Preschoolers love a good alphabet sensory bin, and so do I. An alphabet sensory bin can help preschool teachers and parents introduce letters of the alphabet and their corresponding sounds, as well as reinforce those skills after they have been taught.
Because preschoolers benefit so much from sensory play, creating a sensory bin is an excellent vessel to feature letter names and sounds. It can be a means to introduce new letters and sounds, or to reinforce. So, if you’re a whole language or a letter of the week kind of person (or a balance of both, like me), this sensory bin will work for you. For this alphabet sensory bin, students were invited to play in the bin, but also were challenged to match magnetic letters with magnetic pictures. This call to action elevated the bin to more than just sensory play and exploration, but also gave me good insight as to how well my students were learning their letters and sounds. All this being done in a fun, non-threatening manner.
I began by making the filler for the sensory bin. Dyed rice. Happy Hooligans has a great recipe and how-to if you have not made it before. It is quick and simple. I was able to mix up a batch for each color in just a few minutes. While some blogger recommend using liquid watercolors to dye rice, I, like Happy Hooligans, prefer to use Wilton Icing Gels. They give me perfect results every time and are safe for Kent (18 months) just in case he decides to taste the rice filler. (Although, it is never a good idea to allow children to eat uncooked rice, so please supervise attentively).
After filling the bin with rice of an assortment of inviting and appealing colors, I added wooden magnetic letters. Then, I carefully arranged the magnetic beginning sounds pictures among the letters. Unless your sensory bin is really big, you might not be able to fit everything in. I use an under-the-bed container, so I focused on the most recent letters and sounds we had been exploring in preschool instead of adding the entire alphabet.
The bin was beautiful. The rice colors paralleled the brights hues of the magnetic pictures. My preschoolers loved sifting through the rice and listing to it rain down into the bin as they slowly dropped handfuls back in.
Finally, since I have two sets of the wooden magnetic letters, I used the extra set on magnetic baking sheets from Walmart. I invited the students to match up the letters and pictures to the letters already on the magnetic trays.
Keeping this activity play-based, I allowed the students to choose how they wanted to participate and for how long. For some of my students, this was more of a sensory experience rather than one in literacy. That is ok. One student in particular spent all his time playing in the sensory bin burying letters. When another student was looking for its match, the first would dig it up and retrieve it for the other student. While he wasn’t matching letters, he was still able to show me he knew their names.
Another student would place all the magnetic pictures of the same beginning sound in piles in the sensory bin. For example, he stacked the pig, pizza, purse and popcorn pirctures on top of one another. When another student found them, he said, “Hey, these all start with /p/, /p/, /p/. All the P’s are together!”
As always, this activity was paired with some of our favorite alphabet books.
This alphabet sensory bin was a huge hit with my preschoolers. Like other sensory activities, this one kept the students learning for over a half an hour. Once all the letters and beginning sound pictures had been matching, students took them off the magnetic trays and buried them in the rice. Soon, they began again. I anticipate this bin will continue to be one of our favorites.