Hands On Activities For Young Learners
11 Nov, 2014. 4 Comments. . Posted By: Kristen Smith

I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned this on my blog; however, when I was in college, I was blessed to have an absolutely amazing mentor teacher. While this was 13 years ago (where has the time gone?) what HE taught me was priceless. He had a degree in experiential learning and took me under his wing. He taught me the importance of having students DO the work instead of just TELLING them what they were going to do.

He not only modeled for me what experiential learning looked like in a classroom, he invited me to go to his trainings after school. I learned SO much from these classes and they molded me into the teacher that I am today.

More so, my first job out of college was actually at a Montessori school. I worked under the tutelage of a very wise woman who was trained in Italy at a school that Maria Montessori herself started. She taught me SO much. She showed me how to direct students to make good choices in a classroom and how to set up a classroom. She showed me that young students are capable of so much and how to challenge them and guide them. This year teaching kindergarten has had me really looking back on these experiences and pulling from both models.


My kindergarteners are a wonderful, inquisitive group of students. They are active and enjoy hands-on activities. (as MOST young learners DO!) They like to choose what they do in the classroom and have become very good at making good choices throughout our day.

I have used and made many things this year to help foster independence, social skills, gross motor skills, math skills and language skills in my classroom. Today, I thought I would share with you a few of the things that my students have really enjoyed using.


1. Sandpaper Letters
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The sandpaper letters are Montessori tools that help your students practice writing their letters correctly. They are one of my students’ favorites choices when it comes to “Word Work” right now. To use them, first the student traces the letter with their pointer finger and then they draw the letter in the “sand box.”

I have seen many pins on Pinterest that offer suggestions on how to MAKE your own sandpaper letters; however, I wanted them quickly and ended up purchasing them. I got them from Amazon. These are the actual sandpaper letters that I had used with students when I taught at the Montessori school and knew that my kindergartners would really get a log of use out of them.

There are many options of these letters that you can choose from. I will be honest and tell you that the ones above are my favorite. I bought the ones below when I taught first grade last year to help one of my students with his letter formation and they were not as easy to use. However, the ones below are much cheaper. If you are looking for something fast, you could buy these. If you are looking for something that will last and that you can use year after year, I recommend the first set.

2. Weaving

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Weaving is a great way to have your students or children practice their fine motor skills. To do this, I bought this rack at Target and a few spools of ribbon. I cut the pieces, put them in a basket, and taught my students how to weave. They loved making different patterns with the ribbons and had to really use their fine motor skills to weave the ribbon through the rack.

3. Using nuts and bolts (to practice letter matching or making CVC words)

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When I went to create this center, I went to Lowes and literally stood in front of the nuts and bolt section for a good 10 minutes. Who knew there were SO many different ones to choose from! Luckily, I made my way down the aisle and found some that were CHEAP! I think I paid only 10 cents for each washer. I bought that fattest ones I could find and then once I got home, I added letters to each using a Sharpie.

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My students at the beginning of the year matched capital and lowercase letters but now are making CVC words with these.

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This is a HIT with my boys and was extremely cheap. Not to mention, it gives my boys the extra practice that they need with fine motor practice in a way that they truly enjoy.


One thing that I really appreciate about Montessori materials is that they teach students how to control their bodies in a super fun way. My students seriously love the next few activities that I am going to show you.

The other week, the curriculum that we use called for me to introduce patterns to my students. To make this fun, I included many open ended centers for my students to explore making their patterns.

Some of their choices included:


If you notice, I wanted to entice all the learners in my classroom. I had not only “artsy activities” but also gross motor options for my students.

During this week, I introduced my students to the “knobless cylinders.”

The Knobless Cylinders are a Montessori lesson geared to invite a child to experience differences in height and width, the consequence of disorder, and helps to perfect coordination, concentration, independence, and problem solving skills through observation. 

Here is a lesson in action from another teacher. What is amazing is my students had the same exact reaction. They literally applauded at the end of the lesson and could not WAIT to try it for themselves. Not only does the lesson reinforce naming shapes, but it also introduces your children to control their bodies.

After my students had explored with each box of cylinders,

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They worked together with other friends to create patterns with them.

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Oh my word did they LOVE this!!

I bought my knobless cylinders from Amazon and my students use them every day. They love to explore with them, measure them, create patterns with them, and make addition sentences with them. It is probably one of the most visited activities on my math shelves right now.

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2. Color Box Number 3 

I’ll be honest, I bought this activity because I think it is SO pretty. The purpose of the lesson is to orient the student to the world of color. I used this as a center while my students were studying their colors. Once they finished grading the colors, they added the color words to each section. One of my favorite moments of the year was when two of my very shy students were working together on this activity. When they finished it, the young girl stepped back and gasped. She exclaimed, “Oh, it’s just so beautiful!” The boy nodded in agreement and added, “I wish we were in a plane flying above it so we could see it from above!”

I asked them if they wanted to step up onto their chairs to look at their work from above and they BEAMED with excitement. They were so incredibly proud of their hard work. It provided them with such a sense of accomplishment which is something that these materials really offer to students.

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3. The Binomial Cube

Mathematically speaking, the binomial cube is a cube composed of 8 wooden blocks which fit togetherin a binomial pattern, representing the cube of two numbers, (a + b),or tens plus units. All the blocks fit into a natural wood box.Each side of the cube has the same dimensions and pattern, andrepresents the square of (a + b) or (t + u). The faces of the smallblocks are color coded: a2 is always red, b2 is always blue, and”ab” is always black. In kindergarten, we don’t go there!

This is what I call a “brain teaser” in my classroom. There are only a few ways that you can get all of the pieces to get back into the box once you take them out. I taught the “secret” to a few of my students during our exploration centers and they loved knowing HOW to get the box to work. Now, they are the experts in my class and can teach other students the “big secret.”

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This activity teaches students how to persevere on a task and what it feels like to accomplish a task that took some brain power to finish. It is a great lesson to refer back to when students are struggling in another area of the classroom. It also reinforces shapes, colors, and patterns.

I got the binomial cube here:

At this point we are now also using the trinomial cube as well!

4. Painting with shape sponges

This is not a new concept. However, it is a reminder that some of our students learn best through art. When we as teachers tap into our students favorite ways to learn, this helps concepts stick. This was an easy way to bring art into a math lesson!

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1. Personal Books

I made these cute little books for my students to use throughout our language block. Many of my students have just mastered reading the “at” family and I wanted to create an activity that was meaningful to them and something that they would be proud of to showcase their newly acquired skill.

I used “Fancy scrapbook paper” from Michaels and cut it into 4×6 pieces. (I bought the paper the season after it was “in season” and used my teacher discount.) I think the book which was once something like $20 went down to $7.00! I also cut plain white printer paper and used the pieces to make mini books for my students.

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For this activity using the books, my students wrote one -at word on each page and then illustrated it using our colored pencils.
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They LOVED this and had such a great time making them and then reading them to their friends.

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The possibilities are ENDLESS for these little mini books!

blog pictures.0542. Find a Letter 

This was another super simple idea. I took black contraction paper, cut it into small rectangles, wrote a letter on each piece and then put them inside a container.

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To play the game, I had two students reach into the cup, open up the “mystery letter” and then cover the letter on their alphabet mat. (This one was made by the amazing Marsha McGuire from A Differentiated Kindergarten)
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My students were trying to “connect 4.” This was a quick and easy way for students to practice their letters. (I also had them say the sound each letter made when they pulled it out of the cup.)

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3. The Movable Alphabet

The movable alphabet is another Montessori item that I have been LOVING. This is a simple wooden alphabet that my students can use during literacy and word work activities. The box is made out of this beautiful wood and the pieces are amazing.

We have been using this in a variety of ways.

With some of my students, we have been working on segmenting CVC words. I use picture cards from some of the centers that I have made and them have them listen for how many sounds they hear in the word. They then place down a dot for each sound they hear. After they do this, we add letters to the dots!


Second, some of my students are writing sentences using the sounds/letters they hear in the words that they want to write. This has been great for my young learners. This allows them to write without being bogged down my handwriting. They like using the pieces to create stories on their work mats.


I got my movable alphabet here:

However, you can use any type of alphabet manipulative that you have to make these activities work for you!!

I hope that you can use some of these ideas in your classroom! When thinking through activities to use, I normally think about a few things:

1. Do I have an activity this week that will engage my GROSS MOTOR inclined students?

2. Do I have an activity this week that will engage my ART inclined students?

3. Do I have activities that are reinforcing what I am teaching in a hands-on way? {As in students physically have to DO something with the objectives.}

4. Am I meeting my standards and objectives in FUN ways?

Of course I don’t forget about my MUSIC minded students, we are constantly singing and dancing in my class. We also use poems and songs as many teachable pieces.

I hope that you have a GREAT week.

  1. Oh my gosh I love this post and your blog! I just stumbled upon your blog and I will now be checking back often. You have such great ideas and I can’t wait to implement them next year…I get to teach kindergarten after teaching both 3rd grade and 1st grade. Yeah!

  2. Lisa -

    You are amazing! I wish I had this ability to come up with such fun and educating activities! Thank you for posting them so I can inspire my 7 year old daughter to be excited to learn!


  • Oh my gosh I love this post and your blog! I just stumbled upon your blog and I will now be checking back often. You have such great ideas and I can’t wait to implement them next year…I get to teach kindergarten after teaching both 3rd grade and 1st grade. Yeah!

  • Lisa -

    You are amazing! I wish I had this ability to come up with such fun and educating activities! Thank you for posting them so I can inspire my 7 year old daughter to be excited to learn!

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