Bloomsbury Early Years - An Alphabet Bottle
The Little Book of Discovery Bottles


3-5 years

Type of Content:


Related Activities

An Alphabet Bottle

An idea using discovery bottles

by Ann Roberts

Using a bottle to help recognise letters

What you need

  • empty, clear plastic bottles (rounded with no indents and preferably with wide necks). They should be clean and dry

  • a range of objects each beginning with a specific sound. They should be small, easily recognisable and able to fit in a bottle. For example, for the ‘b’ sound, you could have a button, beads, a small bell, a plastic toy, a bear etc.

  • coloured sand

  • plastic glue such as UHU

  • old or blank CDs (for presentation)

  • a clipboard

  • stickers

  • pencils.

Saying sounds and applying the knowledge of sounds through play makes learning words and letters fun. Some children are visual learners and need to see real objects. Some may wish to record items through drawing and writing.

Decide which sound you are going to focus on. Gather some small objects which begin with that sound. Ensure the sound/object link is clear and will not confuse the children.

What you do

  1. Take a clear, empty plastic bottle. Make sure it is clean and thoroughly dry.

  2. Part-fill the bottle with dry sand.

  3. Insert the chosen items into the bottle. About six is enough to make the activity interesting without overwhelming the children.

  4. Seal the bottle lid with glue. Let the glue dry, then roll the bottle to conceal the items.

  5. To use the bottle, tilt it and shake it to uncover the items. As each object is found, ask the children to name it, emphasising the sound that starts it (for example, Bear).

  6. Place a clipboard next to the bottle so that the children can record (draw) the items they find that begin with the chosen sound.

Ready for more?

  • Get children to make personal bottles by collecting objects that start with the same sound as their own name (for example, Carol – crisp, hair clip, model car, crayon; Patrick – pencil, paper, pin, paper clip, model pig etc.). N.B. Some children will need a lot of help with this. Finish off the bottle by sticking on it the child’s name and a photograph.

  • Try to make an alphabet of discovery bottles and line them up on a window sill or low shelf so they can be played with daily.

  • Use the sand tray as a larger space and hide in it objects starting with the same letter – put another tray nearby with sand in for the children to practise the shape of the letter.

  • Give more advanced children bottles containing objects representing two (or even more) sounds so that they have to sort and distinguish them – for example D and B.

Look, listen and note

  • Good control and co-ordination

  • Phonic knowledge

Where to go next: Sizing Them Up
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