Summer’s here and with it comes a few more cries of “I’m bored” and “When do I get screen time again?” than we parents want to deal with. Lucky for us, simple pen-and-paper word games and activities can break the monotony when there seems to be nothing to do — like on long car rides, while running errands, or when you’re stuck at home because the weather’s rotten. Plus, they work on reinforcing fundamental reading skills while school’s out. Next time you’re looking for easy ways to entertain your little readers, try these fun activities for young lexicon-lovers:
Give kids a rhyme and have them come up with the animal, food, or place that’s on your mind. For example: “I rhyme with new. I am a (zoo).” I rhyme with log. I am a (frog).” “I rhyme with make. I am a (cake).”
This one’s very familiar, but there’s a reason it’s a classic. Spot something and tell kids what letter it begins with, then have them try to guess what you’re peeping!
This is a good car game to play when you hear the popular “I’m bored” refrain. Come up with several categories to write across the top of a page — plants, animals, things we buy at the supermarket, things you see on the road, etc. — and draw the alphabet down the margin. Now ask kids to come up with a word for each letter that fits the category. You might not fill in one for each letter in every category but it’s a good brain-jogger when you’re sitting still.
Perfect for kids who are practicing their alphabet skills, this game is all about collecting words you see around you. Give your children a notebook of “tasks” to fulfill, or words to find, as they look at their surroundings, such as “words that begin with D.” Encourage your kids to write down the letters in the words they see, then read the words aloud back to them. For children who’ve started reading, make it more complex with specific tasks like “words on restaurant signs” or “words with double letters,” and prompt them to read the words aloud on their own. Another great game for car rides.
One Letter Change-Up
This is great for school-age kids. Find a short word, four or five letters, and let kids come up with as many words as they can by changing one letter at a time (set a timer). For example: park – dark – dare – mare – mark – bark – bare – bars – bags – bogs – logs – legs – less (and so on).
Big Words, Little Words
Write a big word on a piece of paper. It doesn’t matter so much that kids know it, as it does that it has a nice collection of letters. Give your child a time span (a minute or two) to write down all the smaller words they can make from that big word. This is a great one for would-be Scrabble champs too. Parents, go ahead and play too!
Call My Bluff
Excellent for groups of older kids, this game is based on an old British game show and can be fun at sleepovers or playdates. Divide kids into teams and give each team a list of words that might be somewhat unfamiliar (but are still common enough to be useful). Then, have teams look up the words and write down the real meaning, as well as two alternate ones. For a word like “baffled” the definitions might look like this: a) Bewildered or confused; b) Unable to catch a ball; or c) To be built on the side of a hill. The other team must guess the right definition to get a point; otherwise, the point goes to the inventors of the false definition that fooled their opponents.
The trick to these activities is that they work best when you’re not focusing too much on the end game. Instead of checking sight words off a list or worrying about reading levels, just enjoy some silliness and know you’re inspiring an appreciation for words and language.