Crafts & activities

Fun phonics games to help encourage children to read

To celebrate the release of the new Actiphons series, we asked one of the creators, Kathryn Austerberry, to share a few physical phonics games you can play with your children at home.

Kathryn Austerberry
A photo of 12 books from the Actiphons series, all different reading levels, spread out on a bright red background

When my husband Simon and I created Actiphons, we based the whole brand on just two words: 'inspire' and 'engage'. Actiphons was born through wanting to help our then three-year-old daughter begin her journey of reading because she wanted to, not because she had been told that she had to read.

So, in order to make learning to read a fun and engaging activity rather than a chore, we decided to embrace the power of sport! Not all children are keen to sit and listen (which we can attest to as parents of four!) so movement and play were at the core of our approach. 

Since its creation, we have had the pleasure of seeing many children from nurseries, schools, and at home enjoy Actiphons. And with that in mind, we wanted to share some games to help you as a family have fun and keep fit and healthy whilst also learning the key skill of reading. These are also perfect for home learning over the summer holidays.

Physical activity doesn't need to take place at a sports hall or at a park in a large open space. Our simple games are designed so that you can play them at home or in your garden with minimum resources – but maximum fun.

For each of the following games, try to reinforce words that begin with the key sound which children are practising. The keywords are written in bold at the start of each game.

Jump For Joy

A great game in which Jumping Javid will help children practise their jumping skills whilst finding the letters which make the sounds in the words.

You will need:

•  8 stones/pebbles or pieces of card

•  Paper

•  Marker pen

•  Skipping rope or scarf

•  A timer (use either a phone or watch)

Key words in this game: Jump, Joy, Jog, Jockey

1. Place a circle of stones/pebbles or cards on the floor and on each one write one of the following letters j, u, g, o, e, t, a, m.

2. Place another circle about three metres away from the first circle (this can be drawn on the floor or made with a skipping rope or a scarf). Place inside this circle the following words which you can write on small pieces of paper. The words are jug, jam, jet, jog.

3. Place something in between the two circles – such as more stones or a scarf – so that the children can jump over.

4. Tell your child the first sound in the first word, ask them to jump over the stone or card with the correct letter written on it, and then jump back into the circle. Repeat for the other sounds in the word.

5. Once the word has been sounded out ask your child to jump like a jockey on a horse over the stones or scarf which you have placed in between the two circles.

6. In the next circle can they find the word which they have just sounded out in the first circle. Ask them to jump or jog back with the piece of paper, read it together and if it is correct, you can both JUMP FOR JOY and repeat with the other words.

7. You can set this as a time challenge: how many words can they make, following all the above steps in 20 seconds?

A photo of a young boy in his bedroom holding up a card with a capital 'A' and a lowercase 'a'
Image: Getty

Running with Robbie

Race against the clock or with a friend whilst finding words that begin with the ‘r’ sound in this game inspired by Rugby Robbie.

You will need:

•  A scarf

•  Socks

•  A couple of boxes or bags

•  Some random objects that begin with ‘r’ and four which do not

•  Paper

•  A pen or pencil

•  A timer (use either a phone or watch)

Key words in this game: Run, Radical, Race, Round

1. Create a start line on the floor by placing down a scarf or a row of socks for the competitors to stand behind. Next to each competitor place a bag or a box for them to place things inside.

2. About three metres directly in front of the starting line, create a circle made from anything which you to have to hand i.e., rolled up balls of socks etc.

3. Inside the circle place objects from around the house that begin with an ‘r’ sound. For example, you could find a toy rabbit, a racket, a rubber ring, etc and also place about four items that do not begin with an ‘r’ sound into the circle like a dog, a shoe etc. Write down the following words: rat, run, rip, red, bat, dog, sun, cat onto some pieces of paper and place those inside the circle.

4. Ask your child or children to stand on the starting line. When you shout race, they will have to run up to the circle, move round the circle to find either an object or a word that begins with an ‘r’ sound. They then run back to their bag or box, place the word or item inside. Time them doing this for 20 or 30 seconds.

5. When the time has run out count how many ‘r’ words and items they have collected. Did they beat their friend? Can they beat their own score in the same time again? Once they have completed the challenge tell them well done by using the word RADICAL!

A photo of a young girl sitting on the floor with a selection of lettered cards
Image: Getty

Nice One, Nelly

Practise your throwing skills and hand-eye co-ordination – like Netball Nelly – whilst spelling or reading words that begin with the ‘n’ sound.

You will need:

•  Letter cards or paper

•  Pen or pencil

•  Cellotape or blu-tack

•  A small ball

Key words in this game: Nice, Next, Need, Netball

1. On either a door inside your home, your garage door, or a gate outside, stick the following letter cards or write these letters onto pieces of paper, n, e, t, i, p, a, u, o, l.

2. Ask your child to hold a ball out in front of them with a hand on either side of the ball. Then ask them to pretend that they are a chicken and push their elbows out to the sides as though they are lifting up their wings. This position then naturally places their hands onto the back of the ball with their palms facing away from their body. This hold allows them to carry out a chest pass which is one of Netball Nelly’s netball passes.

3. You can play this game in two different ways. The first way is to give your child the individual sounds which make up a word and after you say each sound, they are to chest pass the ball so that the ball touches that letter card. They then move onto the next sound and repeat the process until they have sounded out the whole word.

4. Another way is to tell your child the whole word and ask them to segment (split up) the word themselves and find the sounds which are in the word by chest passing the ball to each letter. This way helps with spelling. Reinforce the need to get the sounds in the correct order to make the word. When they complete a word give them a thumbs up and say ‘NICE One!’

5. Words that you can ask your child to spell by completing the chest passes are net, nip, nap, nut, nil, not.

6. If you want to add an element of competition into this game then they could play against a partner to see who chest passes the ball to the letter card first or they can simply see how many words they can make in a set amount of time.

Videos of the above games can be found on the Actiphons YouTube channel and there are even more resources on the Ladybird Education website.

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