Most of what I’ve done with my kids to teach letter recognition, phonics skills and sight words has come from my teaching background or ideas I’ve found online. We occasionally used technology to help with these skills, but I feel strongly about providing hands-on, bodies-on, sensory-rich activities for young learners.
Here are a couple websites I have found that offer hands-on literacy activities too.
50 Incredible Alphabet Activities for Preschoolers at Hands On As We Grow
Alphabet Activities at Pre-K Pages.
Both pages offer many hands-on, sensory experiences for learning letters.
A few activities I couldn’t find online…
Find the Right Letter
The students I work with came up with a great game for practicing sight words. I love those times when an activity morphs into something student-generated. There is so much more investment in an activity if it comes from the kids themselves. This one is simple and can be applied to so many contexts.
- Small bag or container (a bag with a drawstring works great)
- Plastic letters
- Sight word card(s)
Put all the letters for a certain word (ex. when) in a bag. You tell them the word or have them read it on a card. The child has to feel around and pull out the letters in the correct order of the word. The beauty of this is that it really gets kids to create a different visual memory of that word. They’re not looking at the letters, they’re feeling them and seeing that letter in their head. Pretty powerful stuff for some kids.
You can increase or decrease the difficulty by adding letters to the bag that don’t belong in the word or by not showing them the word on the card. This activity works well for simple letter recognition too…can you find the x or can you find the letter that says /p/?
This activity might not work for all kids, especially if they’re ticklish, but I’ve had a lot of success with it. Write a letter or word with your finger or a paint brush on your child’s back. Go slowly. If you’re just using it to practice letters or letter sounds, stop there. If you’re practicing sight words, have them say each letter out loud as you write it, then tell you the word at the end. Switch places and you become the guesser. It’s fun to be the one in charge…they won’t even realize they’re practicing!
Easy, but effective. Practice letters or sight words in the air using the whole arm. Turn it into a game by having your child stand in front of you. They write, you guess. Then switch.
Use what you have and make it fun!
I purposefully used different building materials in the photo at the top of the page to illustrate that you don’t need one specific kind of toy to play with (in other words, practice) letters and words.
Don’t have Tinker Toys? Use blocks, pipe cleaners, Legos, K’nex or Zoobs. Don’t have sand? Use rice. Or beans. Or yogurt. Or shaving cream. You get the idea. Look around your house. I’m sure you have plenty.
And don’t forget about different surfaces. Just writing the letters with your finger on bumpy concrete is a different experience than simply writing them with paper and pencil. Shake it up.
My advice is to keep sessions relatively short. One or two letters or words is plenty to work on in one session. If you’re working on letters, they can tell you the letter they built when they’re done. Or point to a couple letters you’ve built. Or tell you the sound. Or say a word that begins with that sound. If you’re working on sight words, have them say each letter as they’re writing it (or after they’ve created it with building toys, have them point to each letter and say it). Then, underline what they’ve created with their finger and say the word. Whatever you do, keep it fun. They’ll want to do it again!