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Montessori at home: 5 early reading games to play with your child

If I had to choose one favorite part about teaching in a Montessori classroom, it would probably be seeing the spark in a child’s eye when she first realizes she can read. The delight of a child in decoding the seemingly mystical code of written language is like nothing else.

While most young children do not need to practice academic skills at home, early reading games can be a really fun way for you to share in this experience.

Here are five simple games to try:

1. Beginning sound scavenger hunt

Before your child can successfully read, he has to be able to isolate sounds. A scavenger hunt is a fun way to practice this skill, and you don’t need any supplies—just you and your child!

Say to your child, “I wonder if you can find something in the house that starts with B.” Say the phonetic sound of the letter, not the letter name. Repeat the sound a few times and then send him to search for something starting with that sound. Every child is different, but this is generally a good game for a 3 or 4 year old.

A fun and slightly easier variation is ‘I Spy.’ Gather 5-6 little objects on a rug or table. Each object should start with a different sound—for example, a toy pig, an apple and a ball. Then say “I spy something starting with ‘P.’” Say the “P” sound, not the name of the letter, and let your child find the pig.

2. Secret message game

This game is so simple, yet I have seen many Montessori children fall in love with it and play it daily!

Cut some blank slips of paper, get a pencil and tell your child you want to show her a game. Tell her you’re going to write a secret message just for her. Write it on a slip of paper, give it to her, and ask her to read it silently. Then ask her to find the object with that name and place the label on it.

Start with easy words like box, cup, mug and doll before moving on to more challenging household objects like plant, drum and window. Here is a great list of phonetic words if you find yourself stuck.

3. Commands

This is basically like charades. It’s a fun rainy day game because it combines reading with movement. This can be played with you and your child, two children taking turns, or simply your child by himself.

Write different action words on small pieces of paper or cardstock. Make sure to start with phonetic actions like run, sit, hop, hug, jog, sob, jump, skip, stand, stomp and clap. Ask your child to choose a paper and perform the action while you guess what it is. Take turns!

As he masters the phonetic words, you can add more complicated words or even phrases like ‘get a glass’ or ‘dance a jig.’ If he likes, your child can also think of actions and add his own command cards to the box.

4. Color labels

Apart from ‘red,’ most color names are not phonetic and can be tricky for children to learn, so playing a game is a great way for them to practice.

For this game, cut little slips of paper and write a color on each—use black ink for each label, as color coding them would make this too easy. Begin with just three labels and start with the easiest colors to sound-out—red, black and a third, perhaps your child’s favorite color.

Practice sounding out each color name with your child. When she’s familiar with the three labels, she’s ready to begin to play.

Fold the labels in half and put them in a little basket or box. Ask your child to choose a label and find something in the room of that color. For example, if she chooses a label that reads ‘red,’ she places it on something red. When she’s proficient with those colors, it’s time to add another!

5. Bingo

Bingo is one of the easiest board games for children to learn, so why not use it to practice reading?

You could make your own board, or use one of the many versions available online. You can say the word for your child to find, hold up a picture, or hold up the word for different variations.

If you try these games at home, the most important thing is to keep it fun!

If your child is getting frustrated, the game is likely too challenging for his current level. Start with easy sounds and words and do not correct your child if he gets it wrong. Just make a note to yourself that he might need more practice with a certain sound or word.

Reading games are a great way for children to get extra practice with their new skills, but their biggest purpose is to spark curiosity and wonder.

Christina is a Montessori teacher for 3-6 year olds, certified by the American Montessori Society. She currently stays home to take care of her son, James. She lives in Austin, Texas, and writes a blog, http://montessoriishmom.com, chronicling her journey through motherhood the Montessori way.

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