Preschoolers should spend most of their time playing, developing their speaking, listening, imaginations, motor and social skills and so on. The most important thing adults can do to help them get literacy-ready is read them lots of stories, play with them and have lots of relaxed conversations (avoid barraging them with questions! Anxious parents sometimes do this, and it can make kids clam up).
However, many preschoolers are already pestering adults to teach them to read and write. The first thing they need to know is that spoken words are made of sounds, and letters are how we write them. You can help them develop their awareness of sounds in words if you say words slowly and help them to separate out the sounds (first sound is easiest, then last sound, and middle sounds are hardest), or telling them two or three sounds and helping them blend them together into words e.g. “u-p = up”, “d-a-d = dad”, “sh-o-p = shop”.
There is a great, free, online Udemy course called “Help your child to read and write” for parents of 4-6 year olds, which follows the Sounds~Write approach I also use in clinic. It makes the task of helping kids hear the sounds in words and represent them with letters straightforward and logical. Sign up for it here.
You can download my free First Phonics Picture Book from this website to help you show a young child how written words are made from letters that represent sounds. Each sound is represented by just one spelling, repeated multiple times, and each word is illustrated by a photo. Click here for a blog post explaining more about this book and giving sample pages, or here to go straight to the shop and download it.
Children need to learn to hold a pencil correctly and control it, and once they can do that in drawing and colouring they can start practising correct letter formation and writing between lines e.g. by tracing letters you write. If you want handwriting practice books, try the ones from Phonic Books, Get Reading Right or the book Milo’s Birthday Surprise from Little Learners Love Literacy.
Many preschoolers are also spending some time using alphabet/literacy apps on phones and tablet computers, and of course there are many simple storybooks and other printed resources that they can use to learn the basics about sounds and letters. Here are some activities that might help rather than confuse them about literacy:
- ABC Ninja (US, iPad and iPhone app, in Settings-Categories, turn all but “abc phonics” off)
- Blobble Write (UK, for iPad)
- Bob Books (US, apps available for iPad and Android), and the paper books are here.
- Brainy Bugs (UK, for iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch)
- Dandelion Launchers iBooks, paper books and workbooks are designed for 3-6 year olds. Australian suppliers are here.
- Dinosaur Letters Lite (free, US and UK accent options, for iPhone or iPad, also for Android, which also has a full, paid version).
- Fantastic Phonics (US, free beginners’ video books)
- Flyleaf Books to Remember Emergent Reader series (UK)
- Hooked on Phonics program, (US, also there is an iPad and Android app)
- InitiaLit Readers (Aus)
- Jolly Phonics Activity Book 1 (UK). Available from SPELD SA
- Jolly Phonics Games Bundle (UK, iPad, iPod and iPhone apps, in Australian store here)
- Jolly Phonics Letter Sounds (UK, iPad, iPod and iPhone app, in Australian store here)
- Jolly Stories Board Book and Finger Phonics Board Books (UK)
- Little Finder ABC (US, for iPad and iPhone, free. In settings use “letter sounds” and turn off “letter names”)
- Little Learners Love Literacy (Aus series of decodable books for young children, a video I’ve made about them can be watched here, or watch their much more professional video here).
- Oz Phonics (Aus and NZ)
- Phonics Bingo (US, for iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, free)
- Phonics Fun On Farm (US, iPad and iPhone app)
- Phonics Hero (UK/Aus computer game and iPad/iPhone app, with a free, 7-day trial period. Please note that this link is an affiliate link, meaning that if you follow it and subscribe, I will get a small commission. I was highly recommending Phonics Hero for over two years before the affiliate link was offered, so decided it was OK to accept).
- Pocket Rockets (Aus, a video I’ve made about them is here, and they’re now also available in book size)
- Pre-Lit (Australian program for preschoolers)
- Preschool to Kindergarten Phonics Education – learning spelling and reading with short vowel sounds and beginning CVC words (iPad app with synthesized voice)
- Preschool University (US iPad apps, free)
- Rainbow Phonics (US, iPad app, in Australian store here)
- Reading Bear (US, free computer activities)
- Reading Raven (US, iPad and iPhone apps, in Australian store here)
- Pocketphonics and Pocketphonics Stories (UK, iPhone and iPad apps)
- Pocket Rockets (Aus, beginners’ decodable books)
- Sounds~Write Initial Sounds (UK iPad app, in Australian store here)
- PLD Spellstar 1a (Aus, for iPad, iPhone, Android and Chrome).
- Spooky letters (UK or US iPad and iPhone app, with a free lite version, also available for Android)
- Starfall Learn To Read (US, free online activities, iPad/iPhone or Android app)
- Teach Your Monster To Read (free online game, iPad app)