One of the activities I recommend before getting all “academic” on your toddler or preschooler is to play I Spy with initial sounds. I knew N was ready for this when she started dragging out the sounds of individual letters when she was speaking, although she actually was interested in ending sounds (and rhyming) before she was interested in beginning sounds.
Playing I Spy with initial sounds is something that can be specifically planned out ahead of time with certain objects, or more spontaneous wherever you find yourself to be with some extra time. In the classroom, this is usually played with more than one student at a time. At home, I played with just N.
I planned out the objects that we used in this video to correspond to the objects I use with our first set of Sandpaper Letters — alligator, seal, turtle, monkey. I presented the initial sounds of these objects to her first through I Spy, and only more recently with the Sandpaper Letters as she has mastered I Spy.
To play formally, gather your children [or child] around a table or work rug. Slowly and carefully take out each object you have collected one at a time and name it as you place it on the table. Then invite the first child to take her turn. Say, “I spy with my little eye something that starts with /a/.” [You say the sound that the letter makes, not its name in the alphabet song.] The child whose turn it is will pick up the alligator. You say, “Alligator! Alligator starts with /a/.” Continue until all of the objects have been picked up.
To play informally, treat it as a regular game of I Spy — you look around until you have something in mind. Then instead of describing it by color, say, “I spy with my little eye something that starts with /t/.’ “Tree! Tree starts with /t/.”
You can watch N and I play a bit of the I Spy game together below.
This sound game helps bring the sounds to a conscious level for the child, before you begin associating the symbol [letter] with the sound. Once the child has mastered identifying the initial sounds of objects using the I Spy game, try it using the final sounds.