Teaching preschoolers the alphabet is one of the most important responsibilities of childcare, laying the foundation for years of important learning to come.
But let’s be real: The alphabet song isn’t enough.
Here are six letter-learning activities that engage multiple senses — getting preschoolers moving and having fun while physically interacting with the learning material. These recommendations are also easy to work into any typical day. Try them out when the same old song just isn’t cutting it.
1. Freeze — and spell!
No extra supplies. No complicated rules. No mess. This suggestion is first on the list because it’s the most simple.
As you’re going through the day, take the opportunity every now and then to shout “Freeze! Spell!” Then point to the last child to freeze (or anyone at random, because, let’s be real) and ask them to name the first letter of the color shirt they’re wearing, the first letter of their own name, and the first letter of the name of the person nearest them. Here’s an example script:
“Freeze! Spell! Tyler, your turn to play! Your shirt is the color blue, [make the sound of the “b” if needed], what letter does b-lue start with?”
Feel free to mix up the rules. Kids will love the concept of a spur-of-the-moment game, and this is a good way to settle down an energetic group, if momentarily.
2. Craft the letters
Most education experts recommend sensory learning material for preschoolers. Pass out popsicle sticks, multi-colored pipe cleaners, pieces of foam, or other easy-to-shape, safe materials and have the kids in your care use them to create different letters of the alphabet.
They will be able to feel the way an “A” is shaped — that it’s connected by three lines — and associate letters like “B” and “D” with their rounded curves. That’s going to come in handy when kids start to write the letters themselves.
Tip: Upload a photo of the children’s crafted letters to your childcare management software so that parents can see what their little ones are making and learning!
3. Groove to the musical alphabet game
Get the kids moving and dancing to break up the day, spend some of that endless energy, and learn the ABCs!
How to play: Cut letters of the alphabet out on construction paper and lay them in a circle, or use an alphabet mat. Play a kid-friendly song and have the kids go round and round the letters until you pause the music. When the tunes stop, each child should name the letter they’re on, or near, and a word that starts with that letter.
4. Shape-shifting game
This is another activity to try out when you want to get the kids up and moving. It’s very simple: Use the popcorn method to have kids call out names of letters, whether it’s capital or lowercase (or you can set this rule ahead of time), and something that starts with the letter. Once a child has selected the letter, everyone in the room should try to make the shape of the letter with their bodies.
There isn’t going to be a high success rate here in terms of actually resembling, say, the letter “R,” but the kids will be giggling and having a good time trying to make the shapes.
Tip: Have the child selecting the letter write it out on a whiteboard or large piece of paper — that way everyone in the room can visualize the letter as they move.
5. Clothesline alphabet
Hang a simple clothesline in the classroom, somewhere visible, and attach all 26 letters of the alphabet to it. When a child asks to be line leader, or at any other special moment throughout the day, ask them first to snag a random series of two or three letters off the line.
As a bonus, getting clothespins off the line is a great way to develop fine motor skills in children!
Tip: To reduce embarrassment if they’re struggling to find the right letters, let the child know they can ask the room for help if needed.
6. “Visit” the donut shop
We have seen this song all over the internet, with a few variations on the lyrics. It’s so fun, we had to include it.
Here’s how you play: Cut out foam or cardstock “donuts” and “sprinkle” them with fun colors of foam or sparkles, sticking a letter on each. If you’re at home with the kids and want to treat them, you can even use real donuts!
Have the children sit in a circle and sing this cute song as they each pick a donut from the pile:
Down around the corner at the bakery shop,
There were lots of little doughnuts with sugar on the top.
Along came (child’s name) all alone,
and he/she took a(n) (name of letter) donut home.
Each time a new child picks a donut, insert their name and letter into the song.
Thanks to Raising Little Superheroesfor this version of the lyrics.
Tip: Make sure to repeat letters and sounds clearly as the kids play these games. Auditory repetition is most helpful when paired with visual learning. Physical engagement is an added bonus!