A word find puzzle hack for preschoolers

Meagan (whose blog, Sage Parenting, documents her adventures in green, frugal parenting with triplets) shared a big moment for her son, who discovered a way to solve word search puzzles even though he's not yet a reader:

I was so proud of our soon-to-be four year old today! He discovered a hack on his own!

I was tidying up the kitchen when P rediscovered some crayons and an activity book that he got from a restaurant. Before I knew it, he was splayed out on the floor, deeply involved in something. He's an avid pre-reader and had found the word search puzzle. Looking for the actual words in varying directions was beyond him, but he had been searching for the letters in each word and circling them. So in "TEAM" he had circled a T, E, A & M in various locations on the grid. He did this for all eight words on the list and was very proud of his accomplishment. A brilliant way to take a 5-8 year old activity and make it work for the preschool set, but just as importantly it bought me 20 minutes to clean!

I loved word searches as a kid! And I am so impressed with your son's creative approach…he's obviously excited to learn to read. Some of the bigger bookstores and drugstores carry the Dell puzzle magazines, but they're not as easy to find as they used to be. I searched Amazon and found a decent selection there, and was especially pleased to find this First Word Search: Reading Made Easy puzzle book — the words are short, the letters are big, the illustrations are fun, and (I think) the satisfaction would be high.

Speaking of puzzles, many kids love the easy sudoku puzzles as well. My son's more of a numbers guy and loves sudoku (but then, he's also 9). He also loves simple logic puzzles and the Jumble anagram puzzle in the daily newspaper.

Anyone else? How do you make word- and number puzzles easier for your little kids?


  1. kate says

    My son (5) love sudoku too – although he’s only managing the 4×4 type right now. And we started a while ago with shapes rather than numbers (which he couldn’t manage then). We’ll definitely have a look at word searches next!

  2. Martha says

    My daughter invented a hack for doing Mad Lib Juniors even before she could read. The Junior version of Mad Libs has a symbol for each category of word, and lists of words for each category to choose from. Normally we would do them together, so I could read her the words. One day she realized that she could find the symbol below each line in the story, and then just randomly choose a word from the column of words that had that symbol on top, and write it on the line (not knowing what it said, because she could not read). She could fill in the entire Mad Lib on her own this way, which would take quite some time and concentration. When she was done, then I would read it to her!

  3. says

    That is an AWESOME hack! Meagan, you have one smart son–so great to see him coming up with this method on his own. It’s amazing what they can think of, isn’t it?

    I have an almost 4-year-old, too, and will try this with him. He can recognize his letters, but not words yet, so this will be a great fun exercise for him.

  4. says

    I write my own word searches for my son. He reads pretty well, but I could do it for shorter words if I wanted, and put them in smaller grids. Usually, I’ll ask him for a category, like colors, then I’ll arrange them together, add additional letters, then give it to him to solve.

  5. says

    I do this with my 5 year old as well – a lot of restaurants have games and activities on the menus and most require reading. He’s doing ok with sight words but not reading unassisted. So when he comes across a word search I have him look for the individual letters in the words. He also likes to look for his name within the letters.

    He loves dot-to-dots, which are great for number and alphabet ordering. When he sees me doing a crossword or a Sudoku he wants to help, so I’m also interested in these types of games geared toward his age and ability.