Old McDonald had Some Sounds – Teaching Your Toddler Phonics

Being a teacher by trade I seem constantly to have in the back of my mind trying to help develop my toddler’s reading, writing and maths skills. I am not for one second wanting to create the next child genius, but I do want to help her ability to learn so that that it comes easily to her as she grows older.

Starting with the well known fact that children learn best through play, I have endeavoured to have a variety of toys and books around from my daughter to play with. I am a firm advocate that there should always be books around. Finding opportunities to play with a toddler is easy – life is a big game – and many have developed as a distraction to avoid running round in a queue, sleeping on the way home in the car or just going around the supermarket.

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When my daughter was getting to that age when sleep past 3 o’clock meant bedtime would not happen, I used to sing with her in the car. Mainly nursery rhymes and her faviourite was ‘Old McDonald’, particularly making the animal noises, and even more so when she said nothing and Mummy was left making a twit of herself mooing, baaing and neighing. Like all good toddlers, my daughter soon became bored of the usual animal noises and we had to find others, dragons, lions and snakes featured quite heavily in poor Old McDonald’s farm. Then the time came when we were not interested in Old McDonald’s farm so we just make silly animal noises. I would say an animal and she would make its sound. What has Old McDonald got to do with teaching my daughter her sounds – well quite simply there are only so many animals I know the sound to. Once we had exhausted farmyard animals and pets and I had no idea what sound a giraffe and zebra make I started using letters. What does a B say? What does a C say? etc. There may be an argument for visual association of the letters but every time we sung Old McDonald I did not have pictures of loads of farmyard animals.

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Other games soon developed, counting steps we had to walk up, copying different sounds that each other made – this did involve copying the most ridiculous sounds as we waited at the traffic lights but I did get in the odd phonics sound. To encourage my daughter to sit down and count objects with me or read LetterLand books (I’m sure there are other phonic books available) I chose times when she was already sat down – when she was eating her lunch, calming down before bedtime, just after her nap when she was still sleepy. As she started to associate a picture with a sound we started spotting them when we went out. Just as we did with cats, dogs and different colours, we would also see if we could find an A or a M on the way to our local shops. As long as she was playing with me or Daddy she was more than happy to play what we wanted to play whilst walking down the path pretending to be a train or dragon.

Now that she is getting older I have bought her some letter cards, there are 4 of year letter so we play matching pairs, find the letter, her favourite at the moment is using the words to spell her name. When reading with her during the day we play spot the letter. This started with her initials and then slowly brought in the other letters.

Our next step will be to practice forming the letters and I will not be starting with a pen. We will again make it into a game, can you copy Mummy drawing this shape in the sand, on your back, in the dirt with a stick, in the air etc. I am preparing myself for when we spend many a day dancing around the lounge writing in the air or getting the sand out slightly earlier than I would like.

My daughter is two and 9 months and loves making letter sounds, singing to the alphabet song (if anyone knows of a way to get rid of the letter elemenoppee please comment below!) and playing matching pairs with the letter cards. The joy has been not only developing those simple games we all need up our sleeve in case we are stuck in a queue or on a bus but getting her ready for the world of education.

Two Tiny Hands



  1. Love these ideas. My daughter is 2 and a half and we are always singing and counting everything. Singing and games are a great distraction when we’re out – I’ve lost count of the number of funny looks I’ve received when shopping because we are both singing or counting everything.. ha.

    1. Author

      i’m the same! Even though i must get a new CD for the car as even my mum knows all 21 songs now!! LOl

  2. Such good ideas. I’m not a teacher at all but I hope to teach my son to play and learn too. I think as long as they get attention they are pretty happy with that. He’s 19 months now so I’ll start doing the whole letter thing and matching games with him and see how we get on!! ‪Thank you for linking up to the #familyfunlinky‬

  3. I am really looking forward to teaching Ben. He has just started making some words (mum, dad and nan yay) so im sure soon it will be time to teach him more words eeeeeee =] #familyfun

  4. This is fab. We do similar things, we have flash cards and whilst we don’t learn the the alphabet by recognising the written letter yet, she’s only two and a half, we do the animals the sounds, and have started the alphabet by sound and she loves it! Thanks for sharing at #familyfun

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