Rainbow Rice Letter Learning Tray

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It’s been all things rainbow in our house this week as we get closer to St. Patrick’s Day. Here was a new spin on an old idea, since we’ve made rainbow rice before, but with some learning thrown in. Today, there were letters hidden in all that rice!

As a reminder, you can make rainbow rice by combining 1 cup white rice, 1 tablespoon white vinegar, and a few drops of food coloring in a zip-top bag, using 1 bag for each color desired. Seal and shake to coat, then pour onto paper plates and let dry overnight.

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In the morning, I arranged the colors in rainbow order for Veronika. I then set out two sets of letters. The first was smooth rocks, which I had labeled A through Z with a sharpie.

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The second were the pieces of a letter puzzle. I recommend working with only a few letters at a time for a toddler, or you risk wearing out your child’s concentration! As always, a great place to start is the letters of your child’s name, so today I placed the puzzle letters V-I-K-A (Veronika’s nickname) in the rice.

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I pulled our each correspondingly lettered rock, and we went hunting for them! “Hmm, where’s k?” Veronika said so seriously, sifting through the rice with a spoon. “Here it is!”

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After we had matched these letters, it became more of a free-for-all. She loved putting the rocks in the rice and burying them with the spoon.

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Then, as she uncovered each one, we would look over at the puzzle to find the one it matched.

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Finally, things turned into regular sensory play, which was just fine. She loved the sound the rice made as we sprinkled it down!

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The pastel colors of the rice helped us channel spring, which is less than a week away, a very welcome thought as winter weather continues outside.

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Eat Your Letters

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Veronika is fascinated with letters now, adding daily to the list of those she recognizes, and she loves pointing them out to me. “Letter C!” she said in the grocery store yesterday, spotting one on a sign. To reinforce her interest, I picked up a few grocery items with letters right on them!

My original plan was to buy Alpha-Bits cereal but couldn’t find it at the store. Instead, I purchased letter cookies from Earth’s Best, and letter-shaped pasta from Banza. For the cookies, I first spread peanut butter on toast slices to make them sticky, which turned them into little “easels”. I showed Veronika how to sort through the letters and spelled out simple words for her (love, cat), along with her name.

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I also held up one cookie at a time and asked what letter she saw. She knew some new ones from the last time I quizzed her, including H and D now!

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Big brother Travis quickly wanted to join in, eager to spell his name. We ran into a snag only because the kids were snacking, too, which meant we were soon missing letters we needed!

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After that, I dumped out the letter pasta onto a tray for Veronika to further explore. This was more like sensory play, but also great for learning. I again held up one letter at a time and asked her which it was.

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It turned out the pasta only came in five letter shapes, so we briefly sorted them, too. “Another S!” she said proudly, adding it to the pile.

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If you do find Alpha-Bits cereal, go ahead and arrange them on those peanut-butter bread slices, then finish up the activity by eating your open-faced sandwich!

Beginner Object Line Tracing

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Here’s a neat hack that allows a toddler to practice following lines like tracing, but which doesn’t require holding a pencil or marker: “Trace” with objects instead!

Great first letters for toddlers are always their name, since this is often the first world they’ll have to write. I like to use Veronika’s nickname so she’s not overwhelmed too many letters, so I spelled out V-I-K-A in blue painter’s tape.

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Next, I showed her how to arrange our set of colored dominoes along these lines.

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She caught on quickly, and although her focus often wandered (she was very interested in talking about the colors of the dominoes, too), she was easily redirected to the task and followed along as I helped her fill in all the letters.

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This was a great chance to say the name of each letter, too, and the sound it makes. The giant size of the tape letters definitely invited interaction! She loved standing in the empty space of the V…

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…or walking along the lines of the A. In fact, you could encourage your toddler to trace the letters with his or her feet!

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Just to gauge where she’s at with pen control, I did give her a marker at the end of our play to see if she wanted to follow the big lines of tape with it. She preferred drawing small circles or loops on the tape instead, so we’re not quite there yet!

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Magic Letter Learning

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This game can be tailored for toddlers who are just starting to recognize letters, preschoolers who know them well, or even big kids who are reading early sight words!

To start, write out the alphabet (or the above-mentioned sight words) with white crayon on a white piece of paper.

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Now to reveal the letters magically, I gave Veronika a cup of water and we stirred in a little red food coloring. She curiously brushed this magical mixture over the paper. At first she thought we were just painting, but she gave a little squeal of delight when she realized the white crayon showed up like a secret code.

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As her “paint” revealed each letter, I told her the name of it. Once the full alphabet was uncovered, we sang through the Alphabet Song together! That made this a great lesson for a toddler just starting to realize that each letter shape has a name attached to it. As mentioned, though, you can make this more like a hunt for preschoolers who know their letter names and have them shout out each one as they paint over it.

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In sum, this was quick and simple letter learning for a rainy morning.

Learning Letters Lineup to Squirt

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I’ve noticed Veronika singing the alphabet to herself a lot lately, and she’s starting to identify a few of the letters correctly by name. This little game seemed like a fun next step to test her letter knowledge. After all, what toddler doesn’t love to squirt things with water?

Ideally, I would have done this activity on a chalkboard so it could be repeated, but I don’t own one large enough. Instead, I wrote out the alphabet in white crayon on a thick piece of black poster board. I then set out a tray with the magnet letters from our fridge and handed her the first one as a test.

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“What letter is it?” I asked her. She correctly identified V, and then I asked if she could find the corresponding V on the poster board.

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Once she matched each magnet letter to crayon letter, I told her she could spritz her target. Whoa, permission to spritz! She immediately loved this game.

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It was eye opening to see which letters she knows (m, v, and i are early ones), and which ones she wasn’t sure (s, r).

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Either way, she could always pair a magnet to its corresponding crayon shape even if she didn’t know the letter’s name, simply by matching them, and much more quickly than I would have guessed!

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And then came the fun chance to squirt.

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This was a great set-up to leave out for her all afternoon, as she happily mixed and matched the magnets or scribbled some more on the “chalkboard”.

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Upper and Lowercase Letters on ABC Road

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Our alphabet mat has been taking new forms lately, and while it was stretched out more like a road, we turned it into a quick summer review of upper and lowercase letters!

While Travis was at camp, I set up all his toy cars, each with a post-it note containing a lowercase letter on top.

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This car army was ready and waiting for him when he got home!

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The challenge was to drive each lowercase car to its uppercase “garage”. Travis was up for the task!

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He loved starting each one at the same spot on the “road” and deciding if it had a long drive or short drive to get home. As an extra challenge, I didn’t have the letters in alphabetical order, so he had to search each time!

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By the end, he was justifiably tired, but our little lowercase cars had all found their uppercase “parents”.

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This was a great refresher to avoid the summer slide.

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Magnetic Letters & Play Doh

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I’ve hesitated to give Veronika play doh until now, full knowing she would do a taste test. But we received mini containers of it as a birthday party favor so we had some (very!) supervised play doh play today. Note: I highly recommend the all-natural eco-dough as an alternative or a homemade batch in a pinch!

Today, I pressed the vivid play doh colors into flat pancakes on her high chair tray, and showed her how she could smoosh magnetic letters down into the pile.

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She tried this a few times, but then was far more into the little play doh containers themselves!

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She did indeed reach her little fingers in and give it a taste, which earned a quick firm “no”.

There was lots of opportunity to talk about colors here, both in the play doh and the letters, as well as to have fun with the letter prints that appeared when we lifted a letter up.

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This was a nice first intro to the material, which I know she’ll play with lots more as childhood continues! Don’t have play doh at home? Here’s another way to play with those magnetic letters!

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Nature’s Alphabet

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How do you keep the alphabet fresh and fun for a preschooler who knows all his or her letters? Search for the letters outside, of course! This nature activity will challenge your child’s brain to see letters in whole new ways, all while getting some fresh air.

Take about a crisp fall day – we needed to pull out our winter coats, but the sunshine was gorgeous.

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First we made a list of the alphabet so we could keep track as we hunted. This is a good chance to review all the letters, or sing the ABC song if your child is learning alphabetical order.

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If your child has a camera or nature notebook, this hunt is also a great opportunity to use both! Travis is so proud whenever he takes pictures, although I had my camera, too, to catch closeups of the letters we spotted.

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Don’t try and find the letters in order – you’ll drive yourselves crazy. Instead, we stretched our eyes and imaginations, and saw what came to us.

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A few are easy, like x’s and A’s.

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Don’t forget to look up! There was a D in the curve of the branches when we looked up at this tree.

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Travis thought the three holes in this leaf looked like an M


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If we squinted, this funny shape in a tree’s trunk became a Q.

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Y’s are relatively easy to spot (think of Y-shaped sticks), but we liked finding them in shadows, too.

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We loved this spiderweb sparkling in the sunshine. No letter was immediately evident, but perhaps you can make out E’s or F’s marching along the side.

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In sum, this hunt was a great way to spend the afternoon outside together, and sneak in some learning! We didn’t find every letter, but we had fun trying.

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DIY Sponge Blocks

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When it comes to homemade building blocks, these are as easy as they come! Just buy large sponges in bulk (aim to have about 8 to 12 total), and you’re ready for play.

I hadn’t even finished cutting the sponges into shapes (rectangles, squares, and triangles) before Travis noticed them piling up on the counter and demanded we start playing with them.

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The building commenced right away.

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Once the initial novelty of the shapes and texture wore off, it was time to be more imaginative. The sponges soon turned into food.

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Which needed to be grilled of course.

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To take a break from the imaginative play, encourage your toddler or preschooler to make letters with the sponges, or simple patterns by color or shape.

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As the grand finale, we took the sponges outside. They were exceedingly fun to dip into a bucket of water and throw onto the ground.

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We also tested out how much water the sponges could hold, by squeezing them over a cup.

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And you thought sponges were dull as dish water!