Recognising your name – great play ideas for pre-schoolers

I haven’t written a blog for a little while, we have been struck down with a sickness bug that has slowly worked it’s way around us. Nick and Charlie seem to have escaped this round so hopefully we are all back to normal for now. Its always a bit worrying when we have an illness in the house as we have to be extra careful with Isabel and her leukaemia, and although she has been poorly we have managed to keep out of hospital this time which is great!

Megan has really started to show an interest in her name so for the last couple of weeks we have been doing lots of games that help her to start to recognise her name. The following games are great for young ones like Megan who are starting to take an interest in their name. They will be great for pre-schoolers who are off to school in September, they will be seeing their name written down in lots of places like their coat peg, drawer and self – registration to name a few. If you have older children they can still join in, Isabel really enjoyed these games and was able to support Megan while playing them. She liked pretending to be Megan’s teacher.

As soon as your child starts to show an interest in their name it is a good idea to build on this by writing their name down every time the opportunity arises or pointing out the initial letter in their name whenever you see it. I knew Megan was showing an interest when we were at a children’s birthday party. She came to me and asked for some more ‘Meggie’, I didn’t understand what she meant and asked her to show me, she took me to the food table and pointed to a bowl. “more mmm, more Meggie” The bowl was filled with M&M’s which all had an ‘M’ printed on them. This was the first time she had recognised the ‘m’ letter and associated it with her name. After that she pointed out every ‘m’ she could see, so that is when I decided to do some name games with her.

Game 1:

On card write your child’s name in large letters, cut them out to make a template. Then draw around these letters onto paper. You can either write them as their name or dotted randomly around the paper. I had magnetic letters so I just drew around them. Then hide the cardboard letters in a sand pit or a tray with sand in it. The children then need to dig around in the sand to find the letters and match them to the letters on the paper. They don’t necessarily need to know the names of the letters, they can just match the shapes. You can name them as they match them. Both Megan and Isabel loved this game, Isabel helped Megan to match the letters if she needed it, then Isabel turned it into a competition and amazingly Megan won because we lost the ‘s’ (it took another day to find it-oops!!)

Game 2:

You will need plastic letters such as magnetic letters. Place the letters of your child’s name in a tupperware box, put in more of the letter you want to focus on. I wanted to focus on ‘m’ so we had lots of them in the box. Cover with water and add a couple of drops of food colouring if you want coloured water, then put on the lid and freeze. Once it is frozen place in a tray and encourage your child to try and free the letters. They can use safe tools or hands. Once the letters are free can your child recognise any of the letters in their name? Can they pick out all the letters? Can they make their name? Can they find the letter …? We focused on ‘m’ so Megan found all the ‘m’ letters and put them in a line.

Game 3:

Take a photograph of your child. Print it out onto paper (can be as small or large as you want) underneath write your child’s name. Then cut the photograph into strips with each letter one strip. You then have your own personal jigsaw. Your child can then try and put the pieces together, they will love that the puzzle is personal and that they can either use the letters as clues or the picture. If you laminate the pieces you have a jigsaw that will last a long time. I cut Isabel’s jigsaw into a more complicated pattern and she enjoyed the challenge. Megan enjoyed looking at herself and quickly identified ‘M’ at the bottom.

Game 4:

When playing with play dough, roll out a long sausage shape. Use this to write the letters of your child’s name. Can they tell you the letters you need? Can they say which one comes next? Can they point to a letter as you say it? Do they know which letter you are making? Can they have a go at forming the letters themselves? Once you have made their name, say it together. Then encourage them to trace their finger along each of the letters saying the letter sound as you do, this will help with letter formation later on and encourages a link between saying the letter and touching the letter.

Game 5:

This is not really a game but an opportunity to get name recognition everywhere! There are a number of food products that are made into the shape of letters, they are not always the healthiest of foods but if you are needing a quick dinner then they are great and you get an opportunity for learning at the same time. I like the potato ‘alphabites’ which can be found in the freezer aisle of supermarkets. The tinned ‘alphabetti spaghetti’ is great and you can also get dried pasta which is shaped into letters. The other favourite in our house is the cereal also named ‘alphabites’. Whenever we have these foods I pick out the children’s names and put them on the edge of their plates, they love it and it always starts a conversation about who has the same letters in their names, how many letters are in each person’s name. If it is a plate of letters they then start foraging for more letters to match, make their own name, Isabel tries to see how many words she can make out of the letters on her plate. It does mean a bit of faffing with dinner or breakfast and it can go on a bit longer than usual so ensure you have a bit of extra time for them to explore. I did have to get creative the last time I used potato ‘alphabites’ and make my own letters up when there weren’t enough, but the children didn’t notice and still thought it was exciting!

If you are thinking about teaching your child to write their name before they start school, the first thing I would do is make sure you have given your child lots of opportunities to see their name, and play games as above. They need to know the letters and the order they come in so find lots of different ways to do this without actually writing first. Next find out the school’s handwriting policy. This will outline exactly how the school teaches letter formation such as is it cursive or non cursive script? What does the ‘f’ look like? (I have taught in 4 different schools and each one does the ‘f’ differently!!) You can normally find this information on the schools website, but if not then have a chat to your child’s key worker in pre school, they will normally have good links with the schools and will know where to find the information. Once you have this information then encourage your child to form the letters of their name in the same way they will be taught in school. It saves your child from having to unlearn one way of writing and learning another. Schools seem to differ on their expectations for children starting school. I know some schools are keen for children to know how to write their name before they start. Personally I didn’t have that as a preference because I knew I would be teaching it, so don’t worry if your child cannot write their name when they start, it won’t take them long before they are writing their name everywhere!

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