Fine Motor and Letter Formation

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All of the activities on this page are designed not only to support phonic knowledge but also develop fine motor skills and encourage correct letter formation.

Copyright Phonics Family 2020
Up the ladder to bed

I’ve had quite a few messages from people asking how to support the recognition of b’s and d’s. It’s quite a common mistake for children to make mixing up the letters. This game supports their recognition and also the formation.

A really quick one to set up. It took me less than 5 minutes. I put stickers on the dice (3 of each letter) and created a letter ladder for b and d. I write the letters in yellow because it’s then easier for children to see their pencil mark over the top. Roll the dice and whatever letter it lands on trace over the letter on the corresponding ladder. Which letter will get to the top of the ladder first and up to bed?

If you were to repeat the game again you could leave a few of the spaces at the top of the ladder empty so your child has to form the letter independently rather than tracing. You could build up to having empty ladders.

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Phonics Footprints

A perfect physical and sensory activity for children working to identify the initial letter sounds in Phase 2 and a great way to encourage correct letter formation. Children will need to think about where they start their footprint trail and what they need to do to form the letter correctly. They can say the letter sound as they are walking along the chalk. Works better for letters where you don’t need to take the pencil off the paper so not f, i, j, t and x.

Older children you could write words and they could hop, walk and print the sound buttons on with their feet.

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Phonics Squishy Bags

To make the squishy bags you just need a punched pocket, duct tape and some opaque liquid. I used some shampoo, shower gel and bath cream. Have a sheet with some graphemes written on (this can be adapted to the phase your child is working on) and place it under the punched pocket. I then taped the whole thing to a floor mat but you could just use the floor outside, chopping board or any hard surface.

Your child squishes the liquid inside the pocket to reveal the letters underneath. They can then cross it off their sheet. If you want to encourage letter formation they could write the letters they find themselves. You can extend it by having missing graphemes that they have to find so, for example, searching for the ‘ar’ to complete the word ‘park’. You could even have key words to find instead.

My three year old little boy absolutely loved this activity. A great sensory game too πŸ‘πŸ»

Mirror Phonics

Three activities in one post now and all using a handheld mirror. All can be adapted for reading and writing initial letters, decodable words or tricky words.

1. Write a letter/word on some white paper in black pen. Turn over and trace over the word. It should now be back to front. Your child uses the mirror to see and read the word the correct way around.
2. Cover the mirror in some flour or salt and using a paintbrush your child can write letters/words on to the mirror. You can have cards that they copy or you say a phoneme/word and they write it. A nice sensory activity and develops fine motor skills too.
3. Stick the mirror in the freezer for a couple of minutes. Once you take it out get your child to breathe onto it. The mirror should now mist up and they can practise writing letters or words with their finger.

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Phonics and the Chocolate Factory

Lots of different things that your child can do in this activity to support their developing phonic knowledge.

I made chocolate play dough by adding cocoa powder to the normal no cook recipe (you can find this on Google). Your child can then use this to make chocolates to go into the trays or cakes to go in the cases. You say a phoneme and they place it into the correct section or say a word and they segment it placing the chocolates on top of the corresponding graphemes they need to spell the word.

Using icing tubes or a paintbrush into hot chocolate powder they can write words or form letters. You could place out some chocolates bar wrappers so they can read them and write the names too. They could also make sound buttons using the play dough to put under words on cards.

Easily adaptable for each phase by using different word cards and different graphemes inside the chocolate trays or cupcake cases. The chocolate bars in the picture are appropriate for the following phases.
Phase 2- Kit Kat, Picnic
Phase 3 – Mars Bar, Fingers
Phase 4 – Snickers
Phase 5 – Flake, Twirl, Milk Tray

A great activity to develop fine motor skills too πŸ‘πŸ»

Bottle Top Buttons

A really simple yet effective activity that not only prompts letter recognition but formation and fine motor skills too!

Using milk bottle tops and large letters on paper your child slides the bottle top with their finger around the shape of the letter. I put numbers on the letters (you could use arrows too) so that my son knew where to start, go next and finish. Your child can say the phoneme as they are forming the letter. Older children could practice first with the bottle tops and then move on to practising independently on paper. Great for those letters that regularly get mixed, like ‘b’ and ‘d’.

You could also use the bottle tops like sound buttons. Your child slides the bottle top under the grapheme and says the corresponding phoneme. This was really effective for my son. He placed the bottle tops under the ‘t’, ‘o’ and ‘p’ and he said the sounds. I then repeated the phonemes back to him and he was able to blend them together to make the word ‘top’. He read his first word!

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Dotty About Phonics

Bingo dabbers are great fun to use, are cheap to buy (these were Β£2 for 4 and will last ages), develop fine motor skills and you can use them in a variety of ways to support phonic knowledge.

The activities on the tray are:
1. A picture of an object and a selection of graphemes. Your child sounds out the words and selects the correct graphemes needed to spell that word. Great if you put out graphemes where they have to think carefully like using a ‘k’ or a ‘ck’ at the end of a word.
2. Using word cards, your child ‘sounds out’ the words and puts the sound buttons on with the dabber.
3. Using a selection of colours your child highlights certain digraphs with certain colours. This is a great one for those digraphs that often get mixed like ‘ar’, ‘or’ and ‘ur’
4. Using a selection of dabbers your child highlights all the words which are using the same digraph. This one is a good one for those in Phase 5 where they are learning the alternative graphames for the same phoneme like ‘igh’, ‘ie’ and ‘i-e’.
5. Forming the letter shape using the dabber. Each time your child dabs they say the phoneme. A super one to support letter formation too as your child will have to think about where they need to start and finish.

Copyright Phonics Family 2020

Phonics Finger Gym

A great workout for little hands and fingers whilst also supporting phonic knowledge and the spelling of words. Write a selection of graphemes on 10 sticky strips. Adjust these to suit the phase your child is working at. I used masking tape but you could use sticky dots, labels or plasters. You could also use something washable to write on the finger tips directly, like an eyeliner, or just have a hand outline on a piece of paper underneath your child’s hands with the graphemes written on the paper (see above photo). You say a word and your child moves the corresponding fingers to spell the word. It will take a bit of practise to only move the one finger at a time but this acts as super brain workout too. Using the finger outlines on paper this activity could easily be adapted to fit within a phonics lesson. The 10 graphemes on my fingers would be suitable for children working in Phase 3 and you could ask your child to spell the words: sort,chart,sheep,fort,seep,park,

Copyright Phonics Family 2020

Confetti Writing

Using the IKEA plates in the ‘Plate Planets’ activity I thought they would also make a great balloon outline too. This is just a simple activity to practise identifying letter sounds and writing them. I put a little confetti on each of the ‘balloons’ and my son selected a letter to write into the confetti. A great pre-writing activity and a nice alternative to salt, flour, rice or sand. If you have some coloured matchsticks your child could also use this to form the letters and shapes too and it acts as a good way of developing dexterity. If you haven’t got any confetti then you could get your child to make some by cutting small bits of paper and is a further way to develop those fine motor muscles and scissor control.

Copyright Phonics Family 2020

Writing Window Board

A really simple board to make and a fun, engaging, interactive way to develop pre-writing skills and letter recognition.

I made the board using a large piece of cardboard and stuck four baby wipe lids down using a hot glue gun. These act as the writing windows. Behind each window I put a small amount of sensory materials/food items that can be written in using a finger or small implement like a cotton wool bud or cocktail stick. I had salt, flour, sand and rice (this is dyed black from a previous activity). I also made a mini whiteboard at the end of the board by completely taping over a piece of paper with sellotape. I put this at the end so my son could choose to write the letter with whiteboard pen if he wanted to.

Your child picks a letter card and then opens each window and forms the letter in the sensory material behind it. They can say the phoneme as they do and you can encourage correct letter formation by discussing where to start the letter. Close the windows and slightly shake the board from side to side to reset the salt, flour, sand and rice and repeat with another letter card.

Copyright Phonics Family 2020

Written in the Stars

Using black paper for some reason just seems right at this time of year. For this activity we stayed with a star theme and I set it up as a way of encouraging my son to do a bit of mark making, recognise letters and begin to form them.I stuck some star stickers on the black paper so that when the stars are connected they form a letter. I put a green sticker on some to indicate where to start and a red sticker to indicate where to finish. I then put out some chalk and matallic pens. You could laminate them and use chalk pens instead so that they can be used again or completely tape over them with Selletape so they become mini whiteboards if you don’t have a laminator.I also put out the wooden letters that I had sprayed with chalkboard paint for the ‘Spell’ing Book activity so that my son could write directly onto them with chalk if he wanted.If your child is not at the stage to form letters yet then you could create pre writing patterns for them to connect the stars instead.

Copyright Phonics Family 2020

Up and Under

Another little gem of a game that can easily be adapted and just needs a dice, a table, paper, pens and some letter or word cards. A really fun but simple way to encourage children to read and write, especially those reluctant writers. Who wouldn’t love writing under the table?!I made a dice and on each face wrote either ‘up’ or ‘under’ along with an arrow. I then put out some letter cards and a selection of pens. I taped a large piece of paper to the top of the table and another piece underneath. Your child rolls the dice and picks a card. They say the phoneme or reads the word and writes it where the dice has indicated. So my son would pick the ‘r’ card and roll ‘under’ which meant he needed to write a ‘r’ on the sheet underneath the table. You could play with other graphemes from another phase, tricky words or decodable words. A great way to practise reading real and non-words in preparation for the Year 1 screening too. Your don’t need the dice for this. Your child picks a card and all the real words need to be written on the top and all the non-words under the table.

Copyright Phonics Family 2020
Roll the Dice Phonics

Roll the dice, say the sound/read the word next to the number, cross it out and roll again πŸŽ² Developing counting skills whilst learning phonics too! πŸ‘πŸ»

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Cotton Bud Painting

Using cotton buds and paints younger children can form the letters by connecting the dots, saying the sound as they paint. Older children could read the words and then add the sound buttons using the cotton buds and paint. A great way to develop fine motor control too by using the buds instead of brushes.

Copyright Phonics Family 2020
Frozen Phonics

A fun filled activity perfect for lovers of the Frozen film.

I froze some blue paint (along with a bit of water) in to lollipop holders. You can then use these to paint. Younger children could form initial sound graphemes and say the sound of the letter as they paint. For older children I looked up some of the decodable words from the lyrics of ‘Let it go’ (let’s be honest I didn’t have to look them up πŸ˜‚). Your child segments and blends the word and paints the sound buttons underneath. Find the words from the lyrics appropriate to which phase your child is working on.

The castle was quickly put together using Lego, Duplo and some painted loo and kitchen rolls. The snow is flour and the bottom of the tray is a cut up IKEA bag.

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Phonics Archaeologist

Set up a tray with a piece of paper at the bottom with letters on and cover with rice (if you are willing to spare! πŸ˜). Using a brush you hunt for the letters and cross out the ones you’ve found. You can make it harder by getting your child to write the letters they’ve found rather than match them or hunt for words instead.

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Lightsaber Writing

A great way to develop fine motor control, letter formation and the recognition of graphemes. You could also use tricky words too.

I made a small amount of moon sand (flour, baby oil and blue food colouring) and placed it into planet shapes on a tray. It smells so nice too! Using glow sticks your child writes graphemes or tricky words into the sand. It’s more exciting if you can do this activity in a darker room or close the curtains. Once they’ve finished writing you can leave them to play with the sand as it is brilliant for moulding too.

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Fine Motor Fun

These activities are particulary beneficial for pre school and Reception children in order to build and develop their fine motor control.

Firstly, in order to support pencil grip and control your child needs to develop their gross motor skills by making big movements with their arms and shoulders. You can ‘sky write’ in the air with a hand, wand, lightsaber or ribbon. Paint on the fence or wall using water and paintbrushes or practice catching large balls.

Alongside games that develop gross motor control you can then move on to activities that help develop their fine motor muscles. All of the activities below encourage your child to make small movements with their hands and fingers. This is an important step in pre-writing. Good fine motor control will lead to better pencil grip and control.

I gathered some things this morning and I wanted to share 20 activities that you can do to support fine motor skills. All are using things that you will probably have around the house and not a pencil in sight!

1. Putting lids on Tupperware pots
2. Unlocking locks with keys
3. Cutting spaghetti
4. Clipping pegs onto card
5. Threading string through cardboard
6. Putting pasta on straws
7. Printing with Lego blocks
8. Using Syringes to transfer water between cups
9. Screwing nuts onto bolts
10. Writing with a paint brush in salt, flour, sand
11. Putting paper clips on card
12. Finger printing or painting with cotton buds
13. Scrunching tin foil strips
14. Putting Cheerios on cocktails sticks
15. Folding paper
16. Posting money into small jars or a money box
17. Putting elastic bands around cups or bottles
18. Smashing rice crispies with a hammer
19. Making Playdough hedgehogs by pinching spikes
20. Collect small objects that fit into an ice cube tray

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The Three Rs: Reading, Writing and Rainbows

There are a few activities on this tray that encourage the reading and writing of words. I chose to focus on some Phase 3 and 4 tricky words but you could do the activities with initial sounds or decodable words too. A fun way to practise writing as children get to use different colours and different writing implements.

The activities on the table are:

1. Roll a dice and write the tricky word in the corresponding colour.
2. Using a rainbow outline your child practises writing the tricky words in each colour of the rainbow.
3. Rainbow writing – writing the word 7 times with each colour of the rainbow. Best to use colouring pencil for this one. It might look messy but great for muscle memory.
4. Put coloured paper at the bottom of a tray and cover in salt or flour and your child uses the brush or their finger to write the word. Great as a pre writing activity for children who are not yet ready to hold a pencil. They could form shapes or initial sounds with the brush instead of words.

Phonics Handyman

All the activities on the tray can be adapted for all of the phases in order to support phonic knowledge in a fun and engaging way. You can pick and choose which ones suit you best and which ones you might have the resources for. I purchased the tap lights, light switches, matchsticks and plates from Poundland so the whole thing was very cheap to set up.

Your child can role play being a Handyman and complete some of the activities on the tray.

1. Draw some graphemes on a polystyrene plate and your child hammers the matchsticks into the plate along the lines to form the letter. They can say the phoneme as they do. A super way to support fine motor skills.
2. Cut up some letters out of sandpaper and stick them onto card. Your child uses their finger to trace the letter and say the phoneme as they do. A great sensory motor activity.
3. Put tap lights (mine were 2 for Β£1) under a word. Your child uses the lights like sound buttons. They turn the light on as they segment the word and blend the sounds together at the end. Adapt the words for phase.
4. Put light switches under a word (these were Β£1 each). These act as sound buttons. Your child turns the light switches on as they ‘sound out’ the word. They blend the word together at the end. Adapt the word cards for phase.
5. Help with the painting and decorating? Using a light coloured crayon write some words onto paper. Your child paints over the paper with watercolours to reveal the words.
6. Nuts, Bolts, Locks and Keys – an additional activity and a great way to develop fine motor skills.

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Phonics Piano

On a similar note (see what I did there πŸ€¦πŸΌβ€β™€οΈ) to the Finger Gym activity this is another way to exercise those fingers and practise spelling words. If you have any cardboard boxes lying around then cut off the flaps and draw on a piano. Just draw it on paper if you haven’t any cardboard. Write some graphemes on each of the keys. Adapt this for the phase you are focusing on. You say a word and your child presses the corresponding ‘keys’ on the piano. Encourage them to use both hands so they are working both sides of the body and brain too.This would work really well as part of a phonics session with each child having a piano and would be ideal at the moment if children are having to sit at individual desks.This acts as a great assessment tool too and a great alternative to whiteboard and pen. You can check if they recognise graphemes and can confidently segment words.7

* Tip (to myself) – check the order of where you write the graphemes so they can’t be blended to make inappropriate words πŸ˜‚

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Crab Grab

I wanted to create a little activity that used these DIY tongs that I made using a peg and some lollipop sticks. As I had used red sticks they reminded me of crab claws and so I thought the tongs could be used to pick up sea related objects.I created a sea themed tray with objects that I found around the house. The bottom of the tray is a cut up bubble bath mat and I made a crab using the tongs, an IKEA plastic plate and some paper. I then wrote the words for the objects onto pieces of cardboard and drew a quick outline of a shell on the back.Your child selects a shell, reads the word and then uses the crab claw to pick up the object from the tray and place it on the plate. The words on the cards can be adapted to suit the phase your child is working in. Most of the words on the cards in the photo would suit children working in Phase 5 are some are split digraphs (whale, rope, life).You could have initial sounds on the back of the shells instead and then your child finds and picks up an object that begins with that sound. For children working in Phase 1 you ‘sound out’ the word and they blend the sounds together and finds the object. Using the tongs is an excellent way to build fine motor skills too πŸ‘πŸ»To add an extra challenge you could ask your child to write a sentence with each of the words/objects in or have some pre-prepared sentences with words missing and they complete the sentence with the card.

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Tactile Letters

I just love the simplicity of this activity but how it ticks so many boxes. I cut letter outlines out of bits of cardboard. I coloured the cards black too so that they would really contrast with the orange split peas and then placed it all onto a black board. Filling the letters with the peas is a fantastic way to encourage letter recognition, formation, hand eye coordination and build fine motor skills.

Copyright Phonics Family 2020

Snip and Sort Strips

Really easy to set up, super simple yet a really effective way to support phonic knowledge alongside cutting skills. Easily adapted to suit children learning to recognise letters or tricky words or a fun way to support children learning the alternative graphemes for the same phoneme in Phase 5a (ay and ai, ee and ea, or and aw etc). Cut long strips of paper, write graphemes along the strips with a dotted line in between each one to indicate where to cut. For children working in Phase 5a write the alternative graphemes on the strips and then on post it notes, or small bits of paper, write the Phase 3 graphemes and stick them on some pots or other containers. Children working to recognise letters or Phase 3 digraphs and trigraphs write the same on the post its for your child to identify and match. Your child cuts along the dotted lines above the correct pot to snip and sort the graphemes. So, for example, those children working at recognising the alternative graphemes looks at ‘ay’ on the strip and has to cut and drop the ‘ay’ into the pot with ‘ai’ on.

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Cross over the the Dark Side

Anyone else see Darth Vadar in the side of a milk carton. Just me?! 🀣 I made this one out of two cartons. One for the mask and another to create the helmet. I then sprayed it all black with some leftover black chalk paint.

This game is just a Star Wars themed version of ‘Cross the River’ or I call it the ‘Magic Line Game’. Have word cards on one side of a line (it could be a piece of material, paper, scarf, ribbon, stars). Adapt the cards to suit your child. You ‘sound out’ a word and then your child moves that word across the line (normally I would have children in class each with a word card and physically cross over a line/river). I demonstrated here with ‘ar’ words as in ‘dark’ and ‘star’. You would say /d/ar/k/ and your child would need to blend the sounds together and find the corresponding word card to cross over to the dark side.

Have a tray of black sensory material (dyed rice, coloured salt, glitter) and a glow stick. Once they have moved the word card they can use the sensory writing tray to write the word with their ‘lightsaber’. Try playing the game in a darkened room for added effect.

Images Β© Phonics Family 2020

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