiggles out and encourages kids to break down words into syllables or word parts. I like to model it for the kids first and then invite them to join me in stomping the word parts. Start with your child's name and then move to other family member's names.

You'll break each word into parts while stomping as you emphasize the parts. For example, the name Jodie would get two stomps for Jo-die. You'll do three stomps for Ben-ja-min.

You could also clap the parts instead of stomping. I've even used straws as drumsticks to hit the table for each word part.

Book Pick: Hi, Koo! is the perfect picture book to teach your little one about syllables. With 26 haikus — short 3-line poems focusing on the number of syllables in each line — about the seasons, read aloud the different word parts that make up these special poems. Plus, Koo the panda is a cuddly character your child is sure to love.

5. Change a Song

In this activity, your kids will add a phoneme (a specific unit of sound that distinguishes one word from another) to the beginning of a familiar word. This phoneme manipulation is one of the more advanced pieces of phonological awareness. It’s a little more tricky, so singing and playing with a familiar song is helpful in the learning.

Pick a familiar tune or nursery rhyme that the kids know — one of our favorites is "Old McDonald Had a Farm." Sing it a few times to refresh yourselves with the song. Now, it's time to tweak the song to make it your own. Here is how we changed the song:

Old McDonald had a farm


And on his farm, he had a pig


With a poink poink here and a poink poink there

Here a poink, there a poink, everywhere a poink poink

Old McDonald had a farm


The frog would make the sound, "fibbit" and a cow would say, "coo." Making the changes in the song helps your child manipulate phonemes which builds phonemic awareness.

Book Pick: If You're Happy and You Know It (Jungle Edition) is a wild sing-along highlighting the classic jingle If You're Happy and You Know It! With so many opportunities to sing sounds that help build your child's phonemic development, this silly read will have your little one roaring with laughter and boosting important skills. 

A few minutes of playful oral language games each day will impact your child's journey on the road to learning to read.

Connect with Jodie Rodriguez on her site, Growing Book by Book.

Shop the Story

Mini books
Raise a Reader Blog
Resource Type
Age 5
Age 4
Age 3
Identifying Similarities and Differences
Language Arts
Phonemic Awareness