letter work

Alphabet— my thinking as a teacher

Ok, this post is a ramble post about my thinking about teaching alphabet and letter recognition with children. If you are looking for my typical Wednesday Word post, check here for an alphabet activity. I have been an early childhood teacher in preK, K, 1st and 3rd grades. My teaching career has spanned four states and many years. I am not an expert, but this is my opinion on this topic based on working with children.

If you have been following my blog for more than a week, you know I often talk about the importance of phonological awareness, the understanding of how sounds work in words. Another key piece of pre-reading skills is phonics, the connection between the printed letters and the sounds they make in words. For a long time talking about direct teaching phonics was taboo in education, but we have swung back to understanding that this is key to understanding how to read. Children need to understand how to manipulate sounds out loud, as well as be able to make the connection between those skills and the written text.

When children are young, we often focus first on teaching them letter names, and more specifically capital letter names. There are schools of thought out there that believe you shouldn’t teach children to write, and even recognize, lowercase letter until they are four or older. Well… let me tell you something… in my opinion, for whatever that is worth,… this theory is BACKWARDS! Children are exposed to print from the first time you sit them on your lap and read them a book. I’ve never seen a book written in all capital letters. When we write sentences there is typically one capital letter and the rest are lowercase. So why… oh why are we so focused on capital letters with young children?

Ok that being said… we also focus on the letter names, but knowing the letter names, while important will not help your child learn to read. Knowing letter sounds and how to manipulate them WILL help your child learn to read. So if you are working with your kiddo during this time, focus on lowercase letters and work on letter sounds (short vowels and hard consonant sounds).

One last tip and tidbit. When teaching letter sounds provide your child a variety of key words that will help them remember the letter associated with the sound. /b/, /b/ like in ball, balloon and book. My students learn to chant “M”, “m” “Mm” /m/, /m/, /m/ then we list words that start with that sound — mouse, moon, money. When I do it in school we connect the letter sounds with the theme or topic we are working on at the time.

My thinking and methods may not be a perfect solution and not typically seen as conventional, but it is what my experience shows will help a majority of children. This being said, let me remind you all of a few things. Children are NOT expected to learn to read in preK. They are not expected to learn to write sentences and master decoding words. But, being exposed to these skills as well as learning letter sounds, comprehension skills and all the background skills of learning WILL help them as they learn to read and write fluidly.

I tell my parents to remember that it was ok that not every child learned to sit, crawl and walk at the same exact age. It is also ok that not every child learns to read, write and all those other big school skills at the same time. Fair does not mean equal… fair means providing everyone the tools they need to be successful. We celebrate the steps. They will get there… so don’t stress… it WILL click!

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