One of the main goals of preschool literacy instruction is to teach young children the alphabet. For some children, this comes very easily and naturally but for many others, it takes a lot of time, energy, and practice.
It is tempting to think that sit-down practice with paper and pencil is the best way for our preschoolers to practice. Don’t do it! There are so many better ways… ways that incorporate movement, sensory experiences, fine motor skills, shapes, and more.
Go ahead… Ditch the worksheets! Here are 10 hands-on ways to teach the alphabet without a pencil and paper worksheet.
1. Craft Sticks
- Letter cut-outs, felt letters, or magnetic letters (for models)
- Basket of craft sticks
Children choose a letter and then arrange the craft sticks to make the shape of it.
2. Snap Cubes
Children use the cube letter templates as a guide while they build the letter out of cubes.
3. Sand Writing Trays
- Alphabet coins or other small letter tiles. (We made these coins by painting and gluing these wood circle pieces from Hobby Lobby. These letter tiles are another option.)
- Small, shallow tray or plate filled with sand. We like to use colored play sand, but you can use any type of sand, salt, or flour.
- Paint brush
Children choose a letter coin. They use the paint brush to draw the letter in the sand tray. When they are finished, they gently shake the tray or pat the sand to smooth it out.
4. Fine Motor Dots
- Print these Fine Motor Dot Alphabet pages in upper case or lower case.
- Cup of small pom-poms, bingo markers, glass beads, or similar round manipulative.
- Tweezers, tongs, or a spoon.
Children use their fine motor skills to transfer the manipulatives onto the dots to create each letter. Encourage the students to say the name of the letter, make its sound, and name the picture that begins with that letter.
- Geoboards (We like this set of 6 because it’s a quick and easy literacy center for our preschoolers.)
- Rubber Bands
- Print these 1/2 page Geoboard templates. (Both upper case and lower case letters are included.)
Using the templates as a guide, students stretch rubber bands around the pegs of the geoboard to create each letter.
6. Salt Trays and Pebbles
- Small, shallow tray filled with a thin layer of salt. (These pink trays were from the Target dollar spot.)
- Glass or plastic pebbles
- Cards with letter stickers (or just the written letters would be fine too! Don’t overthink it.)
Children choose a letter card. They trace the letter in the salt with their fingers, then place the pebbles onto the shape of the letter.
7. Alphabet Clip Cards
- Print these Alphabet Clip Cards. There are 5 sets — pick the one that is best for your students.
- Clothes pins (We like the tiny version, but any clothes pins will work.)
Children identify the letter on the card, then clip the clothes pin to the matching letter. (Add a small sticker on the back where the clothes pin should be. Children can turn the cards over and self-check.)
8. Write & Wipe Binders
- Print these Write & Wipe Alphabet pages.
- Insert each page into a plastic page protector.
- Assemble the pages into a binder. Add a pencil pouch with a dry erase marker, and a round make-up remover cloth.
Students can practice writing the letters and re-writing them with this dry erase binder. Click HERE to see more pictures.
9. Button Letters
- Magnetic letters
- Plastic buttons
Young learners can choose a magnetic letter, then use the buttons to make the letter to match.
10. Sand Prints
- Play sand or kinetic sand
- Magnetic letter shapes or other thick letters.
- Craft stick, pencil, or paint brush
Press the letter shape into the sand to make an imprint. Use a writing tool (craft stick, pencil, or paint brush) to trace the letter into the sand.
Not only are these options more developmentally appropriate for our youngest learners, they are more attractive and fun for them too. Experiment with creative ways to give your children the alphabet practice that they need, while also meeting their attention spans, sensory needs, and interest levels. Have fun learning letters!