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Learning letters

For some kiddos, learning letters seems to come naturally. For others, the task can seem impossible! Either way, knowing your letters is actually quite complicated. Some children can say the alphabet, some can identify the letters only if they're in order, some can write them, some can identify the sound associated with the letter, some can only retain a select amount of letters, etc. My overall goal ALWAYS is for the child to be able to say the alphabet in order, identify the letters in order, identify letters out of order, identify the sound associated with the letters, and be able to write the letters. Often, people try to either do each of these one at a time, as steps, or to bombard the child with too much at once. In my experience, success comes from doing short, fun activities that give bits of each of these parts. Here are some tips on teaching letters to little ones.

1. HAVE AN ALPHABET CHART POSTED : This one is very easy, non-invasive and SO IMPORTANT!

The alphabet chart should be posted at the child's eye level, somewhere in the home where he or she will see it often and in a non-active type of spot. For example, in the kitchen (where the child will see it while sitting and eating) or the bathroom (where the child can see it while sitting on the toilet).

There should be one alphabet chart that is upper case and one that is in another location that is lower case. Each chart should be several rows of letters always going left to right (not the long alphabet strip that is generally in classrooms). This has several purposes. It serves as a reference of course. It's something that the child sees often and then becomes so visually familiar that he or she eventually creates a picture of that chart in his/her mind. When the opportunity presents itself (sometimes that means once a day, sometimes 10 times a day), point to each letter and say the alphabet in order (with your child repeating after each letter). ****Note: 1. This should be fun and not stressful. That means if your child is melting down or you aren't in a great mood, that probably isn't the opportunity you're looking for. 2. If your child won't/can't repeat you: Say the letters as I stated, pause after each and look to your child (it's important that they get the chance after each letter to say it, even if you're certain that they won't). If they don't repeat you, say the next letter and repeat this.

This should only take a few seconds and unless your child is requesting to continue identifying letters, move on with your day!

2. CHILD'S CHOICE FOR WHICH LETTER TO LEARN: When learning to identify and write/build a letter, walk the child to the alphabet chart and ask what letter he or she would like to learn next. I usually place a sticker or star on the letters that they already know. Giving the child this choice is so empowering and begins to pave the way for internal motivation with learning. Depending on the child, you could teach 1 - 3 letters during a work session, but ALWAYS one at a time.

3. REPEAT IN REGULAR CONVERSATION: A lot of times when teaching new information, we just tell then test, never giving the child's brain time or opportunity to create associations and to move the information through the proper channels of memory. Repeating in regular conversation immediately after showing your child the letter is important, as is later in the day and subsequent days. For example, some things you could say are: "Oh, look! This is an M on the mac-n-cheese box!" "Do you like this blue M or the green M?" "Doesn't the M look kind of like mountains?"

4. MULTI-SENSORY & ASSOCIATIONS: This part is HUGE and helps all sorts of learners! Always always always be thinking of multi-sensory ways of making the letter and inspiring associations. Never just write the letter! So, when I am teaching a kiddo a new letter, we "build" it, draw it and chat about associations (all within a very short work session...probably 10 minutes or less). Depending on your child, I would suggest having a 10 minute or less work session no more than 3 times per week (1 - 2 is plenty).

5 Different ways to "build" the letter

- Play-doh: you can roll it into snakes and then form it into the letter or flatten it out like a pancake and carve the letter into it with a toothpick

- Blocks: depending on the letter, you can build it upright or lay it down

- Pipe cleaners: bend it into the correct letter

- Popsicle sticks: if the letter has only straight lines of course

- Toy cars/trains: line them up to form the letter

5 Different ways to draw the letter (other than plain old pencil and paper)

- Dry erase marker: Write on a dry erase board, window or mirror.

- Sand: Put sand in a foil pan and draw with your finger or a Q-tip.

- Paint brush: Paint with paint or get construction paper and paint with water and watch it disappear as it dries.

- Invisible finger: Point your index finger and pretend to write the letter in the air or pretend to draw it on the wall. Being able to visualize the letter is a great skill!

- Cardboard: If you have any leftover boxes, this can be really fun. Either cut out a flat part of the box and when you draw on it, listen and feel when you draw against the ripples vs with the ripples. Also, if you have a larger box, let your child sit in it and write on the walls.

5 Different was to inspire associations

- Sounds: Talk about the sound it makes and words (that are common to the child) that start with that sound. Give examples and invite the child to think of some.

- Size: Point out if the letter is tall, short or hanging. On a three line paper, if the letter goes from the tap line to the bottom, it's tall. If it stays between the middle line and the bottom, it's short. If it hangs below the bottom line, it's hanging.

- Shapes/lines: Describe the letter using shapes and lines. For example: An 'L' is a big line down and a little line at the bottom. An 'M' looks like 2 upside down triangles. A 'B' is a big line down with 2 little curves.

- Silly stories: Make up a silly story about how to form the letter and utilize words that sound like the letter sound. For instance: A 'B' is a big line down and then the ball bounces down to the middle and then bounces down to the bottom.

- Look in the clouds: Look around your house, in the trees or in the way the spaghetti sits to find the letters your child has learned!


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