These beginning sounds activities give young children the chance to practice important phonemic awareness and phonics skills. Be sure to add them to your master list of literacy activities for preschoolers!
Recognizing how sounds are the same, and how they’re different, is referred to as sound discrimination. Hearing the first sound in words is one aspect of sound discrimination, and it’s an important phonemic awareness skill. It helps children to pay attention to the sounds they hear, and it aids them in learning letter sounds down the road.
Below, I share a variety of beginning sound discrimination ideas for young children. Some are purely oral language activities, focusing only on the sounds in spoken words.
Others are beginning sounds activities that incorporate letters. While these are inherently phonics-based activities, more research has come out indicating that pairing letters with phonemic awareness activities is beneficial. It is important to remember that language development, learning to read, and learning to write include a multitude of skills that interweave to create a literate person.
Related: Spring Printables for Preschoolers
How to Teach Beginning Sounds
Before I jump into the beginning sounds activities, I wanted to talk about HOW to teach initial sounds. Because they do need to be taught. While kids can pick up a lot from being read to, carrying on conversations, and observing those around them, explicit literacy instruction (at all levels) is very important.
That being said, this instruction doesn’t need to happen for hours at a time while children are sitting at a desk. For young children, especially, that just won’t work. So here are some tips for teaching children about beginning sounds:
- Explain and model in a succinct manner. Short and sweet direct instruction!
- Scaffold the children along the way. Your support is imperative.
- Incorporate lots of hands-on activities and games.
- Let the children move as they learn.
- Keep it going throughout the year. This isn’t a “one and done” topic.
- Make things meaningful to the children as much as possible.
- Use visuals!
- Don’t forget conversations and songs.
The above tips can really be applied to all phonemic awareness activities! What would you add to the list?
Beginning Sounds Activities
Now let’s get into the initial sound ideas! As I mentioned earlier, some of these will be solely focused on oral language while others will bring in the alphabet. I separated things into categories for you. That way, you can find the activities that best meet the needs of your individual students.
Picture-Only Beginning Sounds Activities
First up are activities that are 100% phonemic awareness. Click on the links below to read more about each of the ideas and, in some cases, grab the free printables.
The St. Patrick’s Day beginning sounds printable is the beginning of a series focused on initial sound games for preschoolers. I’ll be adding more to the series throughout the year, so do check back!
The Measured Mom has a set of sound clip cards ready for your kids. You can use them with clothespins or math manipulatives.
Grab your own set of printable beginning sounds bingo cards from Growing Book by Book.
Related: Syllable Activities
You’ll find a fun initial sounds sorting game over on Pre-K Pages. I love that this activity uses simple materials you might already have.
Play This Reading Mama’s letter sounds tic tac toe with your students! What a unique way to practice matching beginning sounds.
Make a beginning sounds book based on family or classroom members like Growing Book by Book. Then be sure to read it over and over again once it’s done!
Super Simple Initial Sounds Activities
I also want to share some beginning sounds activities that you can easily weave into your day. These are fast and easy and don’t require much prep.
Incorporate the initials sounds into transitions. “Line up if your name starts with /m/.”
Play a guessing game, “I’m thinking of a name that begins with /s/.” Or, “I spy something that starts with /d/.”
Challenge the children to a beginning sounds scavenger hunt based on their own names. You might need to double-check there’s something available for everyone beforehand.
Practice gross motor skills with a beginning sounds bean bag toss. Place a few images on the floor. Kids toss a bean bag at the image that starts with a sound you say.
Use children’s pictures, real photos of common items, and/or store-bought picture cards for picture sorts.
Make up a song! Here’s an easy one, to the tune of “Do You Know the Muffin Man”
Do you know what starts with /m/,
Starts with /m/,
Starts with /m/?
Do you know what starts with /m/?
Let’s say a word!
Tie the initial sounds into what you’re learning about (butterflies, for example). Say two words. If the words have the same beginning sounds, kids can flap their “wings” like butterflies.
Make a “feed the monster” game by cutting a hole in a shoebox top. You can even go all out and decorate it like a monster. Kids can only feed the monster pictures of things that start your chosen sound.
Play a listen and clap game. Kids clap if you say two words that start the same. Otherwise, they don’t clap.
Challenge the children to a “what’s different?” game. Place a few pictures or objects out. The kids have to determine which one doesn’t start the same as the others.
Letter-Sound Correspondence Activities
Now let’s talk about beginning sounds activities that incorporate letters. You can definitely tweak these ideas and remove the letters if that’s what you prefer!
Related: Magnetic Letter Sorting
Use Fantastic Fun and Learning’s free printable to go on a dinosaur beginning sounds scavenger hunt. Little paleontologists will get a kick out of this one.
Bring out the play dough for Modern Preschool’s identify and stamp activity. Perfect for your collection of cookie cutters.
Your little builders will have a blast hammering beginning sounds with ABCs of Literacy. Definitely add this to your next construction theme.
Related: Simple Early Literacy Activities
Growing Book by Book’s beginning sound pancakes would be fun in the dramatic play center. Everyone can have a pancake that starts with the same sound as their name!
Or make a set of beginning sounds sticks like Pre-K Pages. Lots of fine motor practice to be head here, too.
Add in some tactile learning with Stay at Home Educator’s initial sound object matching.
Set up a Busy Toddler’s sound matching sensory activity with your favorite sensory materials as the base.
Royal Baloo’s planet beginning sound clip cards would be great as part of a preschool space theme.
Challenge the children to a sound scavenger hunt like Frugal Fun for Boys. Then have them sort what they found onto the appropriate letters.
Materials for Your Initial Sound Learning
Now that you have so many ideas for your own beginning sounds activities, let’s chat materials. I love that you can use what you have on-hand, or grab a free printable, for many of the activities shared here. I’m a big fan of using what I’ve got!
But if you want to expand on the items you use for teaching initial sounds, I’ve got some ideas for you (I may get commissions for purchases made through links in this post):
- Interactive alphabet sounds posters and books
- Letter picture games
- Alphabet and sound magnets
- Letter sound games
- Language miniature objects
Done-For-You Preschool Resources
Let Preschool Teacher 101 save you time with fully-developed preschool resources! We have a wide variety of resources from lesson plans to STEM challenges to math activity packs.
We also have some phonemic awareness materials, like this beginning sounds pack that you can use as online OR printable games. Click on the image below for more information:
Here are a few more alphabet-centered literacy resources for you:
Be sure to join the waiting list for The Pack from Preschool Teacher 101 today! Members get access to more, and there are multiple membership options to choose from.
Originally published February 2015.