Repurpose Your Duplo Blocks into Word Builders

The results of my second, more systematic approach.

Do you have some Duplo blocks in the garage that your kids have outgrown?  Or would you like to acquire a word or sentence building activity for your young child, but don't want to buy anything?  Look no further.  In this post I'll show you how to turn your ordinary Duplo blocks into word builders with nothing more than return address label stickers and a Sharpie marker.

First, let us give credit where credit is due.  I got this idea from Filth Wizardry.  But I made a few changes (some might even say improvements) and learned a few tricks that I would like to pass along to others.

My first haphazard approach.

The idea is simple:  add stickers with letters on them to regular Duplo blocks so that they can be snapped together to form words.  I first made them just as Filth Wizardry shows, with a sticker/letter on all four sizes of a 2x2 Duplo block.  But when my preschooler and I tried to make words together, he found the four sides confusing (since you can always see at least 2 letters at once), plus he had a lot of trouble finding the letters he wanted (since you have to keep rotating the Duplo block to see all the letters).  Shoot, even I had trouble finding the letter I wanted. So then I decided to be a bit more systematic.

See how you can see 2 letters at the same time?
That's confusing for a young child when creating or reading the words.

Here is how I did it the second time around.

1. I only put stickers/letters on 2 of the 4 sides (2 opposite sides).  This way, you can only see one letter at a time, which I think is much less confusing for a child trying to build or read a word with blocks.

2. I used return address labels cut in half for the stickers. I don't know where Filth Wizardry got her stickers (hers have nicely rounded edges on all four sides of the rectangular shape), but I found that return address labels (which I already had) cut in two were just about the right size.

3. I thought it would be fun to have some numbers as well as letters for the future, when we might want to create "number sentences" or mathematical equations (e.g., 2 + 4 = 6).  So I also wrote numbers and mathematical symbols on some of the blocks.

4. Color code!  First I took stock (by looking not counting) of my Duplo blocks to see which colors were the most common (to make sure I had enough).  I ended up using red for consonants, blue for vowels, and light blue for spaces (no stickers) between words.  Numbers were put on dark green blocks, and mathematical operations and other symbols on light green blocks.  (See photo at top of post.)

5. I always put the same 2 letters on a block.  This is so that if you or your child is hunting for an "M," they know they can find one if they flip over the "N."  This makes the letter you want much easier to find.  With the first set I made (somewhat haphazardly), even I was having trouble finding the letters I wanted.  On the second try, at first I tried to create some elaborate scheme using English letter frequency to decide how many of each letter to use and which letters to pair together, but that ended up hurting my head.  So instead, I consulted a set of wooden alphabet blocks to see how letters were paired there.  As it turns out, wooden alphabet blocks usually have adjacent letters (A and B) on opposite sides of the same block.  I decided that made sense and would make the word pairings easy to remember (if looking for an N, check the other side of the M or P), so that's what I did, with the exception of the vowels (which I wanted on separate colored blocks for conceptual reasons).  So I put A with E, I with O, U with Y, and then B with C, D with F, G with H, J with K, and so on.  Hope that makes sense, folks.  And I did make extras of the blocks for letters with the highest frequency (e t a o i n s), as well as extras of the blocks with letters that spell my children's names.

Place stickers first, then write letters.

6. I wrote the letters after applying the stickers. To get the letters to line up horizontally reasonably well, first snap together a long chain of Duplo blocks, then put the stickers on, and only then write the letters with the Sharpie marker so that they align.

7. I used all capital letters for this second set, but might delve into lowercase letters in the future.  You could also make blocks with digraphs (ee, th, ch, ea) rather than just letters, as Filth Wizardry did.  To take things a step further, use both shorter and longer Duplo blocks for complete words, and then build horizontal or vertical sentences (see photo examples in Filth Wizardry's post).

Once again, the end result of my more systematic approach.
Note that blocks are color coded (vowel, consonant, space, number, operation),
and you can only see one letter at a time on each block.

So the next time you are looking for a safe and eco-friendly toy for your child, check the garage!

More Upcycled Toy Ideas

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  1. What a great idea! If I step on one more lego or duplo around the house I'm going to scream! It's so nice to find a way to reuse or repurpose these little pieces. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I haven't seen the original post on Filth Wizardy but I did see some of these on Pinterest. There is was more with whole words for putting sentences together. Anyway, I promptly bought duplos at a garage sale and then, after they sat in my garage for 3 months, took them to the thrift store. Ug!! I love the idea though - especially for learning math facts. Now, I may have to go back to the thrift store! ;-)

  3. I love this idea-especially as we're learning math facts!

  4. This is an amazing idea, thanks!!


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