What started off as a quick activity for number sorting and sounding out letters, turned in to a way to spread some brotherly love at Christmas.


  • Small boxes
  • Sticky labels
  • Pen
  • Scissors
  • Beads with letters on (if not any letters will do)
  • Threading string (or shoe lace)


Step 1: Stick labels on the bottom of the boxes to number them.

Step 2: Spell out the words you want to spell in the numbered boxes, with the first letter in the first box etc.

Step 3: Mix up the boxes. I left them underneath the Christmas tree.

Step 4: The child can order the boxes by number, then open them to reveal the message. We used the letter beads so Finn was able to practise threading.

Finn loves numbers and threading, so this activity was perfect for him. He enjoyed counting backwards to thread them, so that the letters were in the right order. After he’d finished pondering what sound a blast off would be, I helped him sound out the letters to read the message.


After enthusiastically wishing everyone (including the dog) a Merry Christmas, Finn excitedly asked me to help him spell out the message, “love you ioan x” in the boxes for his big brother to open later.

Ioan spotted the activity as soon as he got home from school and couldn’t wait to get started. He ordered all the boxes and started to open them.

He didn’t realise what he was spelling out as we only had lower case beads. He read his name phonetically, so it stumped him for a while. This surprised me as he could recognise his name when he was two. Luckily Finn realised straight away what the problem was and prompted him, by saying, “I’m sorry Ioan, it should have a capital ‘I’, not an ‘i’.” This clicked straight away and Ioan beamed as he understood the entire message.

Ioan then wanted to fill the boxes for Cian. He melted my heart with the message he wanted to leave. Apparently that is how he felt when his baby brother was born.

Two years later

How time flies. We now have Finn in Reception, rather than Ioan, but they were both keen to revisit this activity. As soon as we brought the resources down, Cian (2 years and 2 months) got to work threading the beads on to the string and then unthreading them again.

Ioan was quite happy for Cian to carry on playing with the beads, deciding to write a message on paper to put in the boxes instead. He wrote each word and cut it out, before folding it and putting it in the corresponding boxes. He took his time, making sure that the boxes were all in the right order.

Finny opened the first box, excited to see what was inside.

Ioan came over to supervise the opening process. When Finn tried to read the word ‘hope‘, Ioan reminded him about the split digraph, in this case the ‘oe‘ is split by the ‘p’. There is a post on split digraphs here.

Finny opened the boxes and read the first sentence.

There were lots of giggles whilst Finn discovered and read the final sentence.

The messages were:

DfES Early Learning Goals (2017)

Physical development

ELG 04 – Moving and handling:

Children show good control and co-ordination in large and small movements. They handle equipment and tools effectively.

Personal, social and emotional development

ELG 08 – Making relationships:

Children show sensitivity to others’ needs and feelings, and form positive relationships with adults and other children.


ELG 09 – Reading:

Children read and understand simple sentences. They use phonic knowledge to decode regular words and read them aloud accurately. They also read some common irregular words. They demonstrate understanding when talking with others about what they have read.

ELG 10 – Writing:

Children use their phonic knowledge to write words in ways which match their spoken sounds. They also write some irregular common words. They write simple sentences which can be read by themselves and others.


ELG 11 – Numbers:

Children count reliably with numbers from 1 to 20, place them in order and say which number is one more or one less than a given number.