Do kids need to know the alphabet before kindergarten? This is a common question and the answer is some basic familiarity with letters helps.
In this video below, the parrot can say all the letters. Just because kids are able to say the names of the letters doesn’t mean they will understand what letters are all about. One of the most important understandings about letters isn’t even something we teach kids. They figure it out on their own—as long as we give them lots and lots and lots of play and experiences with letters.
Only gradually will kids make the huge connection that letters hold meaning. We can’t hook up the pathways in the brain for them but we can make it easier for them to do that.
Is there a stop sign in your neighborhood your child sees often? It might when you are walking or driving. When you say, “Oh, I see a sign with some letters on it. Those letters say stop and they tell the people and the cars what to do.”
Names are another pretty obvious meaning-letter partnership. These letters M o m say mom. The letters D a d say dad. Each time you give a card to parents or some other family member, mention you are making the letters that say their name.
You can also squirt names on plates in ketchup for dipping fries, or drizzle a letter in maple syrup on a pancake. (No picture, ‘cuz we ate the evidence.
When reading books, find some with just one or two words for a picture. Point to the picture and the word. Kids don’t need to be able to read the word in order to figure out that the word under a picture is another way of telling what it is. In Roger Priddy’s My Big Animal Book, this picture is fish, these letters are fish.
When kids do this several thousand times, they create the ground level for learning to read.
There are many ways to grow basic familiarity with letters. Letters are combinations of curves and lines and the brain will sort out which ones it has seen before and recognize them as familiar. Have you ever looked at those puzzles where you have to find what’s wrong? Your brain and eyes scan the picture and compare it to the mental images stored in your brain. Your brain is pretty fast at knowing if something doesn’t match, as long as it has a huge amount of data already stored.
Playing with foam, wood, or magnetic numbers inputs the shape of letters into your child’s brain. Roll them with play dough. Draw them in sand.
Is your child not interested in letters? Make some letter cookies. Mix up a favorite flavor of pudding and ‘finger-paint’ them on a plate. Licking fingers is encouraged—as long as plates are separate and not shared.
Sing songs, read books, draw letters with chalk on the sidewalk. Lightly print letters on paper for your child to trace or make a letter race track and zoom around a marker or car. Tickle a letter on a back and see if kids can guess. The kids love to do this to me.
Having fun with letters in a tremendous variety of ways turns them into friends. Kids are filled with glee when they get to school and discover their name. They love to wiggle and hiss like the letter S. Think of these play activities as brain enrichment. You are paying it forward for your child. And wow, will this basic familiarity with letters pay off when it comes to feeling confident and learning to read. Got any other ideas you can share with us?
After a busy weekend camping, Little Sister seemed played out. With colored felts, she had some quiet fun doing alphabet bubbles.
When it comes to kids being ready for school, many parents and caregivers ask, “Does my child need to know the alphabet before kindergarten?” The answer isn’t a straightforward yes or no. Having some familiarity with letters is certainly helpful for kids. But what’s most important is that kids are comfortable and have had a chance to play with them.
Alphabet and letter play can happen with toys like fridge magnets and foam letters. As your child plays, build awareness with comments like, “Oh, these letters are very different. This one is just lines and this one has a circle.” Or, “These letters are almost the same, aren’t they?” You can notice that a letter at home looks like one you and your child see. For example, “Hey, this letter s looks like one on the stop sign, doesn’t it?” It seems so obvious to us, but kids need to see that there are letters all over.
Letters don’t all come ready made, kids can make them too. Play dough is fabulous for some letter play. Every now and then, you can make a letter and invite your child to try it too. When playing with sand, fingers can trace out some letters. Both play dough and sand are very tactile.
For children that are interested in paper and pencil activities, you can draw out the alphabet in big bubble letters. I was able to squeeze two letters onto an ordinary sheet of 8 1/2 by 11-inch paper. Using felt markers, Little Sister traced the shape of the letters inside. She wanted her letters to be rainbow so drew short lines of different colors. She didn’t do all 26 letters but did a few and then we put the alphabet bubbles away for another day.
Play is how brains learn best. Are there some ways your child can play with letters?
Although the date for autumn is in September, October feels like fall. Since autumn starts with A, today’s play-of-the-day is some alphabet fun for kids. This book by Roger Will has both.
While many parents think that kids have to know their alphabet before starting school, what kids can use is some basic familiarity with letters. Having seen letters and played with them makes learning so much easier when kids do start school. Kids that have some play opportunities with letters greet them like old friends and are confident and comfortable. Kids that don’t have experiences with these strange looking squiggles are confused and unsure.
Reading books to children so they can see the letters on the page gets the brain used to the images of letters. Often, books will have places where we can point to a letter and say it. Singing the letters can be done to the traditional tune like Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. It’s important to hear the letters as well as see them. Reading doesn’t just depend on eyes, but ears too that hear the tiny variations in sounds that make up words.
Not all refrigerators or dishwashers have doors for magnetic letters, but a metal cookie sheet will work. There are also foam letters for playing with on the floor. Alphabet puzzles can make a long train down the hall as kids match a letter with a picture.
Kids can roll letters out with playdough or draw them in sand. Did you know there are cookie cutters for making yummy letters to eat? Instead of the alphabet, it’s an alpha-batch. Careful, Cookie Monster might eat them all, especially the chocolate ones.
As children play with letters, they build crucial brain connections. When they see letters on street signs, stores, and buildings they understand that letters have a purpose. Figuring out that letters have meaning is a foundation for reading and writing. All this can happen in play, instead of flash cards. Have you some other ideas to share for alphabet fun for kids?
Some kindergarten readiness evaluations will include a question about alphabet knowledge. Certainly it is helpful for kids to have some familiarity with letters and sounds before starting school, so that they can build on what they know and for their confidence. But kids do Not need flash cards and drill. Instead, there are fun ways to learn … Continue reading Readiness for Kindergarten, Learning With Dr. Seuss, #10→
Sand has a wonderful texture, most of the time, that is. It does not feel so good in socks or inside shoes. The rest of the time, the feel of sand is appealing to kids and this can be used for learning some kindergarten readiness basics, such as letters. While learning the letters of the … Continue reading Readiness for Kindergarten – Sand & Letters→
While finding and remembering a variety of alphabet activities for the daily blog entries I also searched some information and was astounded by the results. The alphabet is not just for kids. A dance troupe has recreated all the letters of the alphabet in ballet like poses and compiled the photos into a book called … Continue reading Kindergarten Readiness – Alphabet In Our Genes→
One of my favorite gifts from a student is a letter name bracelet. Although stringing beads is definitely a craft for older kids who have outgrown the tendency to put everything in the mouth, it should be done with careful adult supervision just in case. Pick up some beads at a craft store and start stringing. Children … Continue reading Kindergarten Readiness – String up the ABC’s→
Stickers are another great fun project for practicing the alphabet and inexpensive, too. To add an extra layer or two of learning, point to the letters and say their names. Or have your child say the names. Randomly pick a letter for your little one to find. Notice which letters look very different, and which the same. … Continue reading Kindergarten Readiness – Learning That Sticks→
With scrapbooking being popular it is now much easier to find a whole set of alphabet stamps. There’s even a choice in fonts and styles and a missing letter doesn’t involve turning the room upside down and inside out to locate it. Phew. And best of all, ink pads have washable ink! Stamping out a page of … Continue reading Kindergarten Readiness – Stamp It Up ABC→
No, not flash cards, although they can be useful, too. These are cards for card games that kids and parents or other family members can play together. Playing cards also provides an opportunity to learn social skills such as asking politely, saying no acceptably, taking turns, sharing an activity, following rules and more. Sometimes children … Continue reading It’s in the Cards→