Create a First Words Activity Box for Your Preschooler

This project lasted for years and was a prized possession. Teaching my kids to read was an exciting journey and I have many tricks and tips up my sleeve.

This teaching tool is a gem. I wanted something concrete and something that would evolve over time. 

A First Words Recipe Box

I had a little box from a pair of shoes we recently purchased for our 2-year-old.  I thought to myself, ‘This box is way too nifty to toss or actually store a pair of shoes in!’

So, I decided to use it as an early literacy tool to complement our letter baskets and the ever-present ‘Eye-Spy’ game.  

What is the best way to teach a child to read?

From my years as a parent and a Montessori trained teacher, my advice on the best way to teach a child to read is twofold:

  1. Allow the child space and time to discover reading on his own. Igniting that desire to want to read more and to explore more through books will undoubtedly more successfully occur if you allow a child to lead his own discovery of language.
  2. Create the environment to fall in love with reading. Remember the movie Field of Dreams? Take their advice: “If you build it, they will come.” Carefully prepare the environment and give your child wide parameters to the child.  That point is a key component to Montessori living & learning.

An Easy Way to Teach Kids Reading

You could also use a recipe box.

Same idea.

The idea is to connect sounds to images and eventually to letters. This First Words Box is a great way to build your child’s vocabulary and to implement the idea of ‘sight words’ into your daily routine.

Creating Your First Words Box

What you need is pretty simple: I purchased 4×6 index cards – plain and a set of alpha index cards. Then I grabbed my scissors, a glue stick, and a pile of misc. magazines.

The idea is to look through printed publications, cut out images (e.g. a Leopard, a Bulldozer, a Crane, a Mountain, etc), glue the image onto an index card, write the name of the image onto the back of the card, then index that image under the appropriate letter.

My child is two years old so our approach may differ from your approach if you have older children. For example, my son is beginning to learn how to use scissors. So, with great patience, we cut images out together.

He is great at finding the image and telling me what it is. Then typically, at this point in his development, I lead the cutting and we find the letter to index together. Of course, he is a fan of using the glue stick, always very helpful.

How to Use the First Words Box

My goal right now during the preschool years is to visit this box a few times a week, look at the images already filed away, and add new ones.

As my son grows older, I imagine that he will lead the activity and, that, eventually, our First Words Box will become an independent activity for him as we fill his shoebox with new images and lots of new vocabulary words.

Helpful Tips for this Activity

  • Especially if you have younger children when first starting this activity, spend time setting it up without your child, cutting, gluing, and indexing a few images.
  • Kids magazines, like National Geographic’s publications, or local zoo magazines are loaded with great stuff!

Thanks for reading!


Marnie Craycroft

Marnie hails from Maine where she spent summers buried in sand and winters buried in snow. She is the daughter of a nearly four decade veteran of the public school systems. Teaching has always been a part of her life. She founded Carrots Are Orange in 2010.

Carrots Are Orange is a Montessori learning and living website for parents and teachers.

Marnie graduated from Wesleyan University in 1999 with a BA in Economics. She spent nearly a decade working in investment management. In 2006, she earned her MA in business from the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business.

Marnie moved to the west coast in 1999 and currently lives in Boulder with her husband and three sons. She is Montessori trained. Her work has been featured on Apartment Therapy, Buzzfeed, PBS Kids, BabyCenter, the Melissa & Doug blog, Huffington Post, and Besides writing, passions include running (usually after her three sons), photography, and outdoor adventures.

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