phonics for active kids - young boy running

Phonics/Vocabulary Activities for Active Kids Stuck at Home

Phonics/Vocabulary Activities for Active Kids Stuck at Home

It’s only the first day of school closures and your kids are already going crazy cooped up in the house. You’re trying to work from home and get them to complete school work at the same time. I get it!

Your children need to be active, but they also need to learn something. You all need a little break and some fun. Here are some easy activities you can implement at home to get your kids moving and learning. These are geared toward early elementary school children, but you can differentiate for older children by choosing difficult vocabulary words. Have them read, spell, and match the words to the definitions while they enjoy some of the following activities.

The importance of easy prep activities for busy parents

When I was teaching elementary school I had a mantra: The one doing the work is the one doing the learning. This idea came from Harry & Rosemary Wong’s classic book for new teachers, The First Days of School.

I can’t tell you how many hours I wasted coloring, cutting, gluing and laminating really cute learning centers only to have the children complete the activity in 5 minutes flat. Who was really doing the learning there? Not the children.

Fast-forward several years. I am now a busy mom of two active boys. I often have to remind myself to let go of my perfectionist tendencies and let them do the work. When I wanted to help my eldest with phonics at home, I did a Google search for ideas. I discovered pages and pages of adorable activities on Pinterest, but when I visited the pages and took a closer look I realized how much parental preparation was involved.

I know better now. So, I’ve compiled a list of my top phonics activities for busy parents and active kids. The beauty of these activities is that you can reuse them for all kinds of learning from spelling practice to vocabulary development to memorizing math facts…the applications are endless.

Keep in mind the importance of novelty for active children as well. When they start getting bored, switch it up and try another activity.

1. Word Hunt

Phonics for active kids - finding words

It’s Monday after school. As soon as I unlock the front door, my son dashes into the living room to find his phonics words. Why is he so eager to do phonics?

He’s excited because I’ve hidden his spelling words around the living room. A Word Hunt is like a game of hide-and-seek except my son finds eight words instead of a person.

Each week I choose a phonics pattern and introduce the words by hiding them. Last week we worked on words in the -an word family (can, Dan, fan, Jan, man, pan, ran, tan….). If you have older children you can focus on roots words, prefixes, and suffixes or more challenging spelling patterns. The options are endless. Adapt the activity to your child’s needs.

To make the game more fun I give my son hints. If he’s far away from a word, I tell him if he’s:

  • freezing (really far)
  • cold (somewhat far)
  • warm (closer)
  • hot (close)
  • hotter (really close)
  • or red-hot chili pepper hot (almost touching the word)…Ay! Yay! Yay!

He loves it! When he finds a word, he reads it to me. Once he’s located all the words, we stick them onto a large piece of construction paper and hang it on the refrigerator.

Preparation: 5 minutes

  1. Fold a piece of construction paper into 8 rectangles, write the words, and cut them up.
  2. Hide the words around a room in the house.

This is your chance to use all the scrap paper you’ve saved to be more environmentally-friendly.

How This Activity Fits Into a Phonics Scheme?

How does this activity fit into a phonics scheme for young children?

A Word Hunt is good to do once a child knows his/her letter sounds.

My son has just started decoding (reading) short vowel words so I am focusing on word families first. By learning just one pattern your child can learn many words at the same time.

If your child’s teacher assigns words each week, just hide these around the house. If not, check out this website.

2. Finger Spell the words of the week

Only use this for words that can be decoded (read) using sounds. This is a great activity for beginning readers and kinesthetic learners.

I start with c.v.c. words (consonant vowel consonant – e.g. cat). First, I say “cat”, then I make each sound and hold up one finger per sound (like I am counting to three). Once I have all three fingers up and I have made each sound c-a-t, I then bring my fingers back together as I say the entire word again. There are many variations of this. You can tap each finger with your other hand as you make the sounds or tap them on the table. Here is a good video of finger spelling in practice:

3. Read a word, shoot a basket

phonics for active kids - read a word, shoot a basket

This is pretty self-explanatory. For an easy indoor activity (when it’s wet or cold outside) you can use a crumpled up piece of paper and try to shoot it into a wastebasket. If your teacher sent you a list of high frequency words/red words to practice, use these. If not, Google high frequency words for your child’s age group. Go through them and find out where your child gets stuck. Choose 5 – 10 of these words to practice.

Have your child read the word and then shoot a basket. You can make each basket worth 10 points. Keep score. Encourage your child to beat his/her score the next time you play. You can even take a step backward each time your child scores to make the activity more challenging. Play outside if you have a basketball net or just use a large trashcan and a real ball.

4. Read a word, score a goal

This is the same idea with a soccer ball and a goal. You can do it inside or outside. Outside, make your goal with cones or even strategically-placed backpacks. Inside, you can use a soft ball or stuffed toy. You can even play at the kitchen table with a crumpled up candy wrapper/napkin. Have your child flick the ‘ball’ through your fingers after he/she reads the word.

5. Write the words on a whiteboard

Once you kids are writing, have them write on different surfaces. Let them use dry erase pens to write on a whiteboard, or use sticks to write words in the sand. Go outside with the sidewalk chalk or even make the letters against a wall with a flashlight (torch) in a dark room. Have your child “write” a word on your back with his/her finger and you try to guess what it is.

5. Use a pointer to “teach” the words to other family members

Have your child use a pointer to “point” at each word as he reads to an audience (a play sword works well if you don’t have a pointer). My son uses his pointer to read the words hanging on the refrigerator after breakfast. These are the same words from the word hunt activity above so I don’t have to do any extra preparation.

6. Read a book to a family member or pet

Phonics for active kids - read to a pet

At the time of writing this post, I’d printed up a few word family and cvc books from The Measured Mom website for my youngest and I would ask him to read them to me before bed.

If your child is younger and feels overwhelmed when you ask him/her to read, tell them you’ll read the story to them first. Then, start reading, but purposely mix up the words. Your child will soon correct you.

When I used this technique with my son, he’d laugh and tell me the right way to read the words. Often, he’d take over reading for me when I was going to slowly. I used to come up with wrong words that rhymed with the words on the page of the book. My son would say, “No! That’s not right,” and then supply the correct words. It was a great way to practice rhyming, too.

Another strategy to use for reluctant readers is to alternate reading the pages with them so they don’t feel like they have to read the entire book. Or, have your child read to a sibling or pet to change it up a little.

7. Matching

If you have the items at home, have your child find them and match them with your words of the week. You can read “bag” and then have your child find one somewhere in the house to put with the word.

This is a great activity for vocabulary development and can be especially good for English Language Learners.

8. Phonics Hopscotch

Use your sidewalk chalk to write a word in a column on the sidewalk. Put a large square around each letter with the entire word together at the end. Have you child hop on one foot making each letter sound when they land on it. When they reach the end, they can hop with both feet on the whole word as they read it. If you have children of different ages you can make a more complex gameboard with longer words for older children.

9. Ping-Pong Phonics

Use a sharpie to write some letters or words on ping-pong balls.

Float them in a water table (or bathtub). Children can then fish for words by pulling them out and reading them or pulling out some letters and trying to make words with them. This can be a fun way to liven up bath time. Once they make a word have them try to toss the ping-pong balls in a floating bowl.

10. Refrigerator Magnet Letters

Put some magnetic letters up on your refrigerator. Start by encouraging your child to make his/her name. You can then have him/her put together the words of the week with the magnets.

Sometimes, I leave a little message for my son on the refrigerator. This is a good way to get him wanting to read.

Beware if you have older children! You might start to find words like “poo” and “fart” on the refrigerator as well.


Phonics doesn’t have to be boring. Use these activities to liven it up and give all of you a much-needed break from sitting at home.

You may also find these posts helpful:

The Importance of a Growth Mindset for Kids

How To Raise a Reader in a World of Digital Distractions

Leave a Comment