Dollar Store Salt Tray { Alphabet Activity }

learn to write Writing letters in salt or sand is a classic Montessori activity. They give children a sensory experience while also learning how to form letters. What I have always loved about salt trays is that if a child doesn’t like how their letter turned out they can gently shake it and start again. These items were all bought at the dollar store . You could easily make 4 salt trays for $4 with the supplies listed. Exploring letters in all different ways lets kids experience them and make meaningful connections. Do not worry about how perfect the letters are at this stage, let them explore them and get used to the different kinds of lines and curves that go into them all. This post is part of our Alphabet for Starters series , a series of posts that aim to make learning the alphabet fun and creative instead of full of rote memorization. See more from that series here.

  1. Gather your materials. You will need some sentence strips, a sharpie, scissors, salt, and a pie plate( came in a pack of 4). You could also use a cookie sheet, shoe box lid or casserole dish. dollar store salt tray
  2. Cut the sentence strips into smaller cards. You could also use flash cards but as you might guess I don’t have any on hand .dollarstore salt tray alphabet activity
  3. Write out letters with the sharpie. You can write uppercase, lowercase, or a mix like I did. Go at whatever pace your child is at but don’t forget to put in a few challenges. For beginners stick with straight line letters like L , T, H  and the completely curves ones like C and O they have always been easier in my experience that when you mix the two together. We want kids at this age to have some initial success before we challenge them so that their confidence helps carry them through the harder bits. dollar store alphabet activity
  4. Pour in the salt. My daughter LOVED this so much we did it many times over…. and my porch still has salt on it. salt tray activity
  5. Stack the cards and start writing.dollar store learning letters with a salt tray My daughter who turned 3 in June had a touch time with some of the letters but when I explained to her she could shake and try again she perked up. alphabet activities for preschool In one sitting she did 6 letters. Do not expect to go through the whole alphabet especially with a 3 year old or an older child new to this activity. learning to form letters with a salt tray

z

Alphabet Books

f

z is for moose

Z Is for Moose by Kelly Bingham is a hilarious alphabet book that will have you and your child giggling throughout. The books is all about a zebra who is making an alphabet book and his over zealous friend Moose who is very very excited to be involved. So excited in fact that he can’t wait for M to be called and ends up crashing a bunch of other letters. When M does come he’s been replaced by a mouse. Moose’s reaction will turn your kids giggles into chuckles and all the while they will be working on letter recognition. Love this book!

Sleepy ABC

Sleepy ABC by Margaret Wise Brown . Although I have a legendary hatred of Runaway Bunny I generally love this author. I like this book, and the illustrations will zip you back in time for sure.  Unlike many alphabet books it has a great rhythm for reading it all without breaks.  My one complaint is that the child is tucked into bed then a few letters later is out listening to a story from another woman not their mom. I am not sure perhaps those are different children, didn’t bug my son one bit, but left me wondering. Like the title suggests it’s a good alphabet book for a bedtime read, it even ends with something I say often ” Go To Sleep!”.

Alphabet Under Construction

Alphabet Under Construction by Denise Fleming is a wonderful example of what an alphabet book should be. Perfect for toddlers and preschoolers learning their first letters, the text is short , the letters are front and center and the illustrations are fun and interesting. My son loves this book, I grabbed it at the library after remembering how much my Pre K class loved it too.Many alphabet books are too long to read entirety at circle time or in one shot with a toddler but this my 19 month old will sit through Z every time. {This review is from when my son was 19 months old in 2008. His love of this book was really a jumping off point for his love of letters in general. I wish I could say I taught him his letters but really reading this one particular book over and over at his request probably did the trick. }

 This post contains affiliate links.

Nature Cuttings – Outdoor Scissor Skills Activity

scissor practice One of the great things about the summer is to take plain old activities like cutting and finding fresh ways of doing them outside. This scissor skills activity was inspired by a pin I saw from Raise A Boy and I re-worked it for our yard and my daughter’s love of picking flowers and plants out of our garden. Scissor skills develop differently with all kids. My daughter loves to cut things and we are trying very hard to get her to hold the scissors correctly- but it’s a challenge. In the photos below she is NOT holding the scissors in the proper way. Her index finger should not be in the handle of the scissors. Offer kids lots of practice with activities like this so you can work on issues like these gently with lots of time before they develop bad habits that are harder to break. Scissor skills work on building the muscles and coordination needed for writing so don’t shy away from cutting practice!

  1. Gather your materials. You will need some kid safe scissors, a bucket, a bin or water table ( without the water) and a yard to gather things to cut. The goggles are completely optional though very fashionable. cutting practice
  2. Start by exploring your yard. cutting nature - scissor skills for toddlers and kidsThis step took a long time, we went all around our yard talking about the flowers that were blooming, the flowers that were dying, grass etc… take as long as you can with this step. Also if they aren’t into the exploring no biggie, there is nothing wrong with our kids not loving every idea we have. I have had many that never got blogged about because they didn’t get finished. It happens to all of us sometimes. cutting nature gathering the flowers
  3. Bring your spoils back to your water table or bin and dump them out. cutting into nature flowers and leaves
  4. Start cutting ( with your goggles on if you have them) . I like providing a few different pairs of scissors in an attempt to find the one that feels good in the proper grip. My daughter would hold them correctly at first then pop all three fingers back in the handle. It’s just going to take time and persistence which is always fun with a stubborn child…no clue where she got that trait!cutting into nature outdoor scissor skillsWhile you cut together talk about what you are cutting, explore with your senses. I invited my daughter smell many of the items ( especially the herbs)  and crush some in her hands and smell her hands. We talked about which things were easy to cut ( petals) and which were harder to cut like the stem of a dead daffodil. cutting flowers in the gardenI playfully asked her how her “pointer” finger sneaked back in that handle and she pretended to be shocked. cutting nature scissor skills with outdoor activity
  5. Leave the scissors and cuttings out and return to it later. My son joined in and they pretended to be in herbology class at Hogwarts. My daughter had no clue what that was all about but happily went along with her brother who could use some scissor practice too. scissor practice outside
 This post contains one affiliate link.

Cork Board Letters

cork board letter puzzlesOver the summer my son is focusing on play but I am focusing on working on his fine motor skills.  This activity satisfies both .  The best part of these letter puzzles are how adaptable they are. You can make letters, shapes, even spell simple words. You could provide your child with a card next to each group of pegs to let them know what letter it is or leave it as a puzzle for them to figure out like I did to combine fine motor and spacial skills.

  1. Gather your materials. You will need a cork board, some pushpins and elastics. Cork Board Letters
  2. Start by stretching two elastics across the board to make 4 distinct areas. peg board letters fine motor skills
  3. Using the push pins I created 4 letters. pegboard letters for kidsI wanted to make sure that they could be made into letters so created them myself. Then removed the elastics and called my son. cork board letters kids literacy activity
  4. He dove right in.peg board letters five motor development The A was easy but the B was tricky.peg board fine motor and letter recognition in one It took a while for him to see that it was a B but once he did he couldn’t make the B fast enough.  alphabet letters
  5. I took all the pegs out ( adults only if you aren’t careful the elastics can pull the pegs out and they go flying) and reconfigured them into 4 new letters.  These were easier and he flew through them but he was still getting lots of opportunity to fine tune his fine motor skills. cork board letters

Advanced Alphabet Books

These books aren’t your basic alphabet book. They offer challenges that will appeal to school age children but could still be shared with kids 5 and under.

animalia by Greame Base

Animalia by Graeme Base is iconic in teaching circles, you can loose yourself for hours in the detailed illustrations. The book is an alphabet book on steroids! Each page had a wonderful paragraph in each letter such as for the letter L ” Lazy Lions lounging in the local library.” The pages are filled to the gills with pictures of things that start with that letter as well. Parents and kids a like will fall in love.

all aboard

All Aboard!: A Traveling Alphabet by Bill Mayer was more fun for my husband and I than for my son when he was a toddler, but that’s not a bad thing. It’s a book of pictures, with hidden letters in them. For example the letter O is overpass with loops of road and hidden in it is an O. Some letters were easy to find some were hilariously hard. We read this to my son tonight at bedtime and while we stared at the letter H ( highway) picture debating where the h was, he fell asleep between us in his bed. This is a great alphabet book for families with children just learning and those who have mastered the alphabet. Oh and the debate was settled , we were both wrong. The final page highlights the letter in each picture in a compilation of the whole alphabet.

Al Pha's Bet

Al Pha’s Bet by Amy Krouse Rosenthal is a rare find. An alphabet book that can keep a 5 year old who says alphabet books are for babies, completely engaged. The story follows Al who has bet himself that he can win a contest ordered by the King figure out an order for the brand new 26 letters that were just invented. In a string of adorable events and a little chance the alphabet as we know it is put together. My son thought it was hysterical that P was put in the line up after Al went pee. It’s a cute idea for a book and abstract enough to be a bit of a challenge for preschoolers but just the right level of interest for kids that think they know it all when it comes to the alphabet.

This post contains affiliate links

Frustration Free Dry Erase Mazes

This week I dove into Pinterest full on. I love the ideas that are out there and for creative bloggers it’s this fine balance between getting inspired and feeling like everyone else has all the best ideas. After brushing myself off, telling myself not to act like my children I dove back in and fell in love. All of this is to explain that I got this idea from a pin – after seeing these great labyrinths from bloesem kids I thought how can I make it so it encourages writing but is low on the frustration meter. This is what we did.

  1. Gather your materials. You will need a CD case, some plain paper, markers, scissors and dry erase markers.
  2. Start by taking the liner out of the cd case and tracing it to make your own liners – we made 4 by folding and layering the paper before cutting.
  3. Next make the mazes. Ok so you could totally print some off the internet too and I encourage you to do this because man making mazes isn’t super easy, but maybe I am just maze challenged.
  4. Pop them all in a stack and into your case facing the back . Now your child can do a few at a time or all in one sitting.
  5. Add your kid and dry erase – mistakes are no biggie and look , writing practice!
  6. If you make a mistake , just wipe and try again!

You really should check out bloesem kids they have some magnificent ideas.

Fun Pre-Writing Activities Without Worksheets

handwriting for preschoolersLike reading, writing is a process that brings together a bundle of skills that all need to develop in order for your child to write with ease . Below are some of these skills and easy fun activities that help develop them. Worksheets aren’t the only way and certainly not the first step in teaching your child to write. Some children love worksheets and I think no matter what we are teaching our children if we build on what they love half the battle is won, so do not take them away if your kids enjoy them, just add some of these activities below too.

Write on Vertical Surfaces

Yes writing on the wall is a good thing, hopefully that marker is washable ! The reason for this is because when kids write on vertical surfaces like walls, chalkboards, and easels their wrists naturally bend back in the proper form for writing.You can :

*Make Your Own Chalk Board

*Write On The Wall with a Mini Mural

Fine Motor Skills

While writing my craft tutorials I often tag things as a fine motor activity because many crafts offer great fine motor practice.  Fine motor skills start in infancy while picking up finger food to eat but practice is so important as children learn to write. To encourage the proper grip you can try giving your child a small broken piece of crayon, it’s tiny size naturally encourages the proper grip. Also you can use up those tiny pieces! Thanks Teri for the suggestion.Practice doesn’t have to be work. You can :

*Have fun lacing and beading
*Make marshmallow and toothpick house
*Lock and Key Match

Develop Hand , Arm and Wrist Strength

In order to work the way they want them to your child’s body needs to develop and just like we work out our bodies to work the way we want them to, for endurance and strength. To build strength you can :

*Climb and Play On Playground equipment ( especially monkey bars, climbing walls)
*Use Spray Bottles To Paint
*Cutting - Yes I mean Scissors.  Don’t worry they don’t need to be sharp.
*Ripping is great too.
*Use tongs instead of your hands to pick things up in sensory tubs.

Hand Eye Coordination

I don’t think this section is given the status it deserves, hand eye coordination is so important and usually the part of the equation that frustrates my beginning writer the most. To work on these skills you can:

*Throw to a target – like we did with our Angry Birds Game.
*Hammer Golf Tees in like a pro!
*Sort things with tools , pour liquid into containers at a Water Table or while cooking with an adult in the kitchen.

More Pre-Writing Letter Awareness

This is the playing with letters, learning their shapes , and understanding their general purpose. You can :

*Make letters out of playdough and draw them in sugar.
*Make Letter Crafts to introduce and play with letters.
*Play Letter Games like memory , fishing games and letter hunts.
*Read.  Yes reading with your kids will help them with writing. So grab a book !

There are many strategies to help kids get a grasp on writing , these are just a few. Try not to push your young child, usually when they push back it’s because they aren’t ready for what you are pushing, so try a new approach.  Writing is a process and kids develop at different rates. Have fun with it and do not stress about what the kid next door is doing or what your mom says you were doing at your child’s age .