This quick and easy activity is a fun way for kids to learn the alphabet. AND it’s easily adaptable for older and younger kids! Learn how to make a sensory bin for letter recognition and alphabet knowledge below.
Teaching the Alphabet to Preschoolers and Toddlers
Today I want to share a fun sensory bin to encourage children to learn the alphabet. Teachers often split teaching the alphabet into two term, letter recognition and letter-sound correspondance.
To know the alphabet, children really must do two things. First, they must identify what the letter is (letter recognition) and then must be able to recall the sound that each letter makes.
These are actually two totally different skills. One child can easily tell you that B makes the ‘buh’ sound, but may not recognize which letter is B. Another child has no problem recognizing the letter W, but when asked what sound the w makes, may say ‘duh’ instead of ‘wuh’ (because when we say the name of the W, ‘double u’, we make the d sound.)
Both skills are very important when learning the alphabet and learning to read. Often a child will pick up one skill much faster than the other. It all depends on their learning preferences.
Personally, I think letter recognition can be a bit more challenging than letter-sound correspondance. Children who are visually-inclined find letter recognition much easier than children who are more auditorially-inclined. It all depends on their learning preferences (don’t worry if your child is an auditory learner–some parts of reading like sounds out words will likely come MUCH easier to you child).
Today’s Activity: Visual Discrimination
Today’s activity focuses on letter recognition, and the most important building block of letter rcognition, visual discrimination. Visual discrimination is the technical term for noticing the differences between two letters (or any object).
Here’s an example. It doesn’t take much effort for a child to notice the difference between the letters ‘t’ and ‘o’. Visually, they look very different. However, when you get to letters like ‘n’ and ‘h’ ‘k’ and ‘x’, p and q, or the dreaded ‘b’ and ‘d’, things can get very comfusing. Children need to pay close attention totell (or dicriminate) which letter is which.
Today’s activity is going to practice this skill. Instead of forcing your child to complete worksheets or be drilled using flashcards, we’ll use a sensory bin to provide some developmentally appropriate fun, in addition to learning!
Alphabet Sensory Bin
OK, so today we’ll create a super easy sensory bin that will help your child practice letter recognition and visual discrimination.
If you haven’t had much experience with sensory bins, look into them! They are a game changer for playtime. Kids absolutely love sensory bins and are totally engaged when playing! They can be a little messy, but believe me, the mess is worth it!
Materials for Alphabet Sensory Bin
- Small storage bin
- Fill for sensory bin (I used crushed aquarium gravel)
- Plastic letters (I used these alphabet beads)
- Print out of the alphabet.
The alphabet sensory bin couldn’t be easier to set up. First of course you’ll need some sort of bin. Because I originally used this activity in my knidergarten class, I used a mini-bin and small manipulatives. If you’ve got a bigger bin, it will work just as well.
You’ll choose some fill for your sensory bin. I used aquarium gravel. You can use any fill you like. Rice or beans would work well here, or even cotton balls or packing paper.
Then add some kind of plastic or wooden alphabet letters.
It doesn’t matter what kind they are, but I do encourage you to use actual letters, not letters printed on paper. Physical letters will help your toddler/preschooler learn faster than a picture representation of the letter (it’s always best to start with the concrete while learning and then move to pictures).
Finally, you’ll need a paper list of the alphabet letters. Usually I use a laminated printed copy, but I was short on time, so I quickly printed out the alphabet on construction paper.
For set up, just throw the letters in the sensory bin and cover!
Instructions for Alphabet Sensory Bin
OK, so your child’s job is simply to dig through the sensory bin, find a letter, and match it to the letter on the page. That’s it! Finding a physical letter and matching it to a printed letter helps you child practice visual discrimination.
As your child plays, you can naturally incorporate letter names and sounds. Say “Oh, you found the B!” or “Hey! The D makes the sound at the star of Daddy’s name” provides natural learning in context.
Likely, if your child knows the name of some, but not all the letters, they’ll ask you the name of letters they aren’t familiar with as they find them. A perfect opportunity for learning!
Differentiation for the Alphabet Sensory Bin
If your child is just starting to learn the alphabet:
There’s no need to throw in all 26 letters at once! Pick a few letters at first and build up.
Try starting with the letters of their name, or the ‘m’ for Mommy, ‘D’ for Daddy and any sibling’s or pet’s names.
Remember, there’s no need for your child to know the letter names to complete this activity, but it provides a natural context for you to introduce and name the letters in context.
If you want to give your child a challenge:
- Time them to see how fast they can complete the activity.
- Put the letters in a BIG sensory bin with lots of fill, so finding them will be tricky.
- Have them match the uppercase letters to lowercase letters.
For kids who are starting to spell and read:
- Change up the mat. Instead of printing the alphabet, print their sight words and have them match the letters.
- For more of a challenge, leave blanks as you print their sight words e.g. b_ca_se instead of because. Have them find the missing letters.
This alphabet activity was really fun for H. She took her mission of finding the letters quite seriously and was SUPER proud when she completed her task. This was an activity she asked to repeat several times, and then she started using the letters to spell her name and the names of her family members. It was a great activity that led to lots of extra self-prompted learning (my favorite kind!).
I hope your kiddo will enjoy this sensory bin for letter recognition just as much as mine did! Happy learning!
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