Most of us recognize that play is an important way to learn all types of skills and knowledge. Play works as a way to learn for a couple of reasons. First, we are more motivated to do an activity if we are having fun doing it. Second, pleasurable activities get repeated and, therefore, give us more chances to practice the skill or recall a piece of knowledge. And as the cliché says Рpractice makes perfect.

Word games are a great way to pick up new vocabulary and play with vocabulary that is already familiar. Each game focuses on a different set of skills related to learning words, so if enthusiasm wanes for one game, switching to another game can re-energize the learning process. All of the paperless games below can be played anywhere. They require no equipment whatsoever other than your “thinking cap”.

1. The Alphabet Game: (Ages 5 and up) This game can be played while in a house or riding in a car. Start with the first player. The player must find an object he can see that begins with the letter A. He names the object and now the play moves to player number two. This player must name an object she can see that begins with the letter B. Play continues through the alphabet and group of players. To vary the game, work backwards through the alphabet.

2. The Word Guessing Game: (Ages 6 and up) In this game the first player thinks of a word. We suggest starting with a four-lettered word (i.e. hope). She announces to the group of players how many letters the word has (in this example – “I'm thinking of a four letter word.”). Then the next player suggests a four-lettered word (i.e. made). The first player compares the suggested word to her word. She is looking for letters in the suggested word that are exactly matched in position to her word (i.e. “hope” compared to “made” has the letter “e” in the exact position in both words). She announces “One Letter”. Now all players know that the word “made” shared one letter with the guess word. The next player will try to think of a word which will test which letter is an exact match. For example, this player may want to test if the letter “m” in the first position is the matching letter and so she might suggest the word “mint”. The first player will respond “No Letters”. Play continues until the players identify the guess word. The player to correctly identify the guess word thinks of the next guess word. It is important to state how many letters are in the guess word. Games using four- and five-lettered words work best.

3. Find the Letter: (Ages 4 and up) This game can help very young readers learn their alphabet. This is a good game for players riding in a car. Have the players look for the letters in alphabetical order. The letters might be on road signs, license plates, billboards, or shop windows. You may need to prompt them with “Can you find the letter A?” Repetition will build up their command of the alphabet and help them identify each letter. You can also use the alphabet song to jog their memories of the next letter.

4. A is for…: (Ages 6 and up) To begin, name a category for the words that will be used in the game (for example: animals, transportation, general, etc). Now the first player must name an object within the category that begins with the letter A (such as anaconda for the animal category, auto for the transportation category, or apple for the general category). The next player names an object beginning with the letter B and the players proceed in order through the alphabet. For the next game try a new category and allow a different person to start the game.

Playing with words can be a fun and rewarding way for your children to learn new words while reinforcing ones they already know. These games will help cement the alphabet in their minds. They will identify letters, learn the order of the alphabet, and practice spelling – all critical skills for reading. Let the games begin!!