Learning how to write, specifically how to form letters needs to start with fine motor skills and a real interest in letters. Forcing preschoolers to learn anything is a futile exercise and sets children up for disliking learning in general. There will be plenty of time for children to feel bogged down with school, unfortunately, fortunately, we can stop that from happening in our classrooms by focusing on play and playful learning that taps into their natural curiosity and interest. This literacy activity is one step in learning how to write, but as you can see, there are no worksheets. What this learning to write activity does have is a chance for children to pretend, engage their senses and develop skills in a developmentally appropriate way.
How to Set Up This Activity
Gather your materials. You will need a dollar store cookie sheet, a permanent marker, some playdough, and some small plates and kid-sized spatula. You can create your own printable with X’s and O’s and laminate it, but I plan on using this activity enough to dedicate a $1 cookie sheet to it!
Start by writing your letters. As you can see I am only doing X and O. There is a method to my madness, when children are just beginning to learn how to form letters the two main shapes they need to learn to make are straight and curved lines. Beginning with X and O is a great way to introduce these lines and letting children master these in different ways before going off to more complicated forms. Start small and observe, as children are capable of handling more challenge offer it. There are no pencils or worksheets but trust me this is an important step in learning to write.
Add the playdough and welcome your little letter bakers to the table or learning center.
This activity taps into children’s love of pretend play. Children who are ready to roll out the playdough and use the letters on the cookie sheet as a guide will do that, children who aren’t and aren’t frustrated by the letters will dive into pretend play ignoring the letters, they just aren’t ready, and that’s fine. We are offering play and learning options not forcing. However, if you have a child frustrated by not being able to make the letters, please differentiate and remember you can always offer them a play cookie sheet. I find it helpful to use pretend even in this case, for example, you can say: “Oh baker Timothy, I think we have enough X and O cookies, what sort of cookies would you like to make on this sheet?”
If children are only interested in squishing and making other shapes with the playdough do not fret, they are still developing skills that are foundations for writing later on. Playdough develops hand strength and fine motor skills which together make us the sturdy foundation for writing and just playing with it is worthwhile.
I like doing this activity with my students at our playdough station. We chat and connect as we play and I can work new vocabulary into our talk too. Of course, I often label the letters as we are pretending to bake by saying something like ” I am not sure I have enough playdough to roll out my O.” “Did you know my dog’s name starts with this letter, yep, O for Oscar!” etc…
Bake your cookies… pretend to, don’t really! My students often take them to the play oven and pop them in. Then serve and chat some more!
Books About Baking
After “baking” these letter cookies together check out these books to extend this activity.
The Duchess Bakes a Cake by Virginia Kahl. I had to search this book out, I had forgotten the title, and author all I remembered was that there was a child named Gunhilde! Thank goodness for Google! The story is very sweet with the Duchess giving her staff the day off because she wants to bake a cake for her family. Unfortunately, things go awry, and the cake ends up huge with the Duchess stuck on top of it high in the air! Luckily the Duchess finds a solution and things are fixed in the end.
I loved two things about this book as a child, the idea of everyone eating a giant cake to save the Duchess and that the Duchess was taller than the Duke, I remember thinking that was funny and I didn’t know that a wife could be taller than her husband. That’s the beauty of books, even picture books open children up to new experiences.
Mr. Cookie Baker by Monica Wellington. The book is about who else, Mr. Cookie Baker and it shows the reader how he makes cookies from scratch, ices them and sells them. It’s a great book to explain baking and bakeries. The part where Mr. Cookie Baker eats a cookie after a long hard day and then says goodnight is always a hit. I like the illustrations, they are bold and detailed without being cluttered and can almost tell the story all by themselves. Be warned though reading this will almost definitely make you crave a cookie or two.
Duckling Gets A Cookie by Mo Willems. The story is all about things not being fair, and even 2-3-year-olds relate to the story and giggle as the Pigeon freaks out. It’s a great opportunity to remind kids about using words and staying calm. I love this book because young children can empathize with the feeling of something being unfair and not knowing how to control their anger about this injustice.