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Phonemic Awareness Activities: Engaging and Easy for Kids

by | Oct 30, 2023 | Core Skills

The right activities can help kids develop the Core Skill of phonemic awareness, part of building the 5 C’s at the heart of the Begin Approach to helping kids thrive in school and life. Core Skills support learning in other areas, and giving kids a strong foundation in them helps set them up for long-term success.

Luckily, there are lots of fun, easy phonemic awareness activities you can do at home. Here are eight of our favorites!

The Short Cut

  • Phonemic awareness, an important early learning Core Skill, is the ability to recognize phonemes (sounds like /a/ or /c/) within words
  • Phonemic awareness activities can help build your child’s confidence and familiarity with the sounds and letters they are trying to read
  • Working on phonemic awareness can be fun! Kids can build it through quick and easy games played at home with a few simple items

Now that we’ve discussed what phonemic awareness is and why it’s important, we’ll walk you through some fun and easy activities you can use to help develop your child’s phonemic awareness skills.

(These activities can also help build phonological awareness, which is similar to phonemic awareness but focuses on groups of sounds like syllables rather than single sounds. Just use the same activities, but focus on sound groups.)

1. Guess That Word

What You Need

  • Objects or pictures of things familiar to your child

What to Do

  1. Lay out a few items or pictures your child can easily name.
  2. Use “snail talk” or “slow-motion” talk to pronounce the names of the items in a funny voice. (For example, if there’s a picture of a cat in front of your child, drag out the /c/, /a/, and /t/ sounds as long as you can.)
  3. Ask your child to guess the name of the item or picture in question before you finish saying the word.

Your child can jump in anytime and shout the word as loudly as they can!

This word game helps kids blend phonemes, an essential part of phonemic awareness, and pay attention to the individual sounds that make up words.

2. Mystery Bag

Colorful plastic letters used for phonemic awareness

Those little plastic letter magnets that are probably hanging out on your fridge will come in handy for this one!

What You Need

  • Spare box or paper bag
  • Plastic, wood, or foam letters

What to Do

  1. Place three letters that can be used to make an easy-to-sound-out word (pat or cat, for example) inside the bag.
  2. Have your child pull out one letter at a time and ask them what sound each letter makes. 
  3. Ask your child to rearrange the letters to make a word. If they succeed, they get a point!

For younger children, you can place the letters together to spell a word and sound it out for them, then let them copy you. With more advanced readers, you can add more letters to make longer words.

Once your child has the hang of the basic game, you can try letter swapping or letter deletion. If your child makes “slip,” what happens when you take away the “s” or the “l”? This kind of letter change is challenging but also excellent practice!

Finally, you can also put lots of letters in the bag and then pull out a few and see if you can make a real word, a nonsense word, or (lacking a vowel) no word at all.

The fun of the Mystery Bag is how versatile it is!

3. Clap It Out

Girl clapping while working on phonemic awareness

If your child loves to sing, this might be the activity for them!

What You Need

  • Nothing but your voice and hands

What to Do

  1. Sing any song or nursery rhyme. 
  2. Have your child clap with the different syllables. 

Clapping loudly and enthusiastically can make this a lot of fun! This activity is great for helping your child with their syllable awareness as well as their segmentation skills.

4. Make Some Noise!

Mischievous preschooler boy and girl play the music using kitchen tools and utensils.

What You Need

  • Noisemakers (pots, pans, whistles, bells, bubble wrap, etc.)

What to Do

  1. Instruct your child to close their eyes and listen to the sound you make.
  2. Once the sound is over, have them guess what caused it. Encourage them to give their answer in full sentences (“The sound I heard was a door opening.”).
  3. After your child correctly identifies several individual sounds, mix things up by adding more noises one after another. For example, if you close a noisy door, ring a bell, then delicately tap a glass cup with a fork, your child would try to identify all three sounds.

Although this game doesn’t deal explicitly with letter sounds, it works on an extremely important skill—listening!

By helping your child practice their detailed listening skills, you can help them prepare for identifying sounds within words.

5. I-Spy With Words

Another fun way to engage phonemic awareness skills is by playing the game I-Spy. But instead of colors, play with sounds! You can take this game anywhere, so it’s perfect for busy families on the go.

To play, you can say, “I spy with my little eye something that starts with the /a/ sound,” and wait for your child to shout out something they see that begins with that sound.

This helps them with identifying the initial letter sound in words, an important building block for strong reading as they grow.

6. Rhyme Matching Game

What You Need

  • Pictures of common items that rhyme (chair/bear, rat/mat, etc.)

What to Do

  1. Give your child the pictures.
  2. Ask them to match the pictures into rhyming pairs. 

This activity could take some getting used to for your child, but with patience and practice they’ll get there! Some kids grasp the activity faster if you remind them that rhymes are words that sound the same at the end and brainstorm rhyming words together before starting.

Walking through the game step-by-step could be the extra support they need!

7. Make Your Own Rhyme

Doing all these phonemic awareness activities may make you feel like you’re living inside a Dr. Seuss book. But kids often love becoming a tongue-twisting, silly master of rhyming!

Dr. Seuss makes up all kinds of words in his books in order to create rhymes. Your child can do the very same thing (and learn a lot from it!).

You can get them started by providing a funny example. Something like, “There’s a noodle in my schmoodle.” Encourage them to come up with their own funny rhyme!

8. Draw a Phonetic Alphabet

Young girl drawing as phonemic awareness activities

This is a great activity if your child needs to focus specifically on the phonetic sounds our alphabet makes.

What You Need

  • Paper
  • Drawing materials (pencils, markers, pens, etc.)

What to Do

  1. Work with your child to draw an animal that makes the same sound as a letter. For example, draw a big, winding snake in the shape of an “s.” Since snakes hiss, they’re a wonderful representation of the /s/ sound.
  2. When you finish one, try another, like a buzzing bee. When bees fly near your ear, they make a loud “buzzz-zzz” sound. You could help your child draw a bee flying across the page, with a dashed line in the shape of a “z” to show its path!
  3. Keep creating animals for whichever other sounds you want to work on.

Feel free to get creative, colorful, and fun. This will help your child hone in on their isolation skills, as well as help them learn to pay attention to phonemes!

More Phonemic Awareness Activities from Begin

We know how important phonemic awareness activities are in helping kids learn to read. In our award-winning HOMER app, kids explore personalized reading games matched to their age and level—including phonemic awareness. Just 15 minutes a day has been proven to raise early reading scores by 74%!

Every child is unique. We hope yours will respond well to at least one of these activities, tapping into their natural desire to play and helping instill a lifelong love of learning. 

And remember, if you need more help, we’ve got your back!


Dr. Jody Sherman LeVos
Dr. Jody Sherman LeVos

Chief Learning Officer at Begin

Jody has a Ph.D. in Developmental Science and more than a decade of experience in the children’s media and early learning space.