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The ABC’s: Sensory Activities for Letter Recognition

Children’s first few years of learning are all about ABC’s and 123’s. For young learners, acquiring these fundamentals can at times feel exciting, frustrating, or boring. And for parents it can feel the same way!

The great news is there are so many fun, engaging activities for helping little ones learn to recognize and write letters. Among the most effective are sensory activities, which, as their name suggests, engages children’s senses to promote learning and help them retain information.

Here are four sensory activities to make learning the alphabet feel delightful rather than daunting. 

Shaving Cream Writing

Say hello to one of the simplest, most effective sensory activities involving two household items you likely already have: shaving cream and a baking sheet! This fun activity helps children learn how to write letters, numbers, and shapes by connecting a cool tactile experience, which can make it easier to replicate the motions with a pencil later on.

Materials:

  • Shaving Cream
  • 1 or 2 baking sheets 

How To:

  • Start by covering the baking sheet in a thin layer of shaving cream, then invite your child to spread it out evenly with their hands.
  • Using your child’s index finger as a “pencil”, show them how to write letters, numbers, or shapes on their tray. Guide their hand with yours, or sit side by side with your own tray and have them mimic your hand motions.
  • To “erase” your work, simply smooth out the shaving cream and start over again!
  • For additional fun, plus an extra learning experience on color mixing, squeeze a few drops of food coloring into your shaving cream!

Play-dough Letters

This activity may make you nostalgic for your own childhood play-dough-playing days! Remember rolling spaghetti, building small animals, or making your first pinch pot? Play-dough is a mainstay of childhood play because it’s one of the best materials for developing the fine motor skills that are integral to writing. Motions like rolling, pinching, and pounding help strengthen kids’ hand and finger muscles. Play-dough’s squishy nature is ideal for forming letters, and that’s what this activity is all about! As children touch and manipulate play dough into letters, numbers, and shapes, they build their muscle memory and connect to the alphabet in a new, tactile way, which can make writing a more fluid act in the future. You can find all-natural, eco play-dough at Rose and Rex, or try making your own at home using the simple recipe below.

Materials:

  • 4 cups of flour
  • 1 cup of salt
  • 4 tablespoons of vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons of cream of tartar
  • Food coloring 

How To:

  • Boil 3 1/2 cups of water
  • Add the flour, salt, vegetable oil, and cream of tartar.
  • Stir in food coloring of your child’s choice.
  • Let the play dough cool for about 15 minutes, as it will be hot to the touch.
  • Start shaping those letters! 

Alphabet Soup

Water is an exciting element to add to sensory activities, and one that young children adore! “Alphabet Soup” uses water to help reinforce letter recognition and support fine motor development. Great for group play, this multi-step sensory activity offers a number of benefits for young learners: using chopsticks helps develop hand muscles and fine motor coordination, foam letters teach phonics, and pouring water between vessels helps foster responsibility and independence. Watch the satisfaction kids feel as they balance cognitive and physical tasks, share what they “already know”, and master fine motor skills!

Materials:

  • Small plastic tub
  • Pitcher of water
  • Bowls (soup or serving size)
  • Training chopsticks or regular chopsticks (depending on age)
  • Foam or cut-out letters (can be found on Amazon or Etsy)

How to:

  • Fill small plastic tub with water and place foam or plastic cut-out letters.
  • Have your child (or group of children) pour water from the pitcher into their bowl.
  • Using their chopsticks, instruct your child to choose letters from the plastic tub and place them in their individual bowls to make “Alphabet Soup.”
  • As your child choose letters, ask them to name each and identify the sound it makes before placing it in their bowl. Older children can name a word that starts with the letter, too.
  • For a fun follow-up activity after play, eat a warm bowl of real alphabet soup with your little one and see which letters they remember. 

Tactile Alphabet Poster

Most sensory activities that promote letter recognition and fine motor practice are cleaned up and tossed away once play is over. Not this one! The joy of having children make their own tactile alphabet poster is that they can return to use it again and again. This sensory activity helps little ones learn how to identify letters and place letters in the correct order (whether it’s the alphabet or spelling out words) by engaging sight and touch using various textured materials. Their alphabet poster becomes a wonderful, personal visual aid. Once completed, I recommend hanging it on your child’s wall at eye level and within reach, so they can interact with it voluntarily. Plus, treating their decoration as wall art helps your child feel proud of their work!

Materials:

  • Poster or foam core board
  • Construction paper cut into rectangles
  • Scissors
  • Marker
  • Tacky glue
  • Velcro cut into small strips
  • Assorted open-ended materials: corrugated cardboard, sandpaper, felt pieces, dry pasta, beans, yarn, buttons, pom poms, and more!

How to:

  • Have your child draw a letter on each rectangle of construction paper (or do it for them, pending their developmental stage).
  • Encourage your child to glue materials of their choice along the lines of each drawn letter.  
  • Once the glue has dried, place the rough Velcro side on the back of the construction paper letter and the soft Velcro side on the poster or foam core board. Using Velcro allows your child to work on placing letters in the correct order or concentrate on learning one letter at a time.
  • When all letters are complete, have your child place each letter in alphabetical order on the poster board.

 

About the Author

Stacy Mohr is a pre-kindergarten teacher on the Upper East Side with a dual M.S. ED degree in early childhood general and special education from Bank Street College of Education. She attended Syracuse University, majoring in Communications with a minor in Fine Arts.

While working on her masters, Stacy became passionate about children’s literature and is currently working on her own children’s book. A native New Yorker, Stacy loves to explore the city and share her picks for the best kids friendly spots and activities.

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