Ever made an alphabet sensory bin? They are fantastic for introducing letters of the alphabet and their corresponding sounds, as well as reinforce those skills after they have been taught. With just a few materials, preschoolers can have a complete sensory experience while learning their letters!
I know sensory bins can be messy, especially if you do them at home. Don’t fool yourself, I have been one of those moms who has ended up with rice everywhere. (You can see some of my favorite sensory bins here, here, and here.) But you have to quickly get over the mess because when it comes to sensory play, there are so many incredible benefits!
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.
How to Make an Alphabet Sensory Bin
- magnetic letters
- trays that are magnetic, like cheap cookie sheets from the Dollar Store
- magnetic beginning sound pictures (We use these for lots of different activities!)
Begin by dying your rice. That will be the filler for our alphabet sensory bin. Happy Hooligans has a great recipe and how-to if you have not made it before. I was able to mix up a batch for each color in just a few minutes. While some bloggers recommend using liquid watercolors to dye rice, (which will also give you crazy vibrant colors), Wilton Icing Gels are safe for younger children who might try to taste the rice. (Although, it is never a good idea to allow children to eat uncooked rice, so please supervise attentively).
Add your magnetic letters and beginning sound magnets.
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 Alphabet Sensory Bin Activity
For this alphabet sensory bin, my boys 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 they were learning their letters and sounds. All this being done in a fun, non-threatening manner.
In full disclosure, your alphabet sensory bin won’t stay beautifully set up for very long. When I invited my boys to come and enjoy it, this is what happened.
This is ok. They were naming the pictures and searching for specific letters as they played.
Eventually, I shook the bin of rice and we set up the letters and beginning sound pictures again. And then I set out the magnetic trays.
It was as though my boys already knew what do to. They naturally began to match up the letters with their corresponding pictures.
Soon, all the letters were matched with their beginning sounds. And the next thing I knew, my boys were putting everything back into the sensory bin and playing Hide and Seek again.
Alphabet Sensory Bin for a Range of Abilities
Sometimes it is difficult to know how to use sensory bins as a teaching tool. Let’s be honest…it looks like “just playing”. But here’s the catch…just playing is just learning!
Here are some ways to use a sensory bin to meet the needs of a range of abilities.
- Allow the children to choose how long they stay at the sensory bin.
- Keep it play-based. It’s important to not pressure the children into the “academic” side before they are ready. A sensory experience is still a learning experience. (One student, for example, might only bury the letters. But another student might voice that she is looking for said letter and then the first will un-bury it).
- Encourage the children to play and have fun. Maybe the letters fly and say their names or sounds as they fly to the magnetic trays.
- Use two sets of magnetic letters and invite preschoolers to find matching letters. Two uppercase letters, A A, or two lowercase letters, f f.
- Encourage the children to talk about the beginning sound magnets. Do they like to eat grapes? Where do you put a clock? When do you see stars? This will help develop their oral language skills.
Looking for More Alphabet Activities?
Try some of these!
I’m Sarah, an educator turned stay-at-home-mama of five! I’m the owner and creator of Stay At Home Educator, a website about intentional teaching and purposeful learning in the early childhood years. I’ve taught a range of levels, from preschool to college and a little bit of everything in between. Right now my focus is teaching my children and running a preschool from my home. Credentials include: Bachelors in Art, Masters in Curriculum and Instruction.