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6 literacy and numeracy early learning games

Time for School by Daisy Upton
Looking for some quick and easy learning activities to do with your child? In our extract from Five Minute Mum: Time For School, parent and best-selling author Daisy Upton (AKA Five Minute Mum) introduces you to simple, fun five-minute games to support Reception and Key Stage 1 children through their first years at school.

'I am very much hoping that this book will act like a little bridge: a paperbound stepping stone between what happens in the classroom and what happens at home,' explains Daisy Upton – parent, teaching assistant, social media superstar and mum to Florence and Ewan.

'I wrote it to help people who are preparing their children to start school and also to offer guidance through their first few years of education, so you can learn together as you go. It's aimed at little ones aged between four and eight, but the games can be easily adapted for kids of any age. I'm yet to meet a child (or person, for that matter) who doesn't prefer to learn through play.'

Phonics game: Puzzle blending

Ewan found blending so tricky; he just couldn’t hear how the sounds could fit together to make words. I played these kinds of games with him many times before he started getting it, so don’t worry if, the first twenty times you play, you are the only one modelling how to blend the sounds together, with very loooonnnggg clues to help them. They will get it eventually, and this game is perfect to support them as they do.

a bit of cardboard (ideally from a cardboard box)
a whiteboard pen
a marker pen
sellotape or sticky-back plastic

Phonics game: Roll over

When it comes to blending sounds together, I find some children prefer to do this while moving their bodies. An occupational therapist once wrote a guest blog for me on my website about why children fidget, and how helpful it can be for them to physically move while they are trying to compute something in their head. It’s useful to remember this when kids read books, as sometimes they like to wriggle around. It can be really quite annoying for an adult, with a kid squirming next to you as you try to read a story, but they can’t help it! So if you too have a little one with ants in their pants, perhaps these ideas might help...

letters of any kind
any kind of toy or vehicle on wheels – skateboard, bike, scooter, roller-skates, toy vehicle and so on

Writing and spelling game: Countdown

Just this word makes me think of the ticking clock track on the TV show! When I was a teenager and at secondary school, at the end of every day I would walk home, have a hot chocolate, and me and my mum would watch Countdown together. Recently it was on when Ewan was home and he started trying to spot words in the letters on the screen, so I said, ‘Shall we make our own version?’ And we did!

any letters (at least 20) – they could be magnetic letters, letters on bits of paper or Scrabble tiles
2 bags of any kind
a pen
a timer of any sort (you can use the Countdown clock on YouTube if you like!)

Writing and spelling game: Ordering games

The process of simply ordering the letters to create the words we need to spell can be all it takes to make spelling seem more interesting. These are the spelling games Ewan enjoys the most. He enjoys constructing, so anything that taps into this joy he will join in with! If you know what makes your child tick, then that’s half the battle won! Here are some of the ways we construct our spelling words, using bits and bobs we often have around the house:

  • Write the letters on the side of DUPLO® or LEGO® bricks and make word walls.
  • Cut up empty toilet-roll tubes and write letters on them. Use a kitchen-roll holder or a broom handle to put the letters on and construct the words vertically.
  • Write letters on ball-pit balls and use a muffin tin or cups or cupcake cases to hold them to create the words.
  • Give old baby building blocks a new lease of life by writing letters on the side and building word towers.

Another way to order the letters is to use a washing line. You can either use masking tape as your washing line, or a string and some pegs. Just set up a line between two chairs at your child’s height.


  1. Cut the spelling words written on bits of paper up into individual letters and mix up the order of the letters but keep them in word piles.
  2. Set up your washing line. If using masking tape, make sure the sticky side is facing you.


  1. Get your child to unscramble the anagrams. You can prompt them by saying which word it is.
  2. They need to put the letters on the washing line in the correct order to make the word.

Numeracy game: Car target

If you are looking for a game that you can vary for any age, then this is for you! I trialled this first with people who follow me online and it was a huge hit, probably because it is so versatile. The idea behind the game is that your little one is adding up and taking away over and over without even realizing they’re doing loads of maths. If they already love maths, this game might seem like even more fun for them!

a big piece of cardboard
paper and pencil
a marker pen
2 different-coloured toy cars
tape to create edges, or something to make a barrier around the edges
chair (or anything else that’s a similar height, like a stool or low table)

Numeracy game: Gridblock

Using a grid to support your child when introducing times tables can be helpful. For some children, the idea of working out the answers can seem hugely daunting. In a similar way to how I’ve often suggested we play with words to familiarize our little ones with them before they have to learn how to spell them, I also recommend playing games where the answer is readily available at the beginning. This can help to build confidence, which is always worth doing.

bean bags (if you don’t have bean bags, fill a sandwich bag with some uncooked rice and seal it)
pen, paper and scissors – or multiplication number sentences on flash cards
a container

More five-minute activities and games for EYFS and KS1

If you've enjoyed this extract from Five Minute Mum: Time For School: Easy, fun five-minute games to support Reception and Key Stage 1 children through their first years at school by Daisy Upton, invest in the whole book!

Best-selling author Daisy, known to her 210,000 followers on Instagram as Five Minute Mum, offers authentic and relatable advice and creates easy and fun activities for guilt-free parenting, all of which take just five minutes to set up and five minutes to tidy up and make use of easily-accessed household objects and materials. Her first book, Five Minute Mum: Give Me Five, featured over 150 of these games.

Five Minute Mum: Time For School is a handbook for equipping your child with the things they need to know before they start school and in the early years, to support their learning from day one.

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