This fun, hands-on spelling activity for kids is a great way to help precocious preschoolers or early elementary students with simple spelling practice. It's a unique way to give kids extra spelling practice without worksheets or rote memorization.
My son loves to spell (at Thanksgiving dinner I cracked up when he clarified a misunderstanding, "No Grandma, food, F-O-O-D!"). Sometimes, he even takes over the living room by spelling out words on the floor with his big letters!
But even kids who don't love learning how to spell will enjoy this seek and find letter game I like to call "Sift 'n' Spell." It's a fun complement to our frozen word hunt in the bath activity. Best of all, you can easily adjust it to accommodate your child's skill level (see tips at the end).
Spelling Activity Instructions
This hands-on spelling activity is really very simple!
- Small bucket. A shallow, rectangular plastic food container is perfect.
- Letters. We have small plastic letters, but you can make your own by writing letters on small pieces of cardboard, or use letter magnets.
- Slotted Spoon
- Toys or other small objects
- Rice or sand
Fill the container with rice. If you don't want to use food, try clean sandbox sand from the hardware store.
Choose, or make letters that spell the names of the toys. Start out with toys with 3-4 letter names, such as "cat," "bell," "fish" and so forth.
Place the letters in the container of rice and mix it up so they are hidden.
Line up the toys. I put them on a piece of construction paper so there would be a clean area to spell the words. (See image at top of post.)
How to Play
With the slotted spoon, the child sifts through the rice or sand to find letters. As they pull out letters, they place them next to what they think is the appropriate object, with the goal of spelling out the name of the object.
For example, if the child pulls out a "C," they might place it next to the cat. If the child finds an "A," they might place it next to the car or the cat.
Unless your child is expressing frustration, allow them to find all the letters before you correct any mistakes. For example, if they place an "A" next to the dog, wait until they need help spelling all the objects at the end.
My kid spelled all the words without any help from me!
My son loved this hands-on spelling activity so much that when he was done he pushed the letters back in the rice and repeated the activity. Even with the same objects!
Variations, Tips and Tricks
- For beginning readers write out the words so they can match each letter, placing them on top of the written word.
- For kids just learning the alphabet, match letters to a written alphabet. Or work just on the initial letter sound of each word.
- If sorting letters into multiple words is too challenging, hide the letters one words at a time.
- If your child can't figure out where he should add his letter, sound out the words with him.
- Once all the letters have been found and the words spelled, be sure to review the words.
- If your child prefers to use their hands instead of a spoon, that's okay!
MORE: Literacy activities at home don't have to be complicated. See all my favorite ways for (Almost) Effortless Literacy Ideas for Kids, or check out these 35 hands-on ideas.
NEW: See aly in va's comment below for a great toddler variation for this activity!
Originally published 2009, updated in 2022.
aly in va says
Neat activity. Thinking for even a young kiddie (my 19 month old) I could hide matching pictures of the object ( pic. of pig & plastic of pig) to see if she could match those up. Thanks for the inspiration!
Mom and Kiddo says
That's a great variation! I'm adding it to the post!
Raising a Happy Child says
What a neat idea! Kiddo did really well and clearly had fun!
What a fantastic idea! I must try it with my kiddos!
I love it!! Great idea!
The Activity Mom says
Great idea. What a fun way to practice spelling!
JDaniel4's Mom says
This post has been selected as one of my great posts of the week. Here is the link to my post: http://www.jdaniel4smom.com/2010/07/great-posts-i-came-across-this-week_31.html
Even in Australia says
You could also use letter tiles from a game you probably already have - Scrabble, Boggle, Bananagrams... of course they are not letter-shaped, but I'm not sure that makes a difference.