forward with fun logo

Try these 10 Free Number Mats to teach the numbers 1-10 in five hands-on, super fun ways.

When teaching my kindergartners numbers 1 through 10, I wanted them make the connection between the number and the quantity AND help teach them how to recognize and write the number.

Bonus points for making it fun... So I made these number mats for them and thought you could use them too!

number 5 sample number mat

These hands-on number mats teach each number through:

  1. Shaping the number
  2. Counting the quantity
  3. Identifying quantities that equal the number
  4. Tracing to practice number writing
  5. Independent number writing

What skills are being taught with number mats?

So much learning is happening just by playing to learn with just one number mat.

free number playdoh mats pin 1-10

The common core math standards we hit are:

  1. Write numbers from 0 to 20. Represent a number of objects with a written numeral 0–20.
  2. Understand the relationship between numbers and quantities; connect counting to cardinality.
  3. Count to answer “how many?” questions about as many as 10 things in a scattered configuration.
  4. Count to 100 by ones. (You have to start somewhere!)

How to best use your counting mats:

After printing your number mats, I highly recommend laminating them. My secret weapon is an AmazonBasics laminator that creates a thick, durable lamination for teaching resources I plan to use a lot!

sample number mat 8

Another option is to use a simple plastic page protector, but those are harder to erase. You can also print them out as single-use printables if you're in a rush.

These number mats are hands-on, so instead of just writing on them, kids are invited to use objects to really engage with each number. We use Play-doh to shape the number, so I love the laminated mats because the dough comes off easily.

Some supplies you might want to have are:

number 7 printable with supplies needed
There are many options for manipulatives to "show" each number.

Why do these number mats work so well for kids?

When learning numbers for the first time, kids are already receiving a lot of new input. At the very young age of 3-6 we expect them to memorize all these squiggles and lines, 26 letters- capital and lowercase plus numbers 1-20 in kindergarten. It's a lot!

Repetition is one part of the puzzle. In order to memorize a new number, kids need a ton of exposures to that specific digit. These exposures must be memorable! So a worksheet won't cut it.

number 3 playdough mat

The number mats I'm sharing with you are exciting for my students because they get to work with preferred objects, manipulatives, and use their minds in multiple ways while they work!

They're interacting with each number many times making it easier to remember:

I've said it once and I'll say it again, hands-on experiences are worth 1000 times more than a worksheet a child will do and forget by snack time.

My students LOVE these number mats, and they even ask to do them over and over again solidifying their knowledge and practicing their number sense as well as number identification skills.

Why stop at number mats? Check out these other fabulously free resources.

I'm sure you're working on letters as well. You don't want to miss these alphabet mats the kids go gaga for!

Teach coding in kindergarten with this free to print candy corn stem challenge. It’s so simple, you can do this with your whole class- all you need is a bag of candy corn! Let’s go.

Before you print, you’ll need to understand how to teach coding in kindergarten and why on earth we’re going to use candy corn to do it. So read on.

kindergarten coding candy corn stem challenge

What is coding in kindergarten?

Can a 5 year old learn coding? Of course they can! Most of the coding we teach in kindergarten is called directional coding as opposed to block coding.

Directional coding is coding that is giving directions very simply, usually through a series of arrows. This can be done on the computer or in an unplugged coding activity, such as this one. 

In this hands-on candy corn STEM challenge, kids will be using the candy corn as arrows as they practice directional coding to get from start to finish. Then they’ll test out their code, to see if it works!

Why is coding important in kindergarten?

Coding may not be part of the learning standards now, but I know it will be! The world is shifting to be more and more technologically centered, and many future jobs or even hobbies may rely on the ability to code. 

When we start coding in kindergarten, we build these future skills that children will need. It's like learning a language; the earlier you begin, the more fluent you will be.

Some benefits of coding in kindergarten:

Unplugged coding activities are done without a computer, so many kids can participate at once, building skills they'll need on computers.

Avoid this common mistake kindergartners make while coding:

The most typical mistake I see when I am teaching directional coding to kindergartners is the addition of redundant codes. When you are coding, if your arrow points down, you will not need another arrow until you want to change directions.

You should never have two arrows in a row that are pointing the same way.

example of redundant vs correct coding in kindergarten

Candy Corn STEM Challenge Guide

Supplies needed for the Candy Corn STEM challenge:

Basics of coding to teach your kindergartners:

Directional coding is about using basic arrows to direct your token item where to go. Only use an arrow when you are changing directions.

The only directions for our candy corn to point are:

Remember: there is no diagonal pointing here!

Lesson Plan: Candy Corn Coding in Kindergarten


Code a path from start to finish, using candy corn. Test out the candy corn code by following it with a token of choice.


  1. Use your candy corn to make a path through the grid to get to the end. Candy corn can only point up, down, left, or right. Only use a candy corn to change directions.
  2. Place a candy corn in the first square to direct your token in the right direction. (This should be pointing right.)
  3. When you come to a block in the grid, you'll need to add a candy corn to code a new direction that avoids the block.
  4. Continue using candy corn arrows to avoid all objects and direct your token out of the path to the finish line.
  5. Once your code is complete, use your token and follow the code to see if it indeed, leads you out of the grid. This can be done with a partner as well.

Answer key/code:

There is more than one way to complete the coding challenge. Here are the photos of the possible correct answers. Remember to pin or bookmark this page so you can check the answers against your kiddos' or simply follow their path.

Want the bundle of 6 additional Candy Corn STEM Challenges?

If you feel especially passionate about kids coding, or even just want to make an independent center out of this activity, I've made a bundle of 6 black and white coding printables for you.

Each printable has 2 or more solutions so you'll have 12 additional directional coding activities to do with your kindergartners, along with your freebie.

Grab the bundle of 6 kindergarten printable coding worksheets for only $1.50. If you're looking for just the FREEBIE, just keep scrolling! : )

Just want the FREE Candy Corn STEM Challenge to teach coding in kindergarten? Here you go!

Looking for more candy corn and Halloween activities to do with your 4-6 year olds?

Check out our post of simply delightful Halloween activities for your leftover candy corn. Please follow and tag @forwardwithfun on social media if you share this activity!

addition halloween activities for kindergarten

Phonetic spelling is an essential developmental milestone for any child learning the English language. Often adults overcorrect children’s “misspellings” without understanding the role that phonetic spelling plays.

This post includes a parent letter freebie for you to share with families, in order for them to understand how vital it is for children to use phonetic spelling when they're first learning to write. See if you can easily read it, since in true teacher fashion, I wrote it all phonetically.

what is phonetic spelling

What is Phonetic Spelling?

I’ve commonly called phonetic spelling, “kid spelling” in the classroom. Put in terms children understand, phonetic spelling is spelling words by sounding them out. 

Sometimes phonetic spelling is referred to as inventive spelling, because children are creating spellings as they go - instead of spelling by memory. 

When children are in pre-k and kindergarten, our focus is to teach them the letters and sounds of the alphabet. Each letter has a sound (or two). Children must master these sounds as the first step on their journey to becoming independent readers and writers. 

Instead of classifying phonetic spelling as incorrect, I explain there are two kinds of spelling. One is adult spelling, and the other is kindergarten or kid spelling. 

Guess what? Both are right. I've ruffled a few feathers on the internet by saying that, but if you keep reading, you’ll understand why. 

Is English a phonetic language?

When you see the following sentence written by a kindergartener, you’ll notice the words are all spelled incorrectly. Yet, if you read the phonetically spelled “words” out loud, you’ll be able to make sense of what was written.

example of what is phonetic spelling
Example of phonetic spelling

"The flower is in my pocket." Well written, for a child or someone learning English for the first time! So you may have concluded by now that nope, English is not a phonetic language, unlike Spanish, German, and Polish. 

The English language has many words that don’t sound as they are spelled: though, knife, far, raspberry, eight, to name a few. 

Additionally, English contains many digraphs (ie. sh, ph, wh, ch). That combined with totally silent letters makes it a challenging language to learn. 

Don’t even get me started about sight words like do, is, you. And then come the vowels with many different rules, like i before e, vowel teams, silent e, etc.

There are so many rules, that even I, someone who teaches phonics all day, don’t know them all! 

Why shouldn’t adults correct phonetic spelling? 

note written with inventive spelling
Phonetically spelled note: Mrs. Claus, I made you a necklace. Love.

As a parent you might be thinking, “If I don’t correct this spelling, my child will learn how to spell everything incorrectly.” 

I understand why people think that! But imagine this: you’re a young child who has no concept of reading and has just learned your alphabet. 

After using the alphabet sounds you have been mastering over the last year (20% of your life!) you manage to sound out the word BOT (boat) only to be corrected and told it is in fact, BOAT. 

What? This doesn’t make sense! 

When we correct children’s spelling of words they have never been taught to spell, they may become discouraged and feel as if they’re not good at writing. After all, they learned their letters, and now the letters are not all they need!  

When we encourage them to use phonetic spelling, we are reinforcing all that letter/sound knowledge. Additionally we are opening the doors for them to write without the help of an adult. This is going to create many opportunities for practice and feelings of ownership over their own writing. 

I’d much rather that students spell things incorrectly and feel good about the task of writing than shut down and fear writing because they want to make sure everything is spelled like an adult.

So should you always let kids spell things wrong? A popular question!

Well, no. That doesn’t make sense either. 

The spelling you should correct:

  1. Sight words, words children should know on sight/memorization
  2. Names - their own or ones they’ll be writing often, like a sibling 
  3. Words that have a spelling rule they have been already taught (ie. if they have learned about silent e, you can remind them that “mak” needs a silent “e” to be correct.)

If your kid doesn’t know that a silent e makes the vowel “say it’s name,” then you wouldn’t need to tell them that they need an “e” at the end of “make.”

If your child has learned “is” and “of” as their sight words-which are memorized, then they should be spelling them correctly.

So when they learn a new spelling pattern or rule, those are now words that we can encourage them to spell with adult/standardized spelling.

For the rest of the words, encourage and praise phonetic spelling! 

This way, we are reinforcing the alphabetic principle, that letters represent spoken sounds. This is also why in kindergarten, focus on teaching phonetically spelled CVC words: cup, kit, mat, bug, etc. These words make sense to children, and they’ll have more success when spelling them. 

why we should encourage children to write freely

What should I do if my kid asks me how to spell something?

Children often ask how to spell words they want to write.

Instead of telling them what letters to write, try asking the following questions:

  1. What sound do you hear at the beginning of the word? 
  2. What letter makes that sound?
  3. Now what do you hear next? (You can help by stretching out the word auditorily for them.)
  4. Do you hear anything else? 
  5. What sound do you hear at the end of the word?

By encouraging children to listen for the sounds in the words, we as teachers, are building their phonemic awareness- a major reading and writing set of skills, kids will need to succeed in school. 

When they ask you if their spelling is right, you can say yes. Remember, adult spelling is different from kid/kindergarten spelling. Both can be right. 

At the end of kindergarten, teachers expect children to be able to write short words with at least a beginning, middle, and ending sound, but longer words take time and practice to learn the adult spelling. 

How do we explain to parents and other adults not to correct spelling?

Here is a letter for you to pass out to parents. You may notice, I wrote the letter using phonetic spelling. 

Challenge yourself or if you're a teacher, the parents in your class, to read this letter. The letter explains what phonetic spelling is and why it’s such a developmentally important step in becoming a reader and writer. 

Click the picture to download your own copy or pin it, to save for later!

letter to parenting about kids writing

Do you encourage phonetic spelling with your students?

characteristics for great books for kindergarteners

For kindergarteners, books offer excellent opportunities for learning about the world. Besides nourishing their imaginations, books help kids develop critical thinking skills, expand their vocabulary, and expose them to other cultures and practices.

Above anything else, reading aloud to your children is the number one thing we teachers recommend for kids ages 0-5. Children get many opportunities to see letters and words in action as they listen to a story, benefiting them greatly when it comes to learning phonics!

Literacy expert Carol Anne St. George wants children to develop a love for reading as early as possible. This suggestion is especially applicable for kindergarten students, the majority of whom are still in the early stages of their reading journey.

Parents and teachers play an essential role in choosing good books for children picking up this skill. They should provide children with impactful and strategic learning materials because these early stages, particularly ages 4 through 5, are crucial in cementing a love for reading.

Here are three characteristics you should look out for in books for kindergarteners:

Simple language

A good children’s book uses simple but interactive language. Because kindergarteners are still developing more complex vocabularies and sentence structures, it is necessary that the books they read convey their messages in straightforward and easy-to-understand terms. Nonetheless, compelling storytellers utilize techniques such as rhymes and rhythms to keep their narratives engaging. A good book also tries to evoke a wide array of emotions and sparks the reader's curiosity through certain words and phrases.

One notable example of this characteristic is Our Little Kitchen which uses descriptive words such as chopping, slicing, whisking, and whipping. These words are not just simple, but they also evoke imaginative thinking. The book's simple yet fascinating plot effectively harnesses words that children can incorporate into their growing vocabulary.

A balanced pace

One of the most critical elements of a children’s book is pacing. A good book for kindergarteners is neither too fast nor too slow as these children are still developing language, vocabulary, and independence. This type of balanced pacing is evident in Everything for Early Learning with its focus on foundational skills. As a workbook designed to approach mathematics and language arts creatively, it makes use of short yet increasingly complex activities. This effective strategy keeps children engaged as they turn the pages encountering wins as they progress through the workbook.

A balanced and easy-to-follow pace will keep the young readers busy and help them lengthen and strengthen their attention span. A gradual increase in difficulty level can also prepare them for longer books and independent reading as they progress in their learning journey.

An engaging visual design

Early readers tend to be visual learners, hence the popularity of colorful picture books. These reading materials provide children with visual stimulation and keep their eyes absorbed. Indeed, illustrated stories guide kindergarteners and maintain their interest as they go along the narratives.

However, illustrations aren’t the only ways children’s books utilize visual design. Another example is typography; book writers and designers often use font styles and sizes to convey a particular meaning or highlight a specific section. My blog post on Concepts of Print explained how print awareness works and how parents and educators can easily teach children this skill.

Typography can help in this aspect by directing the child’s eyes towards the different parts of a book. Clifford The Big Red Dog effectively uses typography in this manner. As a recognizable classic, the series uses repetitive visual elements in its books, making it easier for children to develop print awareness as a reading skill.

Children can benefit greatly from reading books that exhibit these three characteristics. These reading materials can impart significant value to kindergarteners and develop their love of reading and learning teach for the many educational years to come.

Have you found any great books for kindergarteners we should check out?

Concepts of print, sometimes called print awareness, is a person's understanding of how writing works. Without understanding these very basic concepts, one would not be able to read.

Imagine a child walking into a classroom who has never seen a book before. They might have no idea how to hold a book, where to start reading, or even that the jumble of confusing scribbles on the inside (yes, words) have meaning.

concepts of print example front cover of book

What are the concepts of print?

Directionality of text-


Parts of a book -

Alphabetic principle-

Diagram of concepts of print
Diagram of some concepts of print from the book The Suitcase by Chris Naylor-Ballesteros

What's the best way to teach concepts of print?

Reading, reading, and more reading! The more you read, the more exposure your child has to the concepts of print.

If you're already reading aloud to your child, they have probably picked up a lot of concepts of print by now.

Questions that will build concepts of print while reading books:

  1. Notice where the front and back covers are before you read.
  2. Discuss where the names of the author and illustrators are and what their jobs are.
  3. Point to each word as you read, or for books with more words, follow under the words with your finger, sweeping from left to right and from top to bottom. (This motion reinforces directionality and is called a return sweep).
  4. Take a few moments to point out the text features of the book like the table of contents, illustrations, titles, and page numbers.
  5. Show them the difference between words and letters. One way is to count how many words are on a line? How do we know that?
  6. Make a point to show that the text holds the meaning. We aren't just making up words each time we read a book; we are saying the words on the page, and they share the author's message or story.

Ways to develop concepts of print without books:

Reading doesn't just happen when we open a book.

As adults we are reading constantly and automatically, everywhere we go: in the car, on our phones, reading mail, writing a note, food labels, advertisements, billboards etc.

There are many wonderful ways of noticing environmental print with your child such as:

Build Concepts of Print along with Reading Comprehension:

In my read aloud remastered checklist, I help you maximize that bedtime story. You're already reading it...why not make it even more valuable by asking the right questions?

Download the READ ALOUD CHECKLIST and pick one category of questions to focus on each night to skyrocket reading comprehension.

One mom said, "I know reading is important, but I didn't really know which questions to ask. What are kids even supposed to know?"

read aloud checklist includes concepts of print

The checklist focuses on all the questions you should be asking your 4-6 year old during reading and includes concepts of print! So don't wait to grab it. Right now, I'm including a bonus cheat sheet at the end of the 2 pages of questions.

Once your child has mastered a set of questions, check them right off and focus on something else! I LOVE CHECKLISTS.

Welcome to the all-inclusive list of social emotional activities for preschoolers. These twenty super helpful activities help young children develop their sense of self as well as interpersonal skills.

What is social emotional learning and why is it important in preschool?

Social emotional learning is nonacademic learning that focuses on a person's understanding of themselves and their feelings as well as their relationships with other people.

Studies have shown that kids who have strong social emotional skills in kindergarten have better lifelong outcomes in education, employment, and mental health.

Besides better outcomes in later life, teaching social emotional skills to 3 and 4 year old's is much easier due to the higher adult to children ratios in preschool. And teaching them skills like kindness, mindfulness, and understanding feelings will help them get their needs met and grow positive relationships with others in school and other settings!

*As an amazon associate I may get a small commission from any purchases you make using links in this post. Thanks!

collage of 12 social emotional activities for preschoolers

20 Life-Changing Social Emotional Activities For Preschoolers

To help make sense of this all-inclusive list, I'm separating these activities into ones that develop sense of self and ones that develop interpersonal skills.

The sense of self activities help develop preschoolers' abilities to

The interpersonal skill building activities will focus on kids' abilities to

Sense of Self - Social Emotional Activities for Preschoolers

Feelings/Emotions Activities

1.Feelings Faces Playdough Mats

Studies from Yale have found that Kids who understand their own feelings in turn build stronger relationships with others. By teaching kids to recognize, label, and understand feelings kids can better express their needs without frustration.

Click the picture to grab your free playdough mats and begin learning about feelings right now!

Feelings Faces sad and surprised

2. Guess The Feelings- Charades

Think Pixar's Inside Out but with more feelings. Build kids' vocabulary of emotion words by writing a bunch and putting them into a hat. Have children take turns picking a feeling word, have an adult read it to them, and then act it out for the other people to guess! Click the picture to snag these cards for free!

Download feelings faces flashcards

3. Reading Stories About Emotions

Sometimes it is difficult for preschoolers to figure out how to deal with their emotions, but it becomes easier when their situation relates to a story they know.

Some of my favorite feelings books that build self understanding are:

The last one in that list is called a social story, where children read about a scenario that is relatable to them and find out how the character deals with it. Social stories are helpful social emotional teaching tools that help make the big abstract ideas of emotions a lot more understandable for young children.

Mindfulness Social Emotional Activities for Preschoolers

4. Mindfulness Breathing Cards

Kids who practice mindfulness breathing have a great tool in their toolbox when they feel overwhelmed or frustrated. Mindfulness is all about being aware of yourself in your environment.

These fun breathing cards make deep breaths fun by turning them into hot cocoa or flowers! Print them out and laminate them to pull out for your kids or students to use during the day. Don't forget to follow the arrows with your fingers as you breathe in and out. Visit the shop to purchase.

5. Mindfulness 5,4,3,2,1

Mindfulness is all about being present and really feeling the world around you without distraction. One of the best ways to do this is to use our 5 senses. Have your child lie down and then ask them to name:

Try this grounding technique to help center yourself and your child. It's a great way to help busy minds rest or get ready for bed.

Self Reflection Activities for Preschoolers

6. Confidence Cookies- Self Affirmations Activity

I created confidence cookies as part of The Fun Club, where kids aged 4-5 get sent 5 weekly activities that teach them reading, math, and social skills.

Kids and adults practice positive self talk, building their confidence and self-esteem.

Positive Self Talk for kids activity

7. Rose and Thorn

Each day during dinner, I play "Rose and Thorn" with my kids. This is a time to reflect upon our day where we share our favorite and least favorite part of the day.

During this time, kids are able to share about their day in a way that normalizes the "bad" and the "good." Not everything is always going to be positive, and by creating this time together, children know they'll always have a designated time to sort through the important things going on in their lives.

Calming Activities for Preschoolers

8. Create a Calm Map

My daughter has had this up in her room for 2 years and whenever she gets upset, she goes to look at her calm map for something that brings her comfort. Having a calm map has been immeasurably helpful.

Since my daughter came up with the list for each category, she has a long list of items that she has self declared to help her feel calm. Such a relief to me! Click the photo to download yours for FREE!

Click to download

9. Sensory Bins

The trend on Instagram lately has been sensory play, and you know why? Because it is soothing, calming, and helps preschoolers regulate their needs better. In fact, sensory bins are the perfect social emotional activity for preschoolers. They can be a go-to as a calm down activity when you need one!

using water beads as a sensory bin filler

If you're looking for some inspiration, check out this post on 50+ sensory bin fillers to use with preschoolers.

Interpersonal Social Emotional Activities for Preschoolers

Interpersonal skills are also known as social skills and help develop relationships with others.

Turn Taking/Sharing Activities

10. Board Games

This one might be a no brainer, but did you know playing board games with preschoolers is a great way to build social skills. Here are the skills playing board games build:

My favorite board game to play with my preschooler is Candyland, but you can also quickly make your own like THIS!

one to one correspondence game
Make your own board game to easily practice taking turns.

11. Build It This High- Teamwork Activity

Preschoolers love building, so bust out whatever blocks or building items you have for this social emotional activity that takes no time to prep and builds teamwork, turn taking, and cooperation.

Pair off children in teams of 2 or more and challenge them to work together to build a tower that is X blocks high. Watch them work together, take turns, and feel the pride and success of reaching their goals!

partner building social emotional activity for preschoolers

12. Can we share it? -Social Emotional Math Activity

Let's practice one of the hardest preschool skills...sharing! All you'll need is a 10 of one kind of item. It could be marshmallows, blocks, squishy toys, anything. Talk about why sharing is important: it's fair, makes people feel good, it's kind.

Practice dividing up the small number of items, by repeating "one for you, one for me, one for you, one for me" and placing one item at a time in front of each person. If there is an odd number, problem solve. What can we do? Should we cut it in half? Should we place it back in the box? Preschoolers can come up with some really creative solutions and take pride in being "fair."

Making New Friends Activities

13. "Switch If" Game for Social Emotional Learning in Preschool

Hooray for a gross-motor social emotional activity! If you've got wiggly preschoolers, this one is going to be a hit. Have everyone stand in a circle or on a specific spot on the rug, if you're in a classroom. If you're at home, make a few designated "spots" for everyone playing.

Have one person be the leader for the first round and have that person call out, "Switch if you like _________," or "Switch if you have _______." Model this for the kids, and then they can take turns being the leader.

When kids learn about their similarities, they learn that we all have more in common than we do different. Kids will often build a friendship over something the other child has in common with them, so this can be a great jumping board. "Hey you also love PJ Masks!?"

social emotional activities for preschool /switch game

14. Hello Songs, Practicing Saying Hello

Preschoolers often really connect with music! I love to start the day with a Hello Song, where kids go around greeting one another practicing their chosen way to say "Hello!"

Some suggestions I give to students are to try saying hello in multiple ways: a wave, high five, handshake, saying hello to the kids in the room.

Some of my favorite hello songs are "Hello, How Are You?" by Dr. Jean Feldman and "Hello Song" by The Kiboomers.

There are SO many Hello songs out there, if you just search that phrase!

15. Find your partner game!

Sometimes, kids need a little nudge to talk to new people in their class. That's where "Find your partner" comes in. For this game, give kids a specific colored item and have them find someone with that same color then freeze, raising their item up in the air.

I've seen this game done with Magna-tiles, where kids first look for someone with the same color and then someone with the same shape. The game is complete when everyone finds their partner, so make sure you have a partner for each kid!

Kindness Building Social Emotional Activities for Preschoolers

16. Kindness Ripples

Brainstorm ideas of kindnesses. We came up with saying thank you, sharing with a sibling, and cleaning up a big mess. 

Compare those 3 kind actions to the small, medium, and large objects. 

Name the kindness that goes with the object and then let your child drop the kindness item into the bowl with water. 

Observe what happens- the ripples and movement in the water is like kindness moving out into the world and touching the lives of others who are more likely to make kind choices. We will call these kindness ripples.

kindness social emotional activities for preschoolers

17. Compliment Circle

So this activity might be my favorite, because I wrote my Masters Degree thesis on it! In my classroom from 2010-2011 I did research on compliment giving as a way to build confidence in children but also as a way to build friendships between children.

Here's what you do:

Go around in a circle taking turns saying something nice about others in the circle. At first preschoolers might give compliments like "I like her," or "I like his pants."

Over time, their compliments often evolve to be more based on actions and feelings like "I like to play with James because she is good at sharing," or "Tamra is very good at writing her name." It is important for the adult to model compliment giving as well.

children in preschool sitting in a circle giving compliments to build social emotional skills

18. Kindness Calendar

Make a kindness calendar for the week with random acts of kindness for Monday-Sunday. Each day read the act of kindness for that day and try to complete it by nighttime. The next day, discuss, how did that feel for you? For the other person?

creating a kindness calendar as a social emotional activity for preschoolers

19. How Full Is Your Bucket? Book

I read this to my own children and students every single year. I cannot recommend this book enough, because it helps children very concretely understand how their words effect others in both positive and negative ways. The language used in this story is something that we come back to over and over again with my now 3 and 6 year old.

20. Hard to fix a broken heart activity for preschoolers

"That hurt my feelings!" What a very abstract concept for young children. In this activity, children can see how their words can wrinkle a heart and how even when we apologize, hurtful words can stick.

Cut out a heart shape from a piece of paper. Take turns saying "mean things" to the heart. Each time something mean is said, make a crease or fold onto the heart until it's covered with folds and creases. Then try to smooth out the heart to be back to what it was before.

Can it be done? Even when we say sorry for harsh things said, they can still hurt out hearts, so be careful with your words!

words matter kindness social emotional activities for preschoolers

If you're looking to switch up your sensory bin, check out the 50+ list of sensory bin fillers and how to use them.

Sensory play provides so many benefits to young children, and most of all it's fun so kids can play to their hearts content while you can sit back and relax. As you change out sensory bin fillers, it shifts the kind of play kids create, sparking creativity and learning. So read on to grab your handy list, print it, and put it on your fridge for a quick sensory bin activity anytime!

*As an Amazon Affiliate, I may make a small commission based on your purchase at no extra cost to you. Thank you. 

50 sensory bin fillers to try

What is sensory play?

Sensory play is any kind of exploration kids can do with using their senses: hear, smell, taste, sight, and touch. But it is often used to describe exploratory play children can do with their hands while still stimulating some of the other senses.

Often kids will describe that sensory play just feels good! That is due to their curious nature and sensory needs being met by these types of activities!

What are the benefits of sensory play?

Sensory bins are one type of sensory play. There are so many types likes sensory trays, sensory jars, sensory kits, and more. Even experiences like being in a giant ball pit are considered sensory play.

Benefits of sensory play include:

  1. Fine motor skills development
  2. Calming/soothing effect
  3. Creative thinking
  4. Problem solving
  5. Vocabulary building, speech development
  6. Ways to encourage learning academic skills (you'll see what I'm talking about in the photos below)

As children scoop, pour, and maneuver the sensory bin fillers along with whatever else is in the bin, they're improving their muscle strength in their wrist and fingers. These small muscles are vital for fine motor skills development such as buttoning, tying, and writing.

Naming the fillers as well as the items in the bin provides important vocabulary opportunities. As children explore the sensory bin they are using language and promoting speech development.

And if you're adding in elements like numbers and letters, kids will play to learn with their sensory bins. Think of all the opportunities for counting, measuring, and labeling things as their little hands go to work.

What is a sensory bin and how do I make one?

A sensory bin is any type of container that you fill with a sensory bin filler and then other objects for children to manipulate. This can be as small as a bowl or a tray or as large as you want.

My favorite sensory bin is a clear container from Target. I make sure to purchase it with a top so that if we're doing messing play, I can close it and put it up high for another day. Often I am lugging play from home to school to be shared by all, so having a top helps with that too.

All you have to do is grab your container, print out the list of more than 50 sensory bin fillers, pick the one you want and throw it in. Then, add whatever else you want like:

50+ sensory bin fillers to use with toddlers, preschoolers, and kids!

I've divided this mega-list of sensory bin fillers into taste-safe and non-taste safe. Taste safe means that if kids lick or taste the filler that it wouldn't be dangerous; however it doesn't mean that the filler is not a choking hazard! So please, as always, supervise your child when doing sensory play.

Don't forget to download your 50+ sensory bin fillers checklist at the bottom of this post. Keep it on your fridge for fresh sensory play ideas!

Taste-safe sensory bin fillers:

Non-taste safe sensory bin fillers:

12 Inspirational Sensory Bins Using Different Fillers

Dyed Rice Sensory Trays

Dyed rice is very popular, likely due to it's satisfying texture and easiness to make. I thought it would be tricky to dye my own rice, but surprisingly it was incredibly easy. Here is the 2 step recipe to make your own rice sensory bin filler!

Beans Of All Kinds Sensory Bin

I used red, pinto, and white beans (plus a little bit of corn) to make this sensory soup learning bin. There are many ways to incorporate learning into sensory play and this is just one example!

sensory soup with lowercase letters bin

Water Beads Sensory Tray

Have you heard of water beads? Originally used for floral decorations, water beads come to you as teensy little balls. When you add water to them, they grow into satisfyingly squishy little spheres. In this quick little sensory bin, I used water beads as the sensory base, reused medicine spoons, and threw in some Easter Egg halves plus baby dinosaurs!

using water beads as a sensory bin filler

Car Wash Shaving Cream + Water Sensory Bin

Shaving cream is a cheap and easy to use sensory bin filler, and I just love how @daily_dig created this car wash for her little one in a double sensory bin that screams fun! She used little vehicles and stop signs, items of interest for her kiddo to make it something he can't resist!

Pairing loved items with new textures can be a great way to introduce new tactile sensations to children who may have sensory sensitivities.

shaving cream and water sensory bin filler examples

Recycle Sorting with Paper Shreds Sensory Bin

You know those paper shreds that come in packaging? Save them for a really great, reusable sensory bin filler. That's what @farmhouse_mama_blog is teaching her kiddos in this earth friendly sensory bin featuring a printable by Comet Printables. Sensory bins pair so well with learning activities!

paper shreds sensory bin filler

Sand and Natural Objects Sensory Bins

Bring nature into your home with play sand and found objects. I love this low cost, low prep sensory bin by For city slickers like us, this is a great way to get some nature into our play. And hey, you don't actually need to buy anything to make sensory play happen!

Bubble Foam Weather Sensory Bin

If you're worried about little pieces, your new sensory bin filler might just be bubble foam! It's sure to be a hit, especially with babies. You can use regular soap, but sometimes I put a little dish soap + water + food coloring in a blender and it makes it extra foamy!

Check out this adorable, baby friendly weather themed sensory bin by @threetimestheplay.

weather themed sensory bin for babies

Dyed Pasta Sensory Bin Filler

Pasts can be dyed with food coloring or painted as this mama shows us. Pasta is so versatile as a sensory bin filler because each kind has its own texture, shape, and gosh, they're so fun to look at!

Kinetic Sand Ocean Tray

If you haven't played with kinetic sand, you have to try it! It stays together preventing a lot of mess and has a texture that really delights both adults and children. This ocean themed sensory bin by @daily_dig uses kinetic sand as a sensory base-it's so easy to shape! I spy some adorable dyed pasta too!

ocean themed kinetic sand sensory bin

Oobleck Construction Sensory Bin

@Chloe_duffy3 takes oobleck to the next level by painting it to create a concrete looking street for the diggers to excavate! Wow! Have you ever made oobleck? It's 1 cup water and 1.5 cups cornstarch. It is a non-Newtonian fluid and behaves like a solid and a liquid! It might look solid in this picture but when picked up, it drips and oozes! Totally awesome.

oobleck sensory bin

Super Taste Safe Spaghetti and Bugs Bin

Have some extra noodles in your fridge about to go bad? I know just what to do with them, thanks to @mammassori123. She dyed spaghetti with food coloring and tossed those bad boys in the plastic tub with some plastic bugs. Viola, an easy to make a baby friendly sensory bin! Add scissors for older kids to practice cutting!

Baking Soda and Vinegar Penguin Play

That blue water is actually vinegar. When you add baking soda, a super low cost grocery item, to it, it'll fizz up. Let the joy begin! You can use either baking soda or vinegar as the base in order to create this delightful chemical reaction that's super safe!

Those adorable penguins have been frozen by @momthemage in little ice cubes using a muffin pan, so they can glide around the tray. Oh and did you see how she snuck in some learning with the numbers? Can you count 3 ice cubes? 5 ice cubes?

baking soda and vinegar sensory tray

Download your sensory bin filler checklist below!

Teach your preschooler their letters in 4 unique ways with this giant packet of alphabet playdough mats! No email subscription required. Just print and play!

*As an Amazon Associate I may get a small commission if you decide to purchase from my links. Thank you.

26 free alphabet playdough mats

What makes these printable alphabet playdough mats so much better than others?

The MAJOR difference is that they promote letter learning in 4 different modalities catering to many learning styles:

By playing to learn with these alphabet mats kids are exposed to letters through art, reading, and writing.

The more exposure a child has with letters the more likely they are to remember the letter. But we aren't just going to practice letter recognition; we are also building their ability to independently write each letter!

Also (updated version!), there is a little picture of a word that begins with that letter in the top right hand corner. So there is a phonics element to each mat as well!

letter C playdough mat (set includes complete alphabet)

Side note: it drives me crazy to see uncommon sounds for each letter like giraffe for G when we teach that G says /g/ as in golf. All the pictures on these printable alphabet mats match the most common phonetic sound for each letter!

What's the benefit to using playdough with these alphabet mats?

examples of alphabet playdough mats printed G and A

The benefits are HUGE and three fold.

Using playdough:

  1. Builds fine motor skills - skills we use everyday to manipulate small objects with our hands.
  2. Provides sensory input that children find pleasurable and often relaxing
  3. Is a great opportunity to see if your child benefits from tactile learning. That means learning using touch.

Wait, why would building fine motor skills be helpful for all children?

As children learn to write, they don't just need to memorize the strokes it takes to form letters. There is so much more.

Writing requires:

With the alphabet playdough mats, kids will roll and shape playdough as well as make it into small balls to smush onto the correct letter in the "Read and Cover" section.

This very intentional kind of play strengthens hands, finger, and wrist muscles required to write properly!

How to best use your free and complete set of alphabet playdough mats:

These beautiful letter learning mats are super easy to use!

  1. Print in black and white OR color, making sure to select fit to printable area on some computers.
  2. Laminate OR place in a sheet protector
  3. Ready, set, play to learn!

When writing on the mats, you can use any dry erase markers. Provide your preschooler or kindergartner with a tissue or small cloth to erase once they are done.

child writing letter Ww on W alphabet playdough mat

I find that laminating the alphabet playdough mats works makes them last longer, and I found a very affordable and effective laminator on Amazon (stays between $21-$24). I'll also link the laminating sheets and dry erase markers I love best.

Download your free printable playdough alphabet letter mats now!

Want more incredible play to learn activities to promote kindergarten readiness activities?

A KinderReady Summer is your one stop shop for fun activities that target the exact skills kids need as they enter kindergarten. 

Each week for 8 weeks, you'll get 5 simple pre-planned activities sent to your inbox. All you have to do is read the instructions.

teacher mommy ashley plus kids

What skills will my child be learning?

The focus of A KinderReady Summer is to target the very important skills that come just before reading, writing, and doing arithmetic.

-letter identification, capital and lowercase
-letter sounds
-beginning sounds
-shape names and attributes
-number identification to 10
-counting with one to one correspondence
-pattern completion and creation
-name writing
-fine motor development

I bust out the kids' favorite independent reading activities for a minimum stress, maximum fun phonics time. These can be used one on one, as kindergarten reading station activities, or be done with a whole classroom of kids.

All 3 of these independent reading activities have many ways to differentiate to meet the needs of all your young learners and build their phonics skills. So whether you're working on beginning and ending sounds, letters, CVC word reading, or digraphs like "sh" and "ch," I've got something for you.

Without further ado, the 3 most begged for independent reading activities are...

  1. Beginning and Ending Sound Parking Lots
  2. Phonics Dominoes
  3. CVC Words and Digraph Cup Stacking Challenge

*As an Amazon Associate I may get a small commission if you decide to purchase from my links. Thank you.

3 Top Rated Independent Reading Activities

Get ready to sit back and watch kids get excited to practice reading all on their own. You might even have time to sit down and drink coffee while it's still hot. The best part? It's all hands-on!

Beginning and Ending Sound Parking Lots

sound parking lot beginning independent reading activity

Kids dream of the day they'll get to drive, so bring that dream to life with phonics parking lots. It's so simple, you'll need 10 plastic cars, hot wheels, or trains you have lying around the house.

If you don't have ten little cars you can usually pick them up from the dollar store or here on Amazon.

Print out the 3 beginning sound parking lots or the 3 ending sounds parking lots and you're almost ready to play. Just label the cars with the 10 necessary letters using a dry erase or sharpie.

Independent beginning sound reading activity

All the beginning sound parking lots use the same letters, and the ending sounds have the same letters on each of their mats too! This makes it so you only would need to change the letters on the cars when you're ready to move from beginning to ending sounds.

I love this game because kids are SO psyched to play and can do so independently. So they're working on their phonemic isolation (isolating sounds in words), while I can step back and beam with pride.

Phonics Dominoes

Kids can play this independent reading activity with a partner or on their own. You don't need anything but a sharpie, crayon, and popsicle sticks.

independent reading center with phonics dominoes

I played this game with my kindergartners using CVC words, but you can also play it with the alphabet, shapes, numbers, sight words, spelling words, etc.

Prep this quick independent reading activity in 5 steps:

  1. Line up an even number of jumbo popsicle sticks.
  2. Add a color to every other one.
  3. Write a number, word, shape, or letter on both sides.
  4. Whatever you wrote on the right sight of the first popsicle stick, write the same thing on the left side of the next stick.
  5. Continue till the phonics dominoes all have two words each.
independent reading activities popsicle word phonics dominoes

Once you teach this game to your kids or students, they'll know how to play forever. This makes it the easiest independent reading center. They see the popsicle sticks, and you barely have to say a word!

Cup Stacking Challenge - CVC words and Digraphs Sh and Ch

Just print and play. Kids freak out when you share they'll be reading and building based on the words they have on their cups.

independent reading challenge stacking cups

The Cup Stacking Challenge bundle comes with 4 building challenges per vowel and digraph. So you get stacking cards that focus on CVC words and digraphs ch and sh. The set comes with 7 sheets of challenges, focusing on each of the vowels in CVC words and the two digraphs.

independent reading a stack reading activity

Each challenge requires only 6 cups. Use either plastic or paper to write the words listed at the bottom of that challenge's sheet. Below is an example with the "i" words using paper cups and the "sh" words using plastic cups.

reading challenge with cup stacking

Download your bundle now to start playing these independent reading activities that kids beg for!

Worried your kids are not ready to play these independent reading activities?

Most kids begin reading in kindergarten at the age of 5 or 6. What does "reading" look like at this age? Well, in kindergarten kids by sounding out simple 3 letter words using their knowledge of letters and sounds. They also read words they have explicitly memorized aka sight words.

Everyone learns at different paces, so don't be worried if your child is not yet doing this. However, if you want to progress their learning through fun, hands-on games such as the ones you just read about, check out our signature program, The Fun Club.

TRUTH: The Fun Club is a monthly subscription with 20+ activities a month that WILL TEACH YOUR CHILD TO READ (and so much more).

Each week includes reading and math activities that transform learning at home. Suddenly learning goes from being a chore to being the highlight of your day. Activities progress from beginning letters and numbers to mastering kindergarten reading and math standards.

Kids in The Fun Club can read this to you!

Whether you're looking to make learning fun or catch your kiddo up, join The Fun Club and start playing to learn.

Join our signature program
The Fun Club!

Find out more...
My mission is to bring fun hands-on learning to your home through simple activities and games that capture your child’s interest.

Weekly Newsletter

Want a free week of learning? I'll send one right to your inbox!