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This is the first of three videos about teaching the alphabet. See video 2 here and video 3 here.
Today I want to tell you a story about how I got so involved in teaching the alphabet, and why I’m passionate about this work.
You can watch my video or read my story below.
If you’d like to learn more about this topic, click here to read about my book 101 Ways to Teach the Alphabet: A Hands-On Approach to Learning Letters and Sounds Through Play.
Several years ago, I was in graduate school finishing up my Ph.D. in child development when my husband and I adopted a second child, our beautiful daughter.
At the time, our daughter was 33 months and didn’t speak a word of English. Further, as we soon learned, she had a number of developmental delays. I knew that my job was to provide her with the experiences she needed to overcome those delays and catch up to her peers.
Thanks to my professional and educational background in language and literacy development, I knew that letter knowledge was an extremely important pre-reading skill she needed to develop (I’ll explain just how important letter knowledge is in my next email).
And I knew that if she was going to successfully learn the letters (and eventually learn to read), I was going to have to teach her the alphabet in a fun, hands-on, developmentally appropriate, and multi-sensory way.
So I got busy. During our “homeschool preschool” time, I provided my daughter with engaging and enriching activities to help her learn to recognize the letters.
As she began to recognize letters, I came up with creative ways to help her learn the letter sounds. And as she was learning the letter sounds, I prepared hands-on activities for her to practice forming the letters.
Little by little, my daughter learned her lowercase letters and then her uppercase letters with no boring worksheets, no tears, and no arguments. Instead, she learned the alphabet by participating in fun, hands-on, and engaging activities that were relevant to her interests. As far as she was concerned, all the learning she had done was just play!
Today my daughter is seven and I still teach her at home. She knows the alphabet and is well on her way to becoming a proficient reader. And much of the reason she is doing so well today is because of the investment I made in helping her to learn the alphabet.
As it turns out, researchers have recognized four different components of what it means to “know the alphabet.” So when we say that a child “knows the alphabet,” we mean that a child has acquired knowledge and skills in four separate areas. I’ll be discussing these four areas in more detail in my next email.
If you’d like to know more, grab a copy of my book 101 Ways to Teach the Alphabet: A Hands-On Approach to Learning Letters and Sounds Through Play.
Until next time,
Thank you Katie for sharing this beautiful story! I have a five year old boy and we are doing alphabet together. So I am always looking for new and fun ways how to help him learn. Also I would like to create a colouring book with alphabet for kids to help and have fun when learning. So a lot you will be sharing about this will be great inspiration for me! 🙂
Best of luck to you and your son on the alphabet learning journey!
I’m a Pre-K teacher and struggle with teaching letter sounds for letters that have more than one sound. It is confusing for me to know how to explain it, and even more confusing for the kids. How do I handle this?
I discuss this in my upcoming book, but essentially I don’t think kids need to learn the secondary sounds of letters until they are able to read CVC (consonant-vowel-consonant) words such as cat, sit, hop, etc. Pre-K sounds like a bit early to introduce the secondary sounds, in my opinion. I would wait until they have started kindergarten and have begun formal reading instruction.
Question, not a comment. What is the most important thing to start with in special need children after they learn the names of the letters? ex: Phonetic sounds, capitals, lowercase etc.
I am working with a kindergartener with developmental delays. She knows all her letters and most sounds, but has trouble with letter formation and is not interested in writing the letters. She also has difficulty with articulating her sounds, so it is hard to tell what she is saying. Can you provide some engaging ways I can help her with handwriting?
I’ve been using the “Handwriting without Tears” program, but she’ll only try to form the letter once or twice on the chalkboard, and on paper. She likes to play with the playdough, but won’t make letters with it. Looking forward to your insights.
I have more than 30 ideas for teaching letter formation in my new book. Everything from games you can play to art projects that involve letters to various sensory writing options. Hopefully you can find something to engage her. Good luck!
Do you have a preferred order in which you teach the alphabet?
This is a hot topic, and one that I cover in my book. I do have my own preferred order for teaching letters, but I share several options you might choose from and give reasons why you might choose one option over another in my new book, 101 Ways to Teach the Alphabet.
I teach kindergaren, so any help and researched based material is greatly appreciated.
I love research-based suggestions too. 🙂
I have twin 5 year old boys that are learning the alphabet at very different speeds. I am finding it hard to keep them both engaged with the same activity. One is very eager to learn and the other gets bored quickly. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!
It sounds like they have different interests and developmental levels. I know it would be convenient to find something they can BOTH do. But if that doesn’t work, can you give different activities to each boy according to their individual needs?
My question is kind of related to letter recognition, but more beginning reading. I have a 5 year old little boy in my kindergarten class and he knows his alphabet, but he has trouble putting sounds together to make the words. We have been working with word families and he struggles with just changing the first letter in a CVC word family word. What activities or things can I do to help him grasp beginning reading?
My book is focused on teaching the alphabet, so I don’t really go into beginning reading, although that is obviously an important next step after learning letters. Based on what you say, however, the first thing I wonder is whether he needs support to develop his phonological processing.
I run a small home daycare out of my home, and am trying to transition it into a little preschool. I have 25+ years experience in the Early Childhood Education field. I earned my CDA a few years ago, and have been working with the older children I care for. The schools in our area use the Zoo phonics system and HWT for “teaching the alphabet” being a small business, it’s a huge investment to make buying those two systems. I sing the zoophonic alphabet song with them during circle time , but I also point to the letters on the wall and say the sound of each letter several times a week also. They do writing practice worksheets and they use an app on the iPad called Letterschool. What more can I do to ensure these littles will be ready when it’s time to go to Kindergarten?
I am not familiar with Zoo Phonics, although I did just look on their website. There seems to be a lot of good things about the program, but two things jumped out at me as concerns:
1. They says that “Letter sounds are taught before letter names.” This approach is not supported by current research. Research actually shows that knowing letter names at the start of the school year is a better predictor of children’s reading achievement at the end of the school year than knowing letter sounds (e.g., phonics). Research also has found that knowing letter names facilitates the learning of letter sounds. I recommend teaching letter names either first or at the same time as letter sounds, and in my book I detail some of the reasons why this is important.
2. They also say: “The alphabet is taught sequentially, and as a whole entity, “a – z.” The alphabet is not fragmented.” This is not the approach I would take. I believe that to transition children into reading you should teach high-utility letters first. With the Zoo Phonics approach, for example, a child will learn the letter ‘Q’ before ‘S’ or ‘T’ despite the fact that ‘S’ and ‘T are found much more frequently in English words than ‘Q.’
So I have concerns about this program, although I recognize there may be good aspects to this program as well.
That being said, as a small day care business I think you can do a lot to support children’s letter knowledge without having to invest in expensive programs. Both of my kids learned the alphabet without the use of any big box curriculum.
Not a question, but a comment. Thank you for reinforcing how important “knowing” the alphabet is for reading skills. I constantly have to correct people that their child does not know the alphabet – they know a song. Learning the letters, their shapes, the sounds associated with those shapes are all important. I look forward to reading your next email.
Oh yes, that’s a common misconception that because a child can sing the alphabet song that they “know” the alphabet. But to “know” the alphabet a child must have acquired a lot more knowledge than just the alphabet song.
My daughter is 34 months. When we are i the elevator going to service floor, the button for that floor has an S and since she knew that whenever she sees an S she says ‘Service Floor’ and I try to remind her of the sound of the letter itself but she keeps using the ‘Service Floor’ phrase 🙂 she does the same whenever she sees an A saying ‘Apple’ whenever she sees it. I feel that it’s a good sign she’s ready to learn alphabet now since we haven’t done any serious effort in that area till now. Is this an appropriate age? are we late? Do I use the same technicque -finding things like the “Service Floor” way- to make her remember the letters with some words associated with them?
Thanks and waiting for your coming article
It sounds age appropriate to me! Since she is not even 3 yet, I wouldn’t worry about this. In fact, I’d be pleased that she is able to make connections between environmental print and other objects.
I teach pre-k and would love more ideas on how to teach letters identification, letter sounds and writing letters.
I need ideas for small independent center activities related to letters and sounds that does not mean lots of worksheets. I have a lot of children that are from drug homes so I need hands on fun ways for them to learn in. They are very energetic and have very short attention spans. We use the animals and signs from zoo phonics and Heidi Songs.
I’m thrilled that you are here to learn more and get new ideas. My book has lots of hands-on ideas that could work as centers in a classroom.
I am a homeschooling mom working with my 3 and 4 year old children. They are starting to learn the ABCs but do not want to write letters yet. What advice do you have for helping them write letters?
I’m not sure what kinds of writing activities you have tried. I wouldn’t worry at this point about having them write letters on paper. Instead, I’d invite them to write letters in shaving cream, write letters in a salt tray, use “magic paint” to paint letters on the sidewalk, pin punch letters, drive toy cars on letters, etc. There are so many ways to practice letter formation that don’t involve tracing worksheets or writing practice worksheets. Although some kids like worksheets, many kids hate them and I prefer to use other approaches to teaching writing that kids will enjoy.
I work with student with moderate to severe disabilities in grades 3-6. Separating letter names and letter sounds is very difficult for my group. Out of 6, I have 2 that know both and 2 that have some of each, but not all of either and they confuse the 2 categories. Given their very low cognitive levels and that these will be sight readers of familiar words, not phonics readers, do you think one category is more important than the other?
You bring up some very good questions and I’m not sure I’m going to have good answers for you. I am not familiar with any research on teaching reading to students with moderate to severe cognitive impairments. As such, I can’t draw on any research knowledge to say what would work best for your population of students, nor do I have experience teaching this population. It is clear from the research on neurotypical populations that teaching letter names supports both the learning of learning sounds and learning to read. My hunch is that the same would apply to students with disabilities, although their journey to becoming proficient readers is likely to take longer. I wish you the best!
Does your book cover which type of letters – the uppercase or lowercase – should be introduced first?
Thanks for all your sharing.
Yes, I do discuss the pros and cons of each approach and why you might wish to take one approach rather than another.