The best literacy activities for kids to boost reading skills

Chloe Schneider

Chloe Schneider

Chloe is a writer and content strategist with bylines in mindbodygreen, Mashable, Ageless by Rescu, and more. She's a mum to one-year-old Felix, and believes that you can have it all, you just can't have it all at once
Updated on Jul 08, 2024 · 14 mins read
The best literacy activities for kids to boost reading skills

Literacy is about so much more than getting good grades — it helps children communicate with others to form stronger relationships, allows them to explain their emotions, opens up imagination and opportunities, and is the vehicle for learning other subjects and skills.


Like most skills, kids are more likely to engage in learning to read if they are given the opportunity to learn through play. These literacy activities for kids are designed to do just that. They’re fun, engaging, and will give you new ways to keep your kids occupied without the aid of screens. Now, that’s a parenting win.

Literacy activities for young children


One of the best things you can do to help your kids discover a love for literacy is to start reading to them during the baby stage. At first, this might feel a little pointless. But one day, it will become clear they actually were taking something in during storytime, and you’ll see their love for stories blossom.

When your child reaches the toddler and preschooler stages, these are some of the best literacy activities to start introducing letters.

Kick the letter cup
Take a stack of plastic cups and write a single letter on each. Then, give your child a small soccer ball and tell them to kick the ball towards the letters you yell out. This fun game keeps kids entertained while learning about the alphabet’s different letters.

Colour sorting letters
Grab some coloured circle stickers and use a marker to write one letter on each. Then, ask your child to sort them into different colours on a rainbow drawing. This game helps kids develop their fine motor skills while helping them with letter recognition.

Alphabet pillow jumping
Get a stack of paper plates and write one giant letter on each. Then, have the kids start on one side of the room and try to jump to the other without touching the floor. This literacy version of ‘The Floor is Lava’ helps kids with letter recognition and is a great jumping-off point for more advanced versions of the game. For example, ask kids to say a word that starts with the letter they’re standing on.

Connect-the-dots with letters
Write a handful of repeating letters in random patterns down a length of butcher’s paper, then let your kids connect the letters in any way they like. This simple game helps with letter recognition and opens up conversations around words. It can also be fun to sound out real and invented words using the connected letters.

Children’s book in a bottle
Create a “book in a bottle” loosely inspired by the stories you and your kids love. Put water, glitter, confetti, and small toys in a plastic bottle or buy a calm-down bottle kit. Once you’ve created the bottle together, bring it out for storytime. Adding a sensory experience to storytime can help encourage a lifelong love of literacy. As a bonus, sensory bottles like this can also be very calming for kids before bed.

Salt tray writing
Dump a bunch of salt into a tray and create a few cue cards with letters, numbers, or whole words written on them. Your child can copy the shape with their finger or the end of a paintbrush, helping to increase their motor skills while strengthening their literacy skills. You can also add colour or patterned backgrounds to the tray, which can be revealed when your child writes.

Magic letter painting
Grab some white note cards, a white wax crayon, and watercolour paints, then write letters on the note cards. When your children paint over them, they’ll reveal the letters. This simple and fun activity helps with letter recognition plus opens up opportunities to speak about letters and words together.

Letter-matching archeology game
Take a large tray, coloured sand, and a few magnetic letters and build a mini archeology site for your kids to dig through. As they find the hidden letters in this fun, dinosaur-themed game, you can practice letter recognition and ask if they can build words.

Mini alphabet sensory bins
Grab a bunch of objects and toys that start with the same letter and put them in sensory bins. Depending on the kids’ age, you can either ask them to guess the letter or tape it to the front of the box. These sensory bins are a fun way to teach letter recognition.

Fingerprint letters
Grab a marker and write some large letters spread on a piece of paper. Then, using a washable ink pad, ask your child to make fingerprints along each letter. Writing large letters spread out helps kids start recognizing letter shapes and get used to the shapes they will go on to write.


Everyday literacy activities for kids


You don’t have to set up something complicated with a big clean-up — you can incorporate literacy activities into your everyday life with these simple activities.

Introduce new sight words/high-frequency words
Sight words are common words that, once learned, kids can recognise without sounding them out. At home, you can practice sight words in a playful way, such as writing them in chalk or building with magnetic letters.

Rhyming
Phonological awareness is the ability to recognise the spoken parts of sentences and words. Recognising rhyming words is a basic level of phonological awareness that is also fun for kids. Start by saying two words and asking your kids if they rhyme or not, then you can add to this by asking them to think of another word that rhymes.

Literacy lessons with food
At the supermarket, you could ask your kids to name fruits and vegetables, then encourage them to draw them for you when you get home. While cooking at home, you could ask your kids to name different ingredients or tell stories about where your fruits and vegetables came from. All these little, daily activities add up, helping your kids to improve their ability to read and write while inspiring their imagination.


Literacy activities and printables for school-age children


Practice alphabet letters at bath time
Distinguishing between lowercase and uppercase letters can be difficult for kids. Making it a fun part of bath time can help them master the skill. Grab some foam alphabet letters in the bath and ask them to put uppercase letters in one cup or bucket and lowercase in another.

Make letter shapes out of play dough
Who doesn’t love play dough?! When you’ve got the playdough out, draw some letters on a piece of paper and encourage your child to make letter shapes. This activity is great for practising fine motor skills and increasing letter recognition.

Word games
The old word games we loved as kids are still just as fun and educational as they were back then. Play word games like ‘I Spy’ in the car or at the supermarket to help kids with their phonics skills, or try some word chain games with older children.

One great word chain game is first letter, last letter. To play this, choose a broad topic like ‘animals’ and start with a word like ‘giraffe.’ Then ask your kids to come up with a word that begins with the last letter (‘e’) like ‘elephant.’

Literacy file folder games
File folder games are activities contained together in one folder. They’re great for travelling or helping keep younger children entertained on their own. A literacy file folder could contain some printables, velcro or felt letters, pictures, and letters to trace. You could also include games like upper and lowercase letter matching or beginning sounds. These games help kids practice phonological and early reading/writing abilities.

Sound sorting
Sounding out words is a huge part of early literacy. Practice sound sorting with kids to help them recognise rhyming words. You can do this by cutting out pictures from magazines, old books, or printables, then sorting them under each sound or letter.

Alphabet songs
Simply adding alphabet songs to your repertoire of songs sung during bath time, while brushing teeth or getting dressed can help kids recognise the alphabet more easily.

Alphabet puzzles
Kids love puzzles, and there are plenty of simple alphabet puzzles you can buy to help kids practice letter recognition in a fun way. As kids get older, try puzzles with a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters, and ask them to spell words by placing just a few letters in their place.

Magnetic letters and writing activities
Magnetic letters are a great tool for teaching literacy activities (just watch out for tiny magnets and, if present, ensure they are properly secured and won’t get into any tiny mouths!). Here are a few ways you can use them at home.

Use a few magnetic letters to write letters
Take a handful of magnetic letters and ask your kid to spell out a word on the fridge. You could also do this while you’re cooking, asking children to spell out ingredients you use as you go.

Letter sorting
Ask your kids to sort out letters by finding uppercase and lowercase letters, then put them together on the fridge or a whiteboard.

Dab-it alphabet pages
A dab-it pen is a simple way to help kids practice their fine motor skills while recognising letters. Ask them to dab letters or say a word and ask them to dab the letter that word begins with, then the letter it ends with.

Letter-sound colouring pages
If you have a kid who loves to colour, grab some letter-sound colouring pages for them or use any colouring-in book and ask them to find a picture that starts with a letter, then colour it in. These are easy ways to incorporate literacy activities into something your kid already loves.

Story sequencing cards
Sequencing skills are about identifying the beginning, middle and end of a story to help kids understand what they read or hear. Story sequencing cards contain parts of stories that kids can piece together, a little like a story puzzle. They’re a great way to help with sequencing skills and, if you don’t want to buy a set, you can just create your own with paper and pen.

Additional literacy activities for kids


If you’re feeling adventurous or have some time on your hands on a rainy day, these additional literacy activities for kids will up the excitement factor and give you some time back for other things.

Literacy games and challenges
These games and challenges are designed for pairs or small groups of school-age children. Practicing reading/writing abilities together can help encourage conversation and, of course, increase the fun factor.

Go on a scavenger hunt
Create a scavenger hunt including clues related to phonics skills, like finding words with a particular sound or hidden letters, around the school or classroom.

Try a Kindergarten literacy night at your school
Organising a literacy night at school can help engage kids in a setting outside their regular classroom or homework activities. To do this, you can set up different challenges and stations around the theme of literacy. For example, a reading challenge with a timer, a book exchange station, art workshops related to themes in a book, or sensory activities with letters and words. You could also encourage kids and parents to come along dressed as their favourite character from a book.

Recycled Scrabble play
Scrabble letters are a great tool for kids – give kids a set of tiles on a Scrabble rack and have them spell out rhyming words or words related to a theme.

Word family activity
There are 37 word families that kids learn to help them sound out words and read. These include common sounds like ack, ink, ump, and ank. With a group of kids, you can set up stations for a number of word families along with a toy box full of objects, toys, and words written on a page. Set a timer and have kids run to place objects in the correct word family area, then count how many they get right as a group, in teams, or as individuals.

CVC word games for older students
CVC words have the consonant-vowel-consonant pattern. For example, map, dad, cat, and dog. These are great simple words for kids to master early on, helping to practice their phonics skills and build their confidence. You can recreate classic games like snakes and ladders, connect four, or bingo using CVC words to make learning these simple words more engaging and fun.

Wrapping it up


Literacy activities for kids help them unlock the world of words. There are so many engaging and educational activities out there to choose from. If you feel overwhelmed, think about what your kids are most interested in and tailor the at-home activities you choose to match those activities. That way, you’ll spark their imagination and foster a love for reading and writing, rather than making literacy feel like a chore.

Frequently asked questions


What are the key literacy skills for children?
The key skills are listening, speaking, reading, and writing. Each of these skills is developed from the moment kids are born and hear your voice. They can be broken down into smaller skills that build on one another over time. For example, phonemic awareness, phonics knowledge, letter and letter-sound knowledge, word decoding, oral reading, spelling, and written letter formation. These are all difficult skills to learn, so patience and persistence pay off!

How can I make literacy activities fun for my child?
Leaning into the things that make your child excited, and weave literacy activities into that. This might be as simple as theming word association games or letter recognition activities around something your kids love. If you have a kid who struggles to sit down, you could add letters to more physical activities and games like scavenger hunts or kicking the ball to a letter. You can also take the pressure off by incorporating literacy activities into everyday life — talk to your child, speak about letters and words while out in the world, and sing songs together.

What are some no-cost literacy activities?
Many of the literacy activities listed above are no-cost or could be made at no cost with a little DIYing. For example, games like ‘I Spy’ are no-cost and great for teaching kids about words.

Rhyming or making up stories and songs together costs nothing and inspires their skills as well as creativity. With just a piece of paper and a pen, you can create fun activities from scratch. You can also look online for free, downloadable printables to use.

How often should I engage my child in literacy activities?
Every day! This doesn’t mean setting up a special activity station every day; it simply means making an effort to talk, read, sing, and rhyme with your child. When these everyday literacy activities happen in conjunction with weekly school work, dedicated activities, and homework, they help your kid develop their skills in a low-pressure, fun way.

Can digital games improve my child’s literacy?
Yes, there are plenty of digital games that can improve children’s reading/writing abilities, and if you are incorporating some screen time into your kids’ lives, they are a great way of entertaining while educating. Some skills, like learning to write, do require more hands-on activities, so just make sure digital games are incorporated into a wider set of activities.

What are some literacy activities for children with learning difficulties?
Many of the activities listed above can be adapted to suit kids with learning difficulties. You could simply “age down” on the activity you choose for older children, or you could adapt the activity to suit their needs – for example, using easier words or parts of words, speaking more slowly, or providing additional cues like pictures and objects. As always, skills are best learned in a fun, low-pressure, engaging environment — so even “sneaking” literacy activities into everyday life can be a wonderful way to encourage children with learning difficulties. As your kid gets older, ask their teacher or daycare educator to help with ideas for your children. They are experts with loads of experience, so lean on them for ideas!

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