Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Learning Letters the Sensory Way

Learning Letters Using Sensory Techniques that are Fun for Little Kids
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After my first baby, I quickly realized that life was all about milestones.  People don't mean to put pressure on you, but they are constantly asking, "Has she rolled over yet?"  "Is he walking yet?"

The problem is that if your little one ISN'T doing something, you feel ashamed and worried that your little one is behind.  Now that Munchkin Girl is three and a half, I'm starting to feel the pressure about learning the letters.  My friends tell me how their child knows the letters already and I have tried to get her interested, but she just isn't.  Since I don't know anything about teaching, I started with what seemed logical to me:  I bought some flashcards with letters and pictures.  She was about as interested in those as she in in cold peas for dinner.  Then I bought a cool easel with magnetic letters and we tried to learn them that way.  Again, she ran away from me and I was left wondering what I could possibly do to get her interested in learning letters.

I am lucky that I have made a good friend through my blogging network and she is a very knowledgeable Kindergarten teacher.  She advised me to use sensory activities to teach letters.  I was sure it wouldn't work, but I tried it anyway.  

For this project, our materials were simple: Elmer's glue, construction paper, and sprinkles.  Some people use glitter, but I read somewhere that you should NEVER use glitter with little kids because it can get on their hands and then if they rub their eyes it can damage their cornea.  Instead I used the leftover green and red sprinkles from making Christmas Cookies last year.

I simply wrote out a name on the paper with glue, then I let them sprinkle it to make the word come to life for them.  I was utterly amazed at their reaction.  They were both intrigued and they kept begging me to do more until I ran out of glue!  

teach children, sensory learning, learning to read, letters
learning letters in a unique way, easy way to teach letters

They adored pulling the finished product out the pan to see what they had created.  That's the babysitter's name, Renee.  They call her Nene.  After we finished, Munchkin Girl was sooo excited to show Nene she had done her name! 

Expert advice on learning to read
They were sad when I finally ran out of glue, so we put them all on the kitchen table and I pronounced each name for her so that she could see what she had spelled.  I used her friend's and grandparents names so she was totally intrigued.  By the end, she could pick out each name and I even heard her telling Little Buddy later, "See?  This spells Paaapppaaaa.  Don't worry, little buddy, one day you'll be able to read like me."

I have asked Susan to explain more about why this worked and give some extra info on how to teach kids to read, in there is anyone out there who is teaching-challenged like me.

Teacher Thoughts on Sensory Letters 
by Susan Case, Teacher Blogger, and Author:

Why are Little Munchkin and Buddy spending so much time learning these glittery letters? Because it is a fun, interesting, hands-on, relevant, playful activity. They are involved and participating in the production and tactile exploration of letters. Children are wired to learn using their five senses. They enjoy touching and participating in the process of forming letters. The are playfully learning through an activity that respects their developmental stage.
Developmental Stages and the Children's Thoughts while Learning Glittery Letters
  • Physical: I’m happy my mom isn’t making me look at those flat cards while she makes funny sounds. I like touching these shiny, bumpy, sticky things. 
  • Emotional: Mommy sure gets excited when I’m playing with these letters. She keeps pointing to them saying my name and PaaaPaaa’s. 
  • Cognitive: I think I saw these same kind of lines and circles in that book she keeps reading to me. She sure is happy when I make sounds like she makes (phonemic awareness). 
  • Social: I love being with my mom doing messy things. She’s wonderful.
Put away the flashcards and get out the sensory materials if you want to teach your child letters. Young children learn by sensory/motor integration as they explore and discover new things in their world. They want to be involved physically in the learning experience by feeling, not just seeing non-dimensional flat surfaces such as paper and screens. Of course, books are wonderful for children to learn as it increases their vocabulary and interest in reading. And letters can be learned from books, television and computers. But children need balance in learning through the use of a variety of tools and teaching strategies.
Other Sensory Learning Exploration Ideas With Letters
  • Print letters on cardboard or paper. Lower case letters are best to learn first because most reading is done in the lower case. Pour sand, rice, sugar or popcorn kernels over the letters and let your child find the letters to trace with their fingers. Or you could make block letters out of fine-grain sandpaper for your child to find and trace. While your child traces a letter, say the sound. Put a few letters together and blend the sounds. Of course, a child’s name is the most important word in the world. So begin with the letters in their name.
  • Children love making letters in shaving cream and this will erase crayon marks and germs.
  • Make letters out of Fuzzy Sticks
  • Put magnetic letters on a cookie tray
  • Buy blocks with bumped up letters
Children are curious and playful by nature. They are wired to learn by hands-on manipulation of objects. If you give children developmentally appropriate activities, they will stay with the task longer, retain more, and have good memories. You will be their hero for providing such wonderful opportunities for growth. You will have fewer behavior problems as your child will be emotionally, physically, socially, and cognitively challenged and content. Slow down, relax, and enjoy your child. Play and feel like a kid again while they become smarter and happier.

If you enjoyed this post, you will love my book!  Susan and I teamed up and released the book in July, 2012.  If you have ever tried to cook dinner while your kid clings to your leg and cries, this is the book for you!  As we did above, we give you a Mom's point of view and a teacher's point of view, so that you can do activities that not only keep the kids busy, but also keep them motivated to learn and develop their natural curiosity.  Kids behave better when they are given challenging projects to work on, which will in turn give you more free time to do the things you really need to do, like washing dishes, paying bills, and relaxing so that you can be a better Mom!

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  1. I really need to keep you in my blog reader forever. What a fantastic idea!!!

  2. What a fantastic idea!! I am going to try this with my child. She isn't interested in letters either.

  3. Brilliant ideas. I need this for my son.

  4. BRILLIANT. i'm SO glad i clicked over (thursday hop). i see it's been pinned 69 times, but i gotta pin it again to my stuff. i just gotta.

    (confession: i was clicked over with the intention of saying how much i HATE GLITTER and lo and behold you used SPRINKLES- BRILLIANT!!! )

  5. I'm with Christina (above) that this is a brilliant idea and I much prefer sprinkles to glitter! Love this!

  6. thank you everyone!! I'm so glad you liked it!!!

  7. Thank you so much for this. Brilliant!!

  8. Love doing tactile things for learning letters... I hadn't heard about the glitter thing before, scary! But I do like your idea of left over sprinkles to do the letters - creative!

  9. love this idea!!! My 3 yr old really isn't into learning his letters either. He pretends to spell stuff, because his brother is learning to spell, but other than that, that's about it...he'd probably love this though!

  10. I'm not who shared this post- I think it was Susan. But thanks for sharing it with me on the Kid Blogger Network. I featured it on Ready. Set. Read today!

  11. I think sorting is a great way for children to develop sensory and visual coordination. However, it could get boring if the child does it for too long.

  12. I love this post! I think your kids would also benefit from adding music into the mix, though, too!
    Heidi Butkus

  13. Another kindergarten teacher here (also a mom of 6, grandmother of 10 8/9ths!) who has offered this activity to my classes. Another version: let the glue dry without adding anything to it. When it has dried, let your child make a "rubbing" of the letters by using a unwrapped, broken crayon on its side. Voila! She has "written" her name!

    And yes, adding music and motion to the sensory activities helps those who have to be constantly moving! Especially HeidiSongs! :)

  14. I am a former kindergarten teacher and current homeschool mom. This year I will be working with my kindergartener (advanced), 1st grader (advanced), and third grader (lagging reader) together on phonics. A few weeks ago, I "tested" my plan on the kids, and they have been begging to do school ever since.

    As we go through a letter a day (new for one, review for others), we will be including ideas like these. On our practice day we put popcorn seeds on paper plates and practiced writing the letter "a". There are so many options - pudding, salt, sugar, sprinkles, shaving cream, ketchup, and so much more. This part of our lesson was so exciting for them - even the third grader. Another plan is we will be reading a picture book whose title starts with the letter of the day. We are so eager to get started...just as soon as I complete my plans for most of the school year.

    Thank you for sharing great ideas. I just had to share that this idea even works for bigger kids.

    1. Thank you so much! What a great idea! You really have your hands full...I bet you have lots of great ideas! Thanks so much for sharing!

  15. Great to find these ideas, thanks for sharing them. My daughter just 4 adores literacy learning alongside her school aged brother. He uses the magnets and cookie trays @ school and I will try these too to make spelling a little more fun for everyone!

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