I smiled when I saw this Twitter tweet last week, in response to my post, 10 Ways to Motivate Your Child to Love Reading – “And not one of them involves learning letters.”
I had wondered if anyone would notice that my post about loving reading indeed did not talk about learning letters. That is not to say that I think young children shouldn’t or can’t learn about letters, their sounds and connections to words. But that post was about motivating children to love to read, something which I believe needs to happen first, so that the process of learning about letters then flows naturally out of their love for the written word.
Immy is alomst 3 and she knows that I is for Immy, M is for Mummy, D is for Daddy, G is for Grandma and Grumpy and Grug!, B is for Barbar (a much loved doll), and A, B, C and L all relate to her aunts, uncle and cousin. Most children will begin to first recognise those letters that are personally significant to them, like the letters in their name.
Have I set out to explicitly teach Immy these letters using flashcards or other methods of direct instruction? Nope. It has happened incidentally, through our play and everyday learning. It has happened because I taking advantage of these opportunities when they occur. It happens playfully and if Immy is not interested, I don’t force it.
For children who are prior to formal school age, learning about letters should be about fun and play and awareness, not rote learning and repetition. Here are six simple ideas to help introduce your child to learning about letters playfully;
1. Alphabet Puzzles: One of the first jigsaw puzzles I ever bought Immy was a personalised name puzzle. Children love having their own name featured on their belongings, toys and in books. The puzzle allows us to reconstruct her name over and over again, looking at, touching and observing the letter names as we do. We also have a large format foam alphabet floor puzzle and a wooden alphabet puzzle like this one, both of which are on regular rotation in our playroom.
2. Aphabet Cookie Cutters: Add a set of alphabet cutters to your playdough box. Make finding letters that they are familiar with (like your child’s first initial) a game. Remember this is about familiarity and awareness through fun so follow your child’s lead. When they ask what a letter is tell them and give them an example of a word which also begins with that letter sound. This is the set we have.
3. Alphabet Magnets: As with the cookie cutters, having a set of bright colourful alphabet magnets on your fridge virtually guarantees playful interaction with letters and sounds. We love this set of alphabet magnets.
4. Read the Signs: Make some signs for your play spaces or for your child’s bedroom. Because of our open/closed shop sign, Immy knows that o is for open. Notice the letters on street signs when you are out in the car or out for a walk.
5. Letters & Notes: Make a mailbox or treasure box together and write short notes or messages to leave for your child. Immy loves finding the little notes I write for her and messages like, “Mummy loves Immy,” help to develop her ability to recognise her own name.
6. Books: Sometimes when you read together, search for familiar letters in the titles of the book.
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