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Letter Recognition Through Play…Dough!

By guest blogger Bree from @thatminimalistteacher 


I always think it's important to wait until your pre-schooler shows an interest in a topic before trying to promote it at home.  You may attempt to introduce an idea but if it's not met with enthusiasm then I wouldn't force it. You want them to love what they’re learning about so timing is everything!

I've seen lots of resources for letter mats when using playdough to learn about letters. These are great to have but I'm not one for printing, laminating and cutting a bunch of mats, (I also have a tendency to break laminators!) so I'm always on the hunt for ideas that allow me to use natural resources or objects I already have available to me. I genuinely believe that the more natural manipulatives you have for young/hands on learners will help improve your chances of engaging them for a longer period.

Sticks and stones are some of my favourite resources to include. Connecting learning with nature is so important for young minds.

One of my favourite activities when learning about letters is providing the child with a selection of letter stones, some straws, a pair of scissors, and of course, play dough! Again, I could have some laminated letters as part of this activity but there’s something about rocks and stones that children seem to be drawn to. Maybe it’s the weight, the feel or the connection to nature. Whatever it is, it seems to engage children and is something I can easily find for free!

For my pre-schooler I began by choosing 5 letters. What you choose will depend on your child’s ability and interest levels, or you may invite the child to make the decision for themselves. I started this activity by choosing letters that were known. By doing this, I am helping to build confidence before introducing unknown letters and sounds. 

Such an easy resource to make. Collect some stones from the garden, grab a permanent and get writing!

To begin with, let them play with the play dough before asking them to do anything specific. Roll it, squeeze it, flatten it. This is all a part of the learning process. When you think they’re ready, introduce the learning activity by explaining what we need to do. I explained that we needed to cut up some straws to help us make our letters in the play dough. Using scissors to develop fine motor skills is so important so why not let them help you to make the resources! Handing over this responsibility prepares them for learning and gives them a sense of ownership!

Let’s get cutting! This was met with lots of laughter as piece of straw flew everywhere!

Next is an invitation to select a letter stone of their choice. We talked about the name of the letter and the sound it makes. During this step, you may like to have some objects/pictures that start with the sound, or have a chat about words we know that begin with the sound. 


To get us ready for making the letter we traced over it on the stone and continued to make the sound. This step might not always be met with enthusiasm so be sure to take your child's lead. Eventually you might ask if they can write the letter into the play dough. Talk about the lines and curves the letter makes and assist them as needed. We used a stick to make our marks in the playdough.

From here, let them use the pieces of straw to go over the letter marks in the play dough. This helps to reinforce the formation of each letter. You may like to use this time to make the sound and think about what starts with the letter. Alternatively, you may wish to let them be and observe what they do during this time.

Remember, it’s about the process and not the product at the end.

Celebrate what your child can do and support them respectfully with what they cannot do. You want your child to have a love of learning so as I mentioned before if it’s not met with enthusiasm now it may be that they’re just not ready.

Play dough is a fun experience so make sure any learning activity that uses it is fun as well!

Happy playing!


My favourite playdough recipes that use natural dyes to colour them can be found here and here.


You can read more from Bree and her minimalist approach to education at her website HERE, as well as on her Instagram page @thatminimalistteacher

Hello there, my name is Bree and I am a primary teacher in Ballarat, Victoria, Australia! I am passionate about teaching and have recently applied my interest in minimalism to the classroom.

I have a wonderful husband, 3 beautiful children, 2 crazy dogs and two fat guinea pigs… all of which keep me happy and on my toes! I enjoy drawing, craft projects, reading and cooking. My guilty pleasures are wine and chocolate…. preferably together!

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