Toddlers and preschoolers learn best through play, and it helps if the play involves sensory activities. Sensory activities involve anything that is tactile–slimy, gooey, doughy, smelly, rough, soft, colorful, sticky, smooth, etc. It is pretty simple to turn sensory activities into literacy activities.
Sand play is a great example of a sensory game that can be used for literacy. If you do not have a big tub or box for sand or rice, go to your local grocery store an ask the butcher for a clean meat tray. They are usually happy to give you one or two FREE–especially if they know it’s for a children’s activity. You can use regular sand, colored sand, plain rice, or colored rice (see the recipe for this below). Pour the sand or rice on the meat tray or in your box and let the children explore. There is no structure to this play. They have to get a feeling for the sand or rice.
After the first play or even just the first few minutes, you can offer alphabet cards for your child to view while trying to draw the letters in the sand. Write out their name and ask them to draw their name in the sand. Some children may need you to help hold their finger as they begin this tactile way of writing–and that’s okay. They will get the hang of it eventually.
Messes will be made with sand and rice. So make sure to put a towel or newspaper under your sand or rice box/tray. Messes are okay as long as they are cleaned up–especially with preschool and toddler-aged children.
To color your rice:
Place rice in a sealable plastic bag. Pour in a couple tablespoons of vinegar or rubbing alcohol. Add a few drops of food coloring. Seal the bag and mix it up. Pour the bag on to a tray to dry–the vinegar or rubbing alcohol will allow it to dry quicker. For darker colors, use more drops of food coloring.