Rev up reading for kindergartners

Easy activities to help your kindergartner master essential reading skills.

By Catherine Ann Velasco

Name that fruit

Skill: Decoding

Here's a game that will teach your child letter sounds, a key pre-reading skill. Next time you're at the grocery store, point to a banana and a melon and ask your child which one starts with the “b” sound. Next, have your child pick out different fruits or vegetables, and identify what letter each starts with.

Play this game in your kitchen, in the car, or wherever you have a spare moment with your child. When your child is cleaning her room, encourage her to group objects that start with the same letter (sox and shirts, for example). Or when you're trying a new recipe, ask your child to identify the beginning letter of each ingredient as you add it.

Cool letters

Skill: Decoding

While you're making dinner, have your child play with magnetic letters on the fridge. First, challenge him to arrange them in alphabetical order. Next, ask him to close his eyes, pick out a letter and come up with a word that starts with that letter. If your child has mastered this step, encourage him to spell out simple words starting with the letter he picks.  Create words and see if he can change one letter and make a new word. If he spells cookie, can he have one for dessert?

My pile, your pile

Skill: Fluency

We’ve all used flash cards for math, why not reading? All you need is markers and index cards. Make 5 to 10 cards including sight words at your child's grade level (sight words are words that your child needs to memorize for reading fluency). You can find sight words for kindergarteners here, but follow your child's lead: if these words are too easy, try these first grade sight words.

Go through the pile and if your child knows a word, it goes into her pile, if she doesn't know the word or has to struggle, it goes in your pile. Keep playing until all the words are in your child's pile; and keep adding new words to the stack, and discarding words your child knows.

See a video on this reading activity.

Echo game

Skill: Fluency

Find a book at your child’s reading level and read a sentence aloud, using appropriate expression and pausing. Then, have your child mimic you, reading the same sentence and using the same expression and pauses. Repeat the game every few paragraphs as you read through the book.

See a video on this reading activiity.

Play detective

Skill: Comprehension

When you read a book with your child, stop and ask questions to help enhance his understanding of what he's reading, for example:

  • What's happening in the picture?
  • Why do you think the pig is sad?
  • Why do you think the spider wanted to help the pig?
  • Have you felt that way yourself?
  • What do you think is going to happen next?
  • How do you think the story will end?

Take turns and let your child “be the detective” and ask you questions about the book. Not only will this develop your child’s comprehension, but critical thinking skills, too.

Map the book

Skill: Comprehension

Take your child’s favorite book and help her map out the beginning, middle and end by drawing pictures of all the main events. To get started, help your child identify the main events using the "5 finger retell." Starting with your thumb, name the first event that happens in the story, for example, "First, Fern's father lets her keep the baby pig as a pet." Then with your pointer finger, "Next, the pig meets Charlotte." Do this with all five fingers. Once your child has identified the main events, have her draw a picture of each one and make arrows between the pictures to show how the plot turns. Reshuffle the pictures out of order and see how the story would work (or not work) if the events happened any other way.

See a video on this reading activity.

Know your book

Skill: Knowledge

Understanding key story-telling components — characters, setting, plot and language — is an important part of becoming a strong reader. Ask your child about a favorite book and why he likes it. Is it because of the plot — the story is funny, surprising or exciting? Or is it because the characters are really interesting? Is it that the setting is especially cool? Or does your child love how the writer chooses words? If your child chooses a book that is really about playing with language — like Dr. Seuss — then think of another book that is especially strong in another realm. For instance, Arthur books hook readers with their quirky, engaging characters, and Where the Wild Things Are can’t be beat when it comes to a magical setting.

Learn all about it!

Skill: Knowledge

What’s your child passionate about at the moment? Whether it's kittens, swords, or surfing, head to the library and help him find every source he can on subject. Look at fiction and nonfiction books, magazines, comics and newspapers. Let him explore to his heart's content, and encourage him to talk about what he learns.

Catherine Ann Velasco has covered education and children and family issues for more than 22 years. She's won numerous awards, and served as a fellow of the Casey Journalism Center for Children and Families and the Education Writers Association’s Statistics Boot Camp. Velasco lives near Chicago and can be reached at