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?
Sensory play is one of the ways the brain uses to load information into its circuits. Dinosaurs, letters, and sand combine for some awesome sensory play. Not all children are particularly interested in letters, but dinosaurs and sand can turn learning into fun.
While a whole sand box or sand table is wonderful, a bowl or container of sand will also work, along with a few dollar store letters and dinosaurs. Either grownups can bury the dinos and letters or kids can do it themselves. The second part of the fun is finding them. Real archaeologists and paleontologists use tools like brushes and picks to dig out bones and artifacts. Kids can use fingers, spoons, and paint or pastry brushes.
The texture of the sand, letters, and dinosaurs will stimulate the sense of touch. The colors and shapes of the dinos and letters exercise the sense of sight. Children use their senses to build their knowledge.
Before kids start school, a basic familiarity with letters is helpful. This doesn’t mean using flash cards so kids know their letters. It means experiences with them so they are not scary unknowns. Touching and playing with letters builds a relationship with them as well as some idea of their shapes and names. In the words of Dr. Dan Gartell, readiness is “a state of mind, not a state of knowledge.”
Finding the dinosaurs and letters is like finding buried treasures. It’s quite exciting and some of this feeling transfers to them. Kids need this along with a sense of familiarity for the dinosaur-size task of learning to read. Reading doesn’t start outside with the page of a book; it starts inside with knowing words and having an idea that there are special squiggles called letters. Having this foundation is critical for children’s confidence and success.
Sand can be a bit messy but it does vacuum up. The letters and dinosaurs are inexpensive and can be used for other play. What fun and learning can your child dig up?
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?
Today’s pirate fun and learning activity that also supports the development of kindergarten readiness is inspired by a joke: Q. What is a pirate’s favorite letter? A. Most people think it’s the ‘R’rrrr, but really it’s the ‘C’ (sea) they love. I think that a pirate’s favorite letter is ‘X’ because X marks the spot … Continue reading Pirate Fun Activities For Kids #16: Letters→
Parents and caregivers often ask what young children need to know before kindergarten; this is the 16th in a series of blog posts on kindergarten readiness and early learning basics. No matter the age of your little one, this will give you a general picture of what to do as your child’s very first teacher. … Continue reading Kindergarten Readiness & Early Learning Basics: Letters→
As mentioned in parts 1 & 2, some familiarity with the alphabet is an important part of readiness for kindergarten. As adults, we think that kids only have to learn 26 letters to know the alphabet. Watch this math… There are 26 letter names + 26 letter sounds + 26 letter shapes which make 78. … Continue reading Readiness for Kindergarten – P is for Pumpkin, Part 3→
Many children’s books are based on the alphabet and many kindergarten readiness evaluations will ask children about letters. There is no doubt that having some basic knowledge of letter names is beneficial before going off to school. But letters have names and they also have associated sounds. Sometimes, these are the same but sometimes they … Continue reading Readiness for Kindergarten – P is for Pumpkin, Part 2→
Monday is a good day to practice the sound of the letter M. Practicing the sounds of letters and reading stories with words that rhyme is something that parents, daycares, and caregivers can do with kids at any age. Not only does this promote kindergarten readiness, it expands your child’s language ‘bank account’. To help … Continue reading Kindergarten Readiness – Mmmonday→