Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead book cover

To set kids up for long-term success and get them kindergarten-ready, it’s important to introduce them to letters and words early and often. Repetition is key to really fixing these all-important squiggles into their memories, as is exposing them to letters in a variety of contexts. 

But as any parent knows, small children have a whole lot of energy to let out of their systems. Getting our little ones outside keeps them healthy and happy—and offers a welcome shot at tiring them out enough for an early bedtime. So sitting at a table to tackle endless alphabet worksheets or expecting them to sit still for long read-alouds doesn’t always feel like an option.

That’s why we’ve rounded up some of our most popular posts about how to reinforce literacy learning while getting kids out and active at the same time. All of these activities are super simple and affordable, requiring only basic materials.

So follow the links below for inspiration to blend some crucial early literacy practice into outdoor time with your kids. Then enjoy the fresh air as you get a little exercise alongside them!

Awesome Alphabet Hopscotch

Alphabet Hopscotch provides important alphabet knowledge and letter sound practice—all while reinforcing gross motor skills and getting kids some much-needed exercise and fresh air. 

But most of all, this easy alphabet game from early childhood educator Chrysta Naron is a fun way to bolster literacy while on the move with wriggly kids. This game can come to life in just a few minutes. All you need is a single piece of chalk.

In this post, Chrysta shares how to use hopscotch to teach both letter names and letter sounds—two key and very distinct steps towards reading and writing. She also describes how to play indoors, so you can still enjoy some active learning play if conditions keep you inside.

The Ultimate Outdoor Scavenger Hunt

Try this letter scavenger hunt to engage kids and have family fun outdoors. Getting outside, moving around, and boosting letter engagement is a win-win-win. What’s more, this simple and completely free activity builds mindfulness and strengthens your bond with your child. Strolling together at a leisurely pace provides a welcome break from technology and a chance to notice your surroundings.

This article from contributor Karen Williams gives tips and ideas for taking your child on a literacy scavenger hunt around the neighborhood, plus suggests three scavenger hunt books for kids in different age groups. Karen recommends a variety of ways to customize your hunt, including adaptations for older kids.

Alpha-Bingo Gets Kids Moving and Learning

Early childhood educator and literacy specialist Chysta Naron offers a twist on the literacy scavenger hunt: alphabet bingo. In this simple literacy game, you and your child will make real-world connections to the letters they’re practicing, all while exploring your neighborhood together.

Chrysta offers up educator-tested tips for maximizing your child’s letter learning, suggestions on which letters to focus on first, and directions for playing with multiple children. You’ll also find a printable alpha-bingo card to get you started. (No printer? Not a problem. You can always make your own, of course. Bonus: Making your own card offers a chance to help your kiddo write the letters.)

Take a Nature Walk Story Time

Get yourself and your child some fresh air, exercise, and important nature exposure—and enjoy the cuddles and literacy learning of reading aloud at the same time. 

Just pack a picnic, a blanket, and some picture books (bonus if they’re about animals, nature, science, or other outdoors topics). Then head out to a natural area or park. Walk together, taking time to examine whatever you encounter, from plants and spiderwebs to birds and bugs. 

Conversation is a key building block for literacy, so respond to your child’s interest and enjoy their wonder. When your child is ready for a break and a snack, find somewhere to set up your blanket, then snuggle up and read together as you both enjoy your picnic. For maximum benefit, look for opportunities to connect what you read to what you’ve seen on your walk.

Go Bird-Watching with Your Little One

Contributor and veteran birder Susan Gadamus shares a sweet bird-watching activity that turns a walk in nature or your neighborhood into a birding expedition. 

Susan discusses how to introduce your little one to bird-watching and gives a tutorial for a simple craft to make DIY “binoculars” that will promote focus as you look for feathered friends outside. This activity is great for enriching conversation and building the vocabulary knowledge that underpins successful reading. 

To build your child’s knowledge of written language, encourage them to take down observations in a notebook about what they see on your bird walk. Susan also recommends some awesome picture books about birds to read with your child before you head out.

Play Letters & Words Soccer

Try this easy literacy soccer game to work in a little ABC or reading practice with active kiddos who’d rather be running around than drilling indoors. It’s a fun trick to teach reading to kids who can’t sit still. And the fresh air and exercise may do you both some good, too!

All you need is an old soccer ball or playground ball, a permanent marker (or dry-erase marker), and your enthusiasm. Write target letters or words on the ball, then kick or toss it around with your child and take turns trying to read the letter or word facing you when you receive the ball. Our literacy soccer article has tips for how to teach as you play and how to adapt the game for different stages and needs.

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