Alphabet Bags

Learning the sounds that letters make is an important step in learning to read. Play this game with children, using just grocery bags and things around the house!

Prep It

You have everything you need for this activity already lying around the house!

  • Grocery bags or any other kind of bag
  • Scrap paper (optional)
  • Marker
  • Household items that start with the same letter
  • Household items that start with different letters

Play It

On a bag, write one letter. (You could use a permanent marker or tape some scrap paper on the bag).

Find things around the house that begin with that letter, and let the fun begin!

Things around the house that start with the letter S:

spoon, sock, salt, soap, scissors, straw, and string.

Before you start, collect items that start with your chosen letter. (For example, the letter “S”.) Put them all in the bag, and tell the child: “Everything in this bag starts with the same sound and letter. They all start with the letter… (S). (S) makes a (ssss) sound. Let me hear you say (ssss)!”

Go through all the items and name each one together, exaggerating the first sound of the word — for example: “This is a sock! Ssss-sock!”

TIP: continue exaggerating the first letter sound for most or all of the activity.

Next, dump out all the items and ask the child to find ones to put back in the bag. After you’ve gone through all the items, name them together again, and ask the child, “What sound is at the beginning of all these words again? That’s right, (ssss)!”

Then introduce some new items, some that start with the same letter and some that do not. Tell the child: “We will be working together to decide if the new things should go into our (S) bag or not.” For each item, let the child name it, then say something like: “Should a hhhh-hot dog go into our ssss words bag?”
Have many items that start with two different letters available to sort into two different bags. As the child learns more sounds, you can add more items and bags!
Go on a scavenger hunt to fill the alphabet bags. Let children pick a sound they would like to hunt for, or tell them which one to hunt for.

If you have multiple children in your care, this would be a great opportunity for them to hunt for different letter sounds and share what they found with each other!
Instead of just sorting by a beginning letter sounds, children who have experience reading and writing can play this activity in many unique ways:

-End sounds (pen, spoon)
-Digraphs (words that have CH, SH, CK, or TH)
-Rhyming words (sock, rock)
-Vowel sounds (pot, sock)
-Spelling words (teachers often have spelling lists that follow a sound pattern- you can hunt for these patterns in the words of things around the home)

Proud Moments

Well-done spelling tests, math quizzes, and book reports adorn the refrigerators of proud family members and caretakers all over Flint. The kids in your care have many non-school achievements, and you can show pride in those as well!

Prep It

You just need a few materials to proudly celebrate children’s achievements:

  • Paper- the back of envelopes, junk mail, anything you can write on
  • Writing utensil- marker, pen, crayon

Play It

Sit down together and talk about things children have achieved lately that you’re proud of.

For example, “I’m really proud of you for being resilient and learning how to ride a bike even though it took a lot of practice,” or “I’m really proud of you for being responsible and choosing to do your homework before you play video games.”

Write these down on the paper, throw a big A+ or smiley face on them, and hang them up on the fridge!

Invite the kids to tell you what they’re proud of in themselves too. You might learn a lot about who they are when you’re not around.

Wouldn’t you love to hear, “I’m really proud of myself because I was nice to the bully in class, even though they’re not nice to me”? The PEP team sure would!

Enjoy these special moments together!

Sort Anything

Next time you put away laundry, kitchen utensils, or other things around the house, invite the children to learn about making groups while they help you! Children will get lots of practice observing, thinking about similarities and differences, and using descriptive vocabulary.

Prep It

All you need for this activity is a mess ? You could use dishes, laundry, toy boxes, Legos, or shoes- no need to buy anything!

Play It

Ask children to make groups of things without telling them how, so they can think about how they want to group them. Once a child creates a group, say “tell me about this group you made” so that they can explain their thinking.

To encourage children to make many different kinds of groups, you could suggest they sort items by color, size, shape, purpose, or person. You may find that these prompts are especially useful for toddlers.

Shape Hunting

Looking for shapes is a fun way to help young minds grow! Develop language skills and ideas about shape, space, and size all while playing this free and easy activity.

Prep It

You don’t need any special toys- everything your kids can get their hands on or point at is great for exploring shapes.

Play It


Talk with kids about the shapes around you anywhere you go. What shape is that jar, that cracker, or that cereal box? Is the back of that chair straight or curved? Is the plate flat? Is the milk container tall or short?

Once kids are comfortable with shape names, add colors and textures: Is that door a white rectangle? Is that cookie a bumpy circle?

Play shapes I-spy

How many circles, squares, rectangles, and triangles can you find?

Make shape jokes

Is that spoon a square? Nooooooo it isn’t! (Trust us, this is funny when you’re 2 years old!)

Prompt deep thinking

Use “what if” questions to help children think about why things are certain shapes. What if that wheel was a triangle? What if that cup was flat?

Picture Walks

There is a lot more to reading books than just figuring out what the words say. Going on a “picture walk” can help children learn how books work, how fun they can be, and why they’re important.

Prep It:

All you need is a picture book and a comfy place to read together!

For young toddlers and infants, board books and bath books are good options. At Walmart, Meijer, local bookstores, Goodwill, Salvation Army, and on Amazon, you can find board books (books made with thick cardboard pages) and bath books (books with waterproof vinyl pages) that are safe even for babies to use on their own.
1. Start by holding the book yourself and let them point at it. As they become careful pointers, graduate them to the following steps.

2. Teach them how to carefully turn the cover while you hold the book.

3. Teach them how to carefully turn pages while you hold the book.

4. Lay the book on a table and have them turn pages without picking it up.

5. Let them hold the book and turn pages.

Play It:

1. Start with the cover

Show children the front of the book. Tell them: “This is the cover of our book. What do you see on the cover?” If they are ready to, allow the child to hold the book so that they can point at and talk about what they notice.

If they have trouble starting or don’t go into much detail, ask them silly questions. If it’s a book about frogs, you could ask “Did you see this big whale? Nooo, that’s not a whale! What is it?”

2. “Reading” the inside pages

On the first page, point to the picture and ask the child what they see. Ask them to tell you what’s happening.

Ask these types of questions to prompt children to describe what they see:

  • What shapes do you see?
  • What colors?
  • Are there any animals or plants?
  • Are there any people?
  • What are the animals or people doing?
  • Where is the picture — in a house, the beach, forest, city, mountains?

Have them make up a story about the picture. It’s safe to move on when the child starts to lose interest in that page- no need to dig so deep that they become frustrated.

Repeat this on each page until the end of the book.

You may choose to read the actual written text, but “reading” the book using pictures only is a great learning experience for young children.

3. Challenge

Have children describe what they see in one picture, flip the page, describe what’s on the second picture, and then have them tell you a story about what’s happening on both pages. As they get better at this, increase to three pages, four pages, and on, until they are able to do this with a short book. Then, you can start using longer books.

What? When? Where? How? Hunt!

Go on a scavenger hunt to inspire children’s thinking about ideas like big versus small. Ask: Where is it? What does it look like? How long does it take? How many are there? How does it feel? The answers to these questions are known as “basic concepts.” Asking questions about basic concepts helps children learn new words, follow instructions, do math, and communicate with others.

Click here to save this activity with instructions, additional pages, and a create-your-own-hunt page to your phone or computer.

Prep It

Nothing is required for this activity, but we’ve created a handy guide you can print or save to your phone to help lead the game!

Play It

Go on a scavenger hunt for words that a describe what, when, where, and how – ideas called “basic concepts.” Anywhere you go- home, outside, on a bus ride, the store- search for these ideas, or “concepts.”

Look for things that are:

  • Big, small
  • Open, closed
  • Noisy, quiet
  • Empty, full
  • Heavy, light
  • Hot, cold
  • Behind something, in front of something
  • Above something, under something
  • Hard, soft
  • Asleep, awake
  • Curvy, straight
  • Near, far away
  • Happy, Sad
  • Front, Back
  • Above, Below
It is very important to start with just one concept at a time!

Use everyday objects (like a child’s favorite toy)

Try playing “I-Spy” with one or two concepts before going on a scavenger hunt for them. (“I spy something… big!”)

Make sure the objects are very different (small versus big could be shown using a marble and a beach ball)

Search for concepts in a variety of places throughout the day

Search for concepts while children create (“That tower must be heavy!”)
Sometimes hunt for concepts out of order, without their pairs

Hunt for one or two concepts at a time in as many places as possible

Look for concepts in images in books and media

Look for the written word in titles, signs, billboards, song lyrics, and in stories

Compare objects of the same concept (heavy, heavier, heaviest)
Look for where concepts are in written text, especially when they’re not explicitly stated (skyscrapers are big; smart cars are small)

Have children create their own scavenger hunt lists of other concepts they experience every day

Super-Thinker Simon Says

Shake up how the children in your care learn new words, follow instructions, do math, and communicate by playing a twist on Simon Says that focuses on developing children’s ideas about position, time, size, numbers, characteristics, and patterns.

Prep It

Nothing is needed for this game- just some space for everyone to move around!

Play It

Standing somewhere where all children can understand your directions, follow the prompts below to get started, then change them up to make the game even more fun! The prompts are organized by what idea they inspire children to think deeply about, but feel free to go out of order.

Begin by saying: “Simon says…” and say one of the following commands. If you do not say “Simon says” before the command, the children should not do the action!

Give a big (large) wave to our neighbors

Walk in a small (little) circle

Point at the short table

Sit on the long couch
Put your chin up

Put your right foot behind your left foot

Put your elbow in front of your tummy

Put your hand next to your ear

Put your finger under your eye

Pretend to throw a football to someone who is far away

Pretend to toss a baseball to someone who is very near

Put your hands apart

Put your feet together
First hop on your right foot, then hop on your left foot

After you blink three times, stick out your tongue

Before you touch your shoulder, touch your nose
Hold up more fingers than I hold up

Hold up less than five fingers

Show me all your fingers

Show me none of your fingers

Do between 5 and 7 jumping jacks
Show me what it looks like when you’ve eaten something that was too hot

Pretend you’ve been out in the cold too long

Pretend to be asleep next to the shelf

Pretend to be a baby awake during nap time

Find something in the room that is old

Point at something that is new

Open your mouth as wide as you can

Close your eyes

Pretend to be a noisy animal

Tip toe quietly

Pretend to carry a full bucket of water

Put an empty cup on your head

Do the same pose as me

Do a different dance than me
Skip in a zip-zag line

Walk backwards in a straight line

Crab-walk in a wavy line

Gone Fishin’

For a fun way to practice letters, sounds, and numbers that also helps kids practice their hand-eye coordination, try fishing!

Watch and learn how to play with Sarahi!

Prep It

1. Collect Materials

You will need:

  • Paper (scrap paper, construction paper, sticky notes)
  • Marker (or pen, pencil)
  • Metal paperclips
  • String (ribbon, shoelace, yarn)
  • Scissors
  • Stick (a ruler, long spoon, or tree branch)
  • Magnets (use one off the fridge if you’d like)

2. Make the “Fish”

Cut paper into squares about the size of small sticky notes.

Use a marker to write one letter or number on each square.

Slide a metal paperclip on, and you have a “fish!”

3. Make the Fishing Rod

Tie one end of the string to a stick, and the other side to a magnet.

Don’t have a magnet?

If you don’t have a strong magnet, or just want to physically challenge your kids more, tie a paperclip to the string and bend it open so it can be hooked onto the fish.

The paperclips on the fish may need to be bent a little to make it easier.

Play It

Spread the fish around the floor and let the kids find and catch them! Try the activities below, but also let children come up with their own ways to play!

– Letter names
– Letter sounds
– Number names
– Try having them catch fish in alphabetical order ( A, B, C, D…)
– Or number order (1, 2, 3…) and (10, 9, 8…)
– Counting how many fish they caught after identifying the letters
– Letter groups ( “Catch all the letters that can make the ‘Kuh’ sound,” like C, K, and Q )
– Patterns (number, letter, number, letter; or even, even, odd, odd…)
– Equations ( “Catch the fish that is 5 + 2;” or “Catch the fish that is 3 less than 7” )
– Skip counting (2, 4, 6, 8… or 4, 8, 12, 16…)
– Catching many fish to make a big number (if they catch 2, 7, 3, and 9, they will tell you the number ‘two thousand, seven hundred thirty-nine)
-Spelling words by catching each letter (you may need to make more letter fish for this)

Tip: Looking at school-aged children’s homework or take-home folders might help you decide what to practice. If you aren’t sure, a great way to find out is to talk to their teacher! Call, email, or visit teachers to get the best recommendations!

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