25 Fun Literacy Activities for Preschoolers
“Literacy is more than just learning to read,” says Mary Muhs, dean of the Rasmussen University School of Education. “It also includes how children interpret and understand what is being read, as well as writing skills and composition. Literacy skills do not just develop overnight.”
"Literacy skills do not just develop overnight."
Muhs emphasizes the importance of building the framework for literacy in preschool and even before then. “If we start early and build on a child’s experience as they grow, they will not only be able to read and write but also love to read and write.”
You understand the importance of mixing in preschool learning activities with the usual fun and games, but who says you can’t do both at once? We scoured the internet to find the best literacy activities for preschoolers to add to your arsenal.
25 Entertaining and educational language activities for preschoolers
The key to instilling a love of learning in little ones is by disguising it with plenty of fun! Bookmark this list for a rainy day, and you’ll always have an entertaining and educational activity ready when you need it.
1. Kick the letter cup
This pre-K activity suggested by Fun Learning for Kids combines letters with sports. Take a stack of plastic cups, and write a single letter on each. Then line the cups up in a row, spreading them out a bit. Give your child a small soccer ball (or any soft ball), and instruct them to kick the ball toward the letter cups. Once they knock a cup down, instruct them to say the name of the letter on the cup. For a more advanced version, say a letter first, and see if they can aim for the corresponding cup.
2. Color sorting letters
Practice colors and letters together with this preschool activity from No Time for Flashcards. All you need is a printable rainbow, some colored label stickers and a marker. Use the marker to write one letter on each circle sticker. Give the child the sticker sheet, and instruct them to peel off each sticker, say the letter and stick it onto the part of the rainbow with the matching color. This helps little ones work on letter recognition, color discrimination and fine motor skills.
3. Alphabet pillow jumping
If your kiddos need to burn off some energy, this letter activity from Toddler Approved will be perfect. Use a stack of paper plates, and write one giant letter on each one. Then use packing tape to secure each plate to a pillow and spread them around the room. Have the kids start on one side of the room and try to jump to the other without touching the floor. As they jump to each new pillow, have them say the letter or letter sound.
4. Connect-the-dots with letters
Hands on as We Grow came up with a letter familiarity activity that will get your little ones moving and their creative juices flowing. Good, old connect-the-dots gets revamped when you write a handful of repeating letters in random patterns down a length of butcher’s paper. Kids can connect the letters in any way they like so long as all of the G’s are connected to the other G’s and so on.
5. Alphabet knock down
Toddler Approved came up with this fantastic letter recognition game, especially recommended for kids who love knocking things over. The preparation is minimal and only requires a pool noodle, some popsicle sticks and letter stickers. Once you’ve made the letters on their pool-noodle feet, give your child a ball, call out a letter and see if they can knock it down!
6. Children’s book in a bottle
Storytime has a hands-on element with Deborah J. Stewart’s discovery bottles activity. These cheap and completely customizable literacy tools could be thrown together in an afternoon as a kinesthetic addition to your kids’ favorite stories. Stewart has her students pass the bottle around while she reads them a story in class. She reports that the bottles keep her students calm while engaging more of their attention in the story. Her post on Teach Preschool includes directions, materials and even pictures for easy reference.
7. Crocodile circle
Picture a bin with a crocodile face on top, filled with letters and surprise cards. Students pass the crocodile around the circle singing Crocodile, crocodile down by lake; I’m going to reach right in and see what (letter) you ate. The student holding the crocodile then pulls a letter and calls it out. Extra surprise cards can let you repeat a turn, reverse directions or anything else you want to include. Making Learning Fun includes directions and free printables to make things easy.
8. Feather tip salt tray writing
The title of this activity explains it all. Children get to write (letters, numbers or whole words) in their own tray of salt with a feather tip! Fantastic for motor skill development, this sensory writing experience from Teach Preschool will disguise writing practice as playtime. Be sure to give your students some time to explore the salt tray before their task to minimize confusion.
9. Alphabet ball
All you need for this literacy activity from Playdough to Plato is a beach ball and a sharpie. Simply write letters on the beach ball, spreading them out on all sides. To play the game, have the child (or group of kids) throw the ball up in the air and identify whatever letter is facing them when they catch it. For a more advanced version, have them say the sound or a word that begins with the letter.
10. Magic letter painting
Grab some white note cards, a white wax crayon, some watercolor paints and paint brushes for this activity from Mas & Pas. Use the crayon to write letters on the note cards (you’ll need to press firmly to make the “magic” work.) Give your kiddos some paint and brushes, and tell them to begin painting over the card. Watch their eyes light up when a magic letter is revealed! Ask them what letter it is and what sound it makes.
11. Letter matching archeology game
The perfect accompaniment to a dinosaur-themed unit, this activity from How Wee Learn allows students to practice letter recognition while playing “archeologist.” Drop a few magnetic letters onto a cookie sheet, writing the letters you chose on a piece of paper for your students to use as a key. Cover the letters in flour, and give the kids a makeup brush to carefully “search the site” for hidden letters. When they find one, they must match it to their paper key before continuing the hunt.
12. Mini alphabet sensory bins
This one is especially suited for a classroom environment and could be a staple setup in any preschool teacher’s arsenal. Little Bins for Little Hands gives the classic sensory bins a twist by using objects that all start with the same letter. Tape the letter on the front of each box, or let the kids guess the letter as they examine the objects. Either way, these sensory bins transform a fun, hands-on play activity into a literacy lesson.
13. Snowball throw alphabet game
Paper, tape and ping-pong balls are all you need for this game of “snowball” throwing from Mom Inspired Life. Tape a bunch of letters to a wall, call out the sounds and have your kids throw the snowball at the letter represented. As an added bonus, kids get to work on their coordination as well as their alphabet.
14. Fingerprint letters
Your little finger-paint lovers will enjoy this letter activity from Happy Toddler Playtime. You’ll need a washable ink pad, paper and a marker. Start by writing large letters spread out on the paper. Then instruct your child to dip their finger on the ink pad and make fingerprints along each letter. This is a great way for little ones to start recognizing letter shapes even if they can’t quite trace with a pencil.
15. Number match-slap game
A deck of cards and some duct tape can transform any wall into a correspondence and number recognition system. Hands on as We Grow came up with this activity for preschoolers to “slap” a pre-taped card to its matching card on the wall. This one could even turn into a class scavenger hunt with cards taped on surfaces throughout the room.
16. Word families with ping-pong balls
Teach simple word families with this activity suggested by Fun-A-Day. Golf tees stuck in a Styrofoam base create the perfect platform to interchange different letters written on ping-pong balls. “Dig” becomes “pig” with just one switch! This game lends itself to giggling and throwing the ping-pong balls, and all shenanigans can count as literacy training.
17. Sorting number stickers
It doesn’t get much simpler than this activity created by Learning 4 Kids. Draw a grid on a piece of paper, and place a number in each box. Provide your students with a sheet of number stickers, and let them move the numbers into the box with the matching number. After all of the numbers are used up, encourage them to write each number themselves in the corresponding box.
18. Alphabet rocks
If you (or your kiddos) have the time to collect 52 rocks, this uppercase and lowercase literacy activity could begin in the great outdoors. Wash the rocks, and write an uppercase letter on one side, with the corresponding lowercase letter on the opposite side. Then show words or pictures on index cards, and challenge kids to recreate the word. Meredith at Homegrown Friends says the rocks’ weight and texture was a big hit with her little ones.
19. Triple-tracing name fun
Another great activity from Hands on as We Grow, this will give your little one triple the fun while practicing name writing. Start by writing their name in large letters with a highlighter on a piece of paper. First, ask them to trace the highlighted letters with a pencil. Then, have them trace the letters with glue, followed by yarn (do steps 2 and 3 one letter at a time to avoid a sticky mess!) This triple reinforcement will help the child learn their name letters and leave them with a fun craft at the end.
20. Beginning sounds paint stick
Collect some free paint sticks from a home improvement store, and make these phonological awareness tools from Pre-K Pages. Directions and pictures of the paint sticks come with free printouts to make your job just a little easier.
21. Letter bingo
This twist on the traditional bingo game comes from Frugal Fun for Boys and Girls. Simply make bingo cards with 16 letters on each card, and cut little squares of paper to write the corresponding letters on. Put these squares in a pile for the caller to pull from. For bingo markers, you can use legos, cheerios or anything else you have around.
22. ABC go fish
Another familiar game, this version of Go Fish from How Wee Learn will have your kiddos learning letters without even knowing it. Cut paper into card-sized squares, and write a letter on each one, making two of each letter. It’s best to use groupings of letters so you’re focusing on a few at a time. Split the cards between the players, and follow the standard rules of the game to make as many matching letter pairs as you can. “Do you have a B?”
23. Sensory messy play
Letters drawn out with whipped cream on tinfoil begin this activity. Provide the students with sprinkles and other cookie-decorating accessories, and let them decorate their letter. Kids Creative Chaos promotes this playtime for its engagement with all five senses while the children work on their letter.
24. Recycled Scrabble play
Old scrabble games are the perfect literacy tool to play with. The Kids Creative Chaos blog recommends arranging the letters to form rhyming words with children who are interested and allowing everyone to play with the tiles as they like. Even if the kids wind up building houses out of the scrabble letters, they are still seeing the letters and establishing familiarity.
25. Alphabet Kaboom!
The Many Little Joys shares this fun preschool learning activity that only requires Popsicle sticks, a marker and a small cup or bucket. Write one letter on each Popsicle stick until you’ve done all 26 letters of the alphabet. Write the word “Kaboom!” on six additional Popsicle sticks, and place them all in the bucket with the letters facing down. Have your child pull out one stick at a time, reading the letter or making the sound of each one. If they pull a “Kaboom!” stick, they have to put all of their sticks back in the bucket and start again.
Prepare for learning and laughs with these preschool learning activities
We all know little ones love to play. So why not leverage that playtime for learning? This list of literacy activities for preschoolers is a great start for introducing youngsters to letters and setting the stage for lifelong learning!
Learn more about the benefits of starting young in our article “Why the Importance of Early Childhood Education Is Impossible to Ignore.”
For more ideas of fun preschool learning activities, visit our Education Blog!
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published in 2016. It has since been updated to include information relevant to 2021.