Young children need LOTS of exposure to letters in order to master the alphabet. They begin learning the alphabet by recognizing the first letter of their names and then move on to other letter knowledge. Skilled teachers understand that acquiring letter knowledge is a lengthy developmental process for most children; they need multiple, creative, and varied ways to play with the ABCs in order to master the alphabet.
Preschool teachers can encourage students to explore the alphabet by including literacy elements in every activity.
Preschool students will be even more engaged in learning the alphabet when it is incorporated into sensory play.
This alphabet matching sensory play center is the perfect combination of learning, playing, and fun. It’s a hit with children as young as 3 and as old as 5 or 6.
Alphabet Matching in the Sensory Table
This is the easiest center to set up! (That’s always the goal, right?! Never spend more time setting up a learning center than the children will spend playing at it.)
First – Fill the sensory table (or a smaller sensory bin) with plain uncooked white rice.
Next – Hide a set of magnetic letters in the rice.
Finally – Label a dollar store cookie sheet with the letters A-Z. You can write them with a Sharpie or attach letter stickers like the ones shown below.
To play, the children dig through the rice to find a magnetic letter. Next, they identify the letter and find its match on the cookie sheet. The goal is to find and match all 26 letters, but some younger children will only find a few and then move onto the next area. Don’t worry! This is normal preschool behavior as children develop and extend their attention spans.
Social Skills and Teamwork
When small groups of students work together at this center, they get to practice essential social-emotional skills. By working together, they have the opportunity to practice speaking and listening. They also work on negotiating the space, taking turns, and cooperating. These are all of the most important things that preschoolers need to learn!
If your sensory area is big enough, set up 2 alphabet matching stations. Bury 2 complete sets of magnetic alphabet letters in the rice. Older children will enjoy “racing” to see who can fill their cookie sheet first. All students will have an additional opportunity to work cooperatively and share the materials.
We have tried a number of sensory bins, bowls, and tables over the years. The one that we currently have is hands-down our favorite. It’s huge (24″ x 48″) and not very deep. It’s perfect because lots of children can comfortably work at the same time, but it’s not so deep that it requires tons and tons of sensory material to fill it.
(Mobile Sand & Water Table from Constructive Playthings… not an ad, it’s just what we use and love!!)
Find other ideas for a Rice Sensory Table:
Pin this image below as you plan literacy centers for your class.