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Hands on Learning

During Jack’s toddler years, I learned early on that he likes to get his hands dirty. He would often explore nature by picking up bugs and throwing rocks into ponds. It has always been important to me as his mom and first teacher to connect his likes to his learning, even at a young age. Play is an ideal way for kids to learn!

I began to ask myself, “When should I start introducing the letters of the alphabet into his toddler play?” His preschool days were fast approaching so I decided to create some hands on letters for Jack to play and explore.

I often looked at the Montessori materials because they are concrete and developmentally appropriate for toddlers. I soon realized Montessori tools are expensive as well. Then, I took my search to Pinterest as all good moms do. I discovered a new craft verb, decoupage. I do consider myself a DIY mom, but also, I was a mom of an active toddler at the time. I wanted a simple, engaging craft to make for Jack to discover his letters. Next step, a shopping trip to a local craft store.

I didn’t have any specific items on my shopping list. I used the sticker aisle and the decorative stone aisle for my inspiration. I decided on a few different styles of alphabet letter stickers. Translucent stones about the size of half dollars were also purchased. I picked up the basic tools for decoupage: gloss glue and foam paint brushes. Then, Jack and I went home and I waited until his afternoon nap to create.

I was pleasantly surprised at how quick and easy the letter stones took shape. I placed one sticker on each stone, put a coat of the gloss Mod Podge and then let it dry — out of the reach of Jack’s hands. I also decided to put a second set of alphabet letters in order on a piece of foam board. Jack could take the stones and match them to the corresponding letters on the alphabet board. A hands on way to learn the sequence of the 26 letters of the alphabet.

Once the letter stones were dry, I introduced to them to Jack. He was happy to play with them right away. I added in some important early literacy skills over the next couple weeks:

  • letters in his name
  • sorting letters by shape: round letters like O, Q, C and straight letters like I, L, M
  • playing Hide and Seek with a few letters
  • matching the letter stones to letters in books

The letter stones were such a hit that I decided to make a second set. Once Jack was able to put the letters in order on the alphabet board, I realized he was ready for uppercase and lowercase letters. I decoupaged a second letter stone set with uppercase and lowercase letter stickers. Then, Jack practiced matching big ‘A’ with little ‘a’ all the way to big ‘Z’ and little ‘z.’

Jack is entering first grade this August and we are still using these letter stones from when he was a sprout. He is building sight words, or ‘power’ words, and practicing his word families like -at and -og. Jack is still a boy who loves to get his hands dirty and I am still his mom who is always looking for ways to connect play to learning.

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Hands on Learning

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