This post was written in collaboration with Go Happy Kids, however, all opinions are my own.
These 15 hands-on letter formation activities take what can often feel like a menial paper-and-pencil task and turn it into a fun, play-based experience for kids. With activities that tap into different learning styles, sensory systems and interests, there is sure to be something that encourages every child to build their letter formation skills.
While learning how to write with paper-and-pencil is important, it can be problematic for some children if it is the only experience they receive when learning to form letters.
For starters, it can be a tedious and boring task to do the same thing, the same way, over and over again. When this is the only way letter formation is taught, many children begin to lose interest fast.
Second, for children that have poor fine motor skills, requiring them to use only pencil-and-paper to learn how to form letters can be incredibly frustrating. It may even take away from their ability to actually learn how to form them effectively. Being able to control a pencil, is actually a separate skill from being able to form numbers and letters. And while they ultimately work together, some kids may benefit from working on them separately for a bit as well.
PRE-WRITING VS. HANDWRITING
With that said, please note that there are also different phases of learning how to write. Most kids do not just pick up a writing utensil one day and begin forming their ABCs. Rather, they start by demonstrating pre-writing skills and strokes like lines, curves, basic shapes, etc. and once they have mastered these, move into actual letter formation.
The following image gives you an idea of what “Pre-Writing” vs “Handwriting” practice may look like using our new Go Happy Travel Tray as a dry-erase surface. Depending on your child’s age and stage, you may find that using some of the ideas included in this post are more appropriate when adapted for your child to build their pre-writing skills first, particularly those that do require a good deal of fine motor work. Others, may be appropriate to use in forming letters right from the start. This part really just comes down to you knowing best what your child may be ready for.
letter Formation Activities
Trace with Dry-Erase Markers
Create a dotted outline of each letter. Then, ask your child to trace them with a dry-erase marker. For added practice, ask your child to then trace each letter with an eraser to make them “vanish” so that you can start all over again.
Trace with Chalk
The idea behind this one is the same as above. However, with chalk, there is an added bonus of being able to take your work outside and do your tracing on the sidewalk instead!
Roll & Shape Play-dough
Get your kids strengthening those hand muscles with this one. Sketch each letter for your child or use these printable play-dough letter mats for them as a guide. Want to amp up the sensory experience a notch? Make your own play dough and add in your favorite calming or seasonal essential oils. We love this gluten free, all natural recipe.
Form with Legos
My child could play with Legos for hours. And now that he is three, he is just starting to be able to build things following visual instructions. So why not tap into that and create the alphabet? Need a visual to support your little builder? Check out these Alphabet Lego Cards.
Draw in sand, rice, applesauce, etc.
The list could go on with this one. Basically anything that enables your little one to dig in enough to create distinguishable lines will do. We love using our Go Happy Travel Tray, in particular, for this one, as it helps keep everything contained! Plus, because there are so many options, you can create a new sensory experience every time.
Touch & Feel Letter Cards
This one takes a bit of time to create up front, but can be used over and over again. As a base for each card, you will need a sturdy surface. I would recommend cutting and repurposing a cardboard box. Once you have your cards ready, you can begin creating your tactile alphabet on each one. Glue on beads, pom poms, textured scrapbook paper, felt, pasta, etc in the shape of each letter. You can create each one with the same material or change it up. Once finished, your child can trace each letter with their finger, exploring the different textures as they do so. Find more ideas for creating a tactile alphabet here.
If you are looking to create another sensory experience for your child, finger paint is where it’s at. Children can either draw each letter with the paint or draw it into the paint similar to the tray above. We love creating own edible finger paint over here with yogurt and whole foods and spices.
Drive Cars on Roads
Do you have a little one that loves exploring modes of transportation? Print out a few letter shaped roads and collect some of their favorite vehicles, and you’re child now has their very own alphabet driving course.
Use Dot Markers, Stickers or a q-Tip
Choose your style for this “dot-to-do” letter formation activity. Sketch out each letter for your child in advance and ask them to cover it completely with dot markers, dot stickers, or by using a q-tip with your favorite non-toxic paint.
Form Pipe Cleaners
Pipe cleaners provide ample opportunities to create everything from jewelry to flowers to letters! For some added fine-motor skill fun, set out a bowl of beads for your child to string onto their newly formed letters as well.
Trace with a Highlighter
I’m not sure what it was, but as classroom teacher, I remember my students always getting so excited the moment I asked them to take out their highlighters. I mean, in a sense, they really are like magical markers. Maybe your child will share in their enthusiasm? For this one, draw an outline of each letter first, then ask your child to trace over it with one of these magical writing utensils.
Do Alphabet Yoga
Get your child moving and stretching their body with this letter formation activity. They say one of the best ways to learn is by “doing”, and this one embraces that principal to the fullest. We love these printable Alphabet Movement Yoga Cards in our house for inspiration.
Form with Food
Do you have a little one that enjoys making meals alongside you? Get in some letter formation practice while you are slicing up those veggies. Better yet, do so with a Go Happy Travel Tray, as its grippy bottom, makes it perfect for keeping foods on slippery countertops. This same idea can be a great snack time activity as well. Encourage your child to indulge as they create.
Create with Natural Items
Really any of these ideas can be taken outdoors. But this one brings in natural elements as well. Collect sticks, rocks, woodchips, you name it, and challenge your child to use them to form each letter.
use Random Household Items
If you child enjoys forming letters with food and natural items, then this one will probably be in their wheelhouse as well. Use clothes, toilet paper rolls, stuffed animals, etc. as supplies for letter creation. Once they have the hang of it, ask them to find items around the house that they would like to use as well.
So there you have it. 15 hands-on letter formation activities that will hopefully bring the joy “to” or “back to” handwriting. Now the question is, which one does your child want to try first?
And special thank you to Go Happy Kids for gifting us one of their Go Happy Travel Trays for this post. While they were designed with their grippy bottoms and optional adjustable strap to help things stay put on airplanes, we have found a multitude of similar uses right around our home. Not only that, but our tray has served as a perfect, multi-faceted surface for many of our letter forming adventures. Head to their site to learn more.