There are so many fun ways you can make printable activities more engaging. Below you can find 10+ ideas for how you can mix up your printable activities and make them more interesting for young learners. Many of these ideas are low cost, and can be re-used in your childcare program year after year-saving you time and money.
One important reminder! Please make sure the materials you are using are safe and appropriate for the ages you care for. Let's dive in!
1. Add them to a Sensory Bin
Creating seek and find type activities in a sensory bin is a fun an easy way to add more interest to printable matching games. Simply fill up a table top sensory bin with shredded paper, dyed rice, pom poms or other dry filler and place your printable pieces inside the bin.
For the example above we used the letter recording mat from our Apple Activity Pack and placed the letters inside a table top sensory bin to find. For a filler I used $1 bag of shredded paper from the dollar tree. For more advanced learners: provide the children with an uppercase letter mat, and a set of lower case letters.
Here is another example of a sensory bin made from a plastic shoe box filled with dyed rice! Children will have fun digging around the bin to find each sight word for the matching scene.
Almost anything can be hidden inside a sensory bin!
Search for numbers, shapes, images, words-your creativity is the limit!
2. Combine them with manipulatives
Combine your printables with a variety of manipulatives to make them more engaging for tactile learners. You can add math counters, pom poms, glass beads, seasonal props, or even mini erasers.
Tracing Letters or numbers with manipulative's is a great way to practice letter formation. For this activity I combined my Alphabet Letter Tracing Mats (which I reduced in size using this technique) with pom pom's.
Pom pom's are a great low cost manipulative that can also be used as math counters, or patterning. Extend the learning: combine math and literacy! You can count how many pom pom's were used to form each letter, and make patterns! You can also use these mats to practice forming letters with other manipulatives, stickers, or collage items.
White Pom Pom's can represent snowballs, marshmallows, or even sheep!
3. Combine them with Sand Trays
I love sand trays! They are a great to use as a pre-writing activity for kids who are learning to write. Children can focus on letter formation, and build strong fingers before having to worry about how to properly grip a pencil or crayon.
They are most commonly made with salt, or sand. Simply add a small amount of salt or sand to a tray or cookie sheet, and let the fun commence! For this activity I changed the scale settings on my printer to print the Letter Formation Mats 4:1! It's such an easy way to make smaller task cards!
For this activity I combined a salt tray, a paint brush, apple eraser "markers", a reduced copy (2:1) of the apple letter recording sheet, and full size copy of the first sounds mat found in the Apple Activity pack. For this activity, tape the recording sheet to a tray, and cover with salt. To play, your preschooler will gently wipe away the salt until they reveal a letter beneath the salt. Once a letter is revealed, they will mark the corresponding first sound image on the mat with a marker. Play continues until all letters have been revealed.
4. Use them with play dough
Children are building strong fine motor skills when they pinch, tear, squeeze, and roll the dough to form letters, numbers, and shapes. For this activity above I've combined play dough with my A-Z Dough Letter Mats. To extend this activity: after making each letter have the children talk about the different shapes they see. Do they see a circle, a line?
*Teacher tip: be sure to laminate printables, or place them inside page protectors if you plan to use them with play dough.
I ran across these fun letter erasers at the Target Dollar spot! They are perfect to create a play dough hide and seek letter match-up game. Kids really have to use their fingers to dig through the play dough to find all of the letters. If you don't have letters like these you can use other small items such as letter beads. scrabble letter tiles, or even write letters on mini erasers to hide!
5. Combine them with stickers
This is another low cost activity that I created using stickers (found at the Dollar Tree) and the letter recording sheet from my Apple Activity Pack! Stickers are another fun way to incorporate a fine motor activity with literacy.
6. Print them onto felt
If you have been a reader for a while you'll know I LOVE felt, and printing onto felt. You can make your own felt food pieces, and even your own flannel board story pieces.
Felt pieces are a great addition to the reading area. They are a fun hands on materials that allow young children to re-tell their favorite stories such as the Goldilocks and the Three Bears Set I've featured above.
Teacher tip: If you are printing pieces that contain words, choose printable transfer sheets for dark fabrics that don't require you to "flip" your images.
Magnets are another low cost item that most educators have on hand. You can use them as math counters for math activities, or use magnet letters with literacy printables (letter matching, first sound identification games). You can even print onto printable magnet sheets (Matte or Glossy) to make your own magnetic activities that are perfect to place in the quiet corner, or reading area.
For this game I combined the uppercase letter mats Apple Activity Pack with magnet letters.
It's easy to differentiate activities! Provide older children working on more advanced skills, the same magnet letters with a different resource.
For this activity I printed my own magnet astronaut pieces onto printable magnet paper from the Outer Space Activity Pack. If you want to make individual magnetic pieces (as opposed to printing a whole page) you can also adhere the paper to magnet sheets with adhesive backing.
9. Turn them into gross motor activities
Get them moving! Almost any activity can be turned into a movement game. Create relay games, hide pieces around the room to find, or even create a cake walk style music game. Practice crawling, hopping, or skipping to pieces spread around the room, or outside!
The mats in the apple sight word set were used to create a cake walk style game above! Play your favorite music and let the fun begin. Children can take turns announcing the words, letters, or even numbers they are standing on!
10. Turn them into mini task boxes
It's easy to create your own task boxes! Simply print multiple slides per page (4:1) to create task cards.
For the activity above I printed the pre-writing sheet found in my Outer Space pack 4:1 and combined it with Dollar Spot mini erasers. This is a fine motor workout. Extend the learning: Count the number of erasers you used, or make a pattern!
Make your own matching lotto games! For this activity I combined the 3-part cards found in my farm set (and almost all of my themed activity packs) with toob figures.
11. Combine them with pipe cleaners
Pipe cleaners are another low cost item you can use to practice letter, number, or shape formation! For this tactile activity kids can use the letter formation cards as a guide to create their letters. Depending on their skill level, you can provide them with pipe cleaners. and scissors or a variety of pipe cleaner pieces already cut to different sizes.
For this activity we combined our free counting cards beads, and pipe cleaners. The children can practice counting and threading the beads onto the pipe cleaners (which is also a great fine motor workout).
12. Use them with Bingo Daubers & Stamps
For this activity I combined mini alphabet blocks with the letter recording sheet from the Apple Activity Pack. Provide the children with a bingo dauber (or markers of your choice), a few blocks, and a plastic cup. Children roll the blocks and mark the corresponding letter to each mat. Extend this activity: turn this into a group game by providing all of the children with a mat, and giving each child an opportunity to "roll" the blocks for the whole group.
For this letter activity I combined letter stamps with the ABC Recording Mat found inside my Apple Activity Pack. Children search for the matching letter "buddy" stamp and stamp it next to the letter on each month. This can easily be turned into a lowercase & uppercase letter matching activity as well. To extend this activity you can encourage the children to stamp their names!
13. Turn them into light table activities
Kids love light table activities! You can easily print you activities onto vellum or printable transparency films and combine them with a variety of translucent manipulative for tons of hands on fun!
You can find helpful tips for printing on vellum here. Another good alternative (which is a little bit easier to work with) is to use printable transparency film. *Tip: Be sure to double check that the materials will work for your printer type (they are usually offered in either ink jet or laser).
Member Erica P. of Erica's Educare Learning Center created this fun light table activity you see here-by printing our Spider Mats on vellum!
Sheen printed our letter formation mats on vellum,
and placed them inside page protectors to use for this fun letter tracing activity!
14. Use them with dry erase markers
Dry erase markers provide less resistance, and are easier for developing hands to use to trace letters. Simply place your printables inside page protectors to re-them again and again!
15. Turn them into cut and paste activities
Almost any activity can be turned into a cut and paste activity. To save on paper, print multiple pages per sheet, and in grayscale for activities that don't need color.
Sheena use using the printables to create a Pre-K journal. These are a great way to show progress!
16. Take them outside
Find things to count, colors, and items that start with different letters outside!
You can even simply set them up outside on and outdoor table for a change of scenery, and enjoy the fresh air.
How do you make printables more engaging?
Let us know in the comments, or swing by our Facebook Group to share your ideas!
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