Mark-Making in Coloured Salt

Here is the first in a series of Playful Literacy posts which are coming up on this blog (although this is also useful for maths, fine motor skills and sensory development too!) 
We experimented with mark-making and letter formation in a tray of coloured salt.
Firstly, I filled a zip-loc bag with fine table salt (you can get an economy bag for 44p in the supermarket.) Then I asked C what colour she would like it, and unsurprisingly she chose pink! I squeezed in 4-5 drops of pink liquid food colouring, zipped up the bag and shook up the salt until the colour was mixed through evenly. 

It coloured straight away and we played with it immediately. Some people suggest leaving it to dry overnight, but because we hadn’t used much colour it was ready to use.

Then I found a little wooden tray that had come with a play-set of wooden food and lined it with the shiny side of tin foil. This forms a bright, shiny base that can be seen through the salt- an extra sensory dimension!

Finally, I tipped in a thin layer of the salt to cover the whole tray. We found the less salt the better as if it was too deep, the letters and marks were harder to see and the shiny foil underneath didn’t show through clearly. In the end we used about 1cm depth.

She immediately wanted to try and write the letters from her name and loved the feeling of the soft salt running through her fingers and the shiny foil being revealed as she drew.

I wrote some of the letters, shook the tray to resettle the salt a little but so that she could still see them faintly, and then she was able to try and trace over the remaining marks to have her own try. She loved doing wiggly snakes for letter Sssss!

And she was very keen to write 3 too, as that’s her age. I love her result!

We practised more numbers, then tried pattern-making such as zig-zags, wavy lines, spots and spirals. All these marks are fantastic for pre-writing and emergent writing development as they are important for letter formation later on.

She also simply used it to draw her own pictures in, from self-portraits to beautiful flowers!

Her finished “flower with lots of petals and middle bits.”

This multi-sensory, tactile approach to pre-writing skills and letter formation is important as a playful, hands-on way to learn. It is age appropriate, open-ended, creative and fun, rather than being a closed activity with only one outcome or objective in mind, like a worksheet. It encourages thinking skills and investigative playful learning.

Store the salt in a zip-loc bag or a mason jar and re-use it for similar activities each week.

We have many multi-sensory literacy and maths activities coming up soon and I’m excited to share them!

Learning Links:

sensory: explore materials using a range of senses
fine motor skills: use hands and fingers to explore sensory materials, develop finger control and small hand muscle strength
literacy: experiment with mark-making, use letters and letter-like shapes to represent real sounds, attempt to form letter shapes correctly

Cakie: 3 years and 4 months


  1. says

    Ohhh I love this idea – we’re not up to letters yet but thanks to the In the Night Garden magazine J loves tracing shapes this would make such a good way to do it. Will have to try it with him. I look forward to reading more of this

  2. says

    Lovely :) I liked your idea to shake the tray for her to trace your letters too. I can feel your excitement at starting the ‘playful Literacy’ and ‘Playful Maths’ stages. Infact, I feel a little sad that my boys have finished this stage :( It is magical isn’t it?

    • says

      Ahh you know me well Naomi! I’m SO excited about this stage and I’ve been waiting very patiently- not pushing her at all. But now she’s loving every minute of it and I’m loving the challenge of seeing how many ways we can think of doing these things without a worksheet!

  3. says

    Great idea— I am working myself up to do a bit more ‘formal’ learning with Matthew soon, learning letters and sounds. Not too fussed about writing at this stage but this will be ideal prep for all of it!!

  4. says

    We must be on the same wavelength! – We’ve been having fun making letters in coloured sand yesterday, my eldest is at that stage too of being really interested in letters and numbers and I’m loving your playful ideas for nurturing that interest. We’ve also just started drawing round our hands (and feet!) for making our measuring hands, she’s so excited we’re going to be measuring lots of things! They’re so fun at this stage aren’t they? Thanks for sharing your ideas.


  5. says

    Love this idea. The literacy shells have gone down very well this week and I love the tactile nature of the salt too. My 3 year old has been interested in letters and numbers for a little while now so it’s great to have these inspiring ideas to foster a love of language and numbers with him. I may combine the two at some point as the shells give him something to copy.

  6. says

    We just tried this activity out the other day and again yesterday. My oldest enjoyed writing his numbers in the salt and spent a lot of time playing with it. Thank you for posting these great ideas. You have inspired me to start a blog of my own (

    Thanks again for your awesome ideas!