- Instead of using the constant drilling tactics of flash cards to learn the alphabet, create the letters with play dough.
Start by separating the play dough into small pieces then have your children roll the play dough between their hands to create long, skinny, cylinder shapes. Using these pieces, children can manipulate them to make different letters. If your children are alphabet novices, it is okay to have a card for each upper and lower case letter available to use as a model so they can either create the letter next to the card or on it. If your children are the alphabet experts already, tell them the letters and have them make those from memory. Make it challenging by encouraging the creation of both the upper and lower case letters! To extend this activity, have pictures of different items available so your children can select the pictures that start with the letters made. This fun activity will enhance letter recognition and is a great basis for literacy development.
- Order the play dough by different sizes.
Create different sizes of squares, stars, or whatever shapes you choose and have your children put them in order from biggest to smallest or smallest to biggest. (Cookie cutters work great for creating the shapes.) Start with three different sizes then add more if your children need to be challenged. To extend this activity, ask your children to make the different sizes then put them in order from smallest to largest. Like before, ask the children to add more sizes to add a degree of difficulty. Ordering by size develops the ability to compare objects as well as pattern and sequence them which supports the beginnings of math success.
- Sort play dough by color or shapes.
Buy different colors of play dough and have your children create small balls with them. Place the different color balls in a pile on the table. Have your children sort the balls by the different colors. For more of a challenge, create different shapes with the different colors such as stars, squares, triangles, etc. Encourage your children to sort by just color, just shape, or by color and shape. Have them create their own categories and sort how they desire. Be sure to have them tell you how they sorted them and how they came up with that category. Categorizing and comparing objects is essential for both math and literacy development.
- Mix all the colors together!
Okay, for some it is a pet peeve to mix the different colors of play dough, but what a great experiment to see what will happen if you did mix the colors together. Ask your children to predict what they think will happen, and then do it! Ask questions during the activity such as: What is happening to the colors?, Why do you think the colors are looking this way?, and What will happen if we continue to squish them together? Take before, during, and after pictures to document the process. After the colors are mixed, ask your children if they can separate them again? Why or why not? Encourage a lot of dialogue and ask plenty of questions to get their minds turning while doing this activity. Doing basic science experiments like this will encourage exploration and thinking outside of the box!
These activities are simple and fun, but they are also educational and academic! Children need hands on experiences, even when learning the ABCs, 123s, and more! What else, besides play dough, can you use to create academic and engaging learning experiences for children? The possibilities are endless!