It's a good idea for your child to be familiar with how their name is spelled before they start preschool or nursery; being able to pick out their coat peg, water bottle etc. amongst a sea of objects will give them confidence in their new surroundings.
But helping your child learn their name doesn't have to be a chore - far from it - they can have so much fun in the process!
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I have introduced names in a playful activities for all three of my boys from around 18 months old and as a result they have learnt the letters in a relaxed and enjoyable way.
Here are 10 ideas for playful activities you can do with your little ones to help them recognise and spell their name.
1. Kinetic sand letter printing
We love kinetic sand for its sensory fun. It lasts absolutely ages so you can get it out time and time again, plus it has a soft dry feel, so it's perfect for children who have an aversion to gooey or sticky textures. It also holds its shape really well when you mould it, unlike regular sand, so children can manipulate and sculpt it really easily.
If you're also a fun of kinetic sand, try adding some lower case letters next time your child plays with it. We used magnetic letters as they are a nice tactile way to introduce them to the shape and feel of the letters, but you could also hide wooden letters, foam letters, or even letters written on small scraps of paper to be dug up and uncovered, like buried treasure!
If you talk to your child whilst they play, by sounding out the phonic sounds, then even better! In this case it would be 'ss', 'ah' and 'mm' makes Sam. We are lucky that all our boys have short simple names to learn!
2. Name towers
This is a great way to make use of any building bricks you have lying around. Larger blocks such as Dupo or Megablox work better as you can write the letters nice and big.
Using whiteboard or chalk pens write a letter of your child's on each of the blocks and then build their name. We have used capitals here but you should begin with lower case letters. If you have quite a few blocks and can spare some, you can use permanent marker pen.
Start by introducing the name as a ready built tower and adding it to your natural play. Then as your child gets older, give them a block at a time and talk them through the sounds of each letter. Once your child is confident enough with the sounds of the letters, jumble them up and invite your child to build their own name.
3. Salt dough names
Salt dough is a fun sensory way to create in the absence of real clay. It's very simple to make, just plain flour, water and salt, which is formed into a dough and then moulded.
Salt dough recipe:
- 1 cup of plain flour
- Half a cup of table salt
- Half a cup of water
Put salt and flour in a bowl and gradually add the water, mixing until it comes together.
Form into the letters of their name - you can either use your hands or use letter moulds as we have.
Cook for 3 hours on your oven's lowest setting or place in a warm place for a couple of days, until your letters are dry. Then you can go town covering them with paint!
Once fully dry this is a lovely decoration for kids to display in their bedroom as well as a great way to help them learn their name.
We love crafting with salt dough, it's such a tactile way to create and is great for reducing stress and anxiety.
4. Dot sticker names
This is such a cheap and easy activity to prep, all you need is some paper, a marker pen and some stickers; they don't even need to be dots!
It's a fun way for younger children to get familiar with the shape of letters without any expectation of forming them.
When you write out their name in marker and give them some stickers, you don't necessarily need to ask them to follow the lines, just let them play around with the stickers - they might like to fill in the centre of an 'a' or 'o' for example. It's all about getting familiar with the letters in a playful way.
5. Salt tray writing
A favourite of practitioners of the Montessori Method and with good reason. It's a brilliant way for children to learn the formation of letters without having to master a pen or pencil. Moving the fingers through salt helps children to understand the small motor movements they will need their body to make when they begin writing.
You can either put some regular table salt into a small tray, or you can colour your salt by adding a little food colouring to a Ziploc bag and working it into the salt.
I like to pop some paper underneath in a contrasting colour as it makes it more of a fun reveal.
When you've finished playing with it, pour the salt back into the bag and it will last indefinitely.
"What the hand does, the mind remembers"
Dr Maria Montessori
6. Nature art letters
Why not take your learning outdoors? Learning with nature is so much fun and you will have an abundance of free materials at your disposal.
Invite your child to find some interesting objects - e.g. pinecones, sticks, stones and leaves - then use them to make the letters of their name. Try to avoid picking wildflowers and make sure you wash your hands thoroughly after.
If you take photographs of the letters you have created, you could always print them out and put on the wall in their room, for a unique bit of personalised art!
7. Magnetic tile names
We LOVE magnetic tiles for their versatility, they are one of the best open-ended toys to play and learn with as they have an infinite number of uses.
Our set is from Connetix Tiles - I find they have the strongest magnets, and the plastic is riveted and BPA free so it's totally safe for toddlers as well as older children.
For this activity, I just wrote letters on the tiles with chalk marker (avoid whiteboard pens as they can mark the plastic), put them into piles of consonants and vowels, then invited Mr 5 to make words by joining the magnetic pieces together.
We did this activity on a table but it would be so fun to do on a vertical surface such as a garage door or fridge!
8. Loose part letters
We love using loose parts to learn and letters are no exception! This is a really simple invitation - I gave Mr 5 his name cut out of coloured paper and a tray of loose parts so that he could fill them in.
He decided to colour-match which I'm not going to lie was very satisfying 😉, but any loose parts would be perfect for this.
9. Playdough names
This is a really simple idea but it helps children get familiar with the shape and form of the letters in their name.
Use playdough to form the letters of your child's name, then give them the opportunity to try it. If they aren't keen on making their own, just let them explore and play with your letters so they get familiar with them.
The lovely tactile nature of the playdough can be very calming, plus, it's a great way to develop fine motor skills - it's a good all-rounder this one!
10. Stamp and fill names
This is another fun way to use playdough for learning names. We used this to help Mr 5 start learning capitals, but it is also perfect for learning names when you use lower case letters. Use a letter puzzle, stamps or magnetic letters to make an indent in some playdough. Give your child a selection of loose parts, such as beads, gemstones and sequins, and invite them to fill the letters of their name.
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