But, no matter how epic the novel, how fantastical the tale, how perplexing the mystery, every great story is shaped by the same 26 letters.
As a homeschooling momma, I would like nothing more than for each of my little darlin's to be captivated by the written word...to learn to read in order that they may read to learn. But, first thing's first! Before words...LETTERS! Before my eager readers can tackle Tolstoy, they must first master those simple 26 letters...the names and the sounds.
And HOW do I teach those 26 letters? How do I help my little ones master the ABCs?
Like this...(This post is a collection of many different posts I've written on the subject. It would be in-efficient to recreate all of this information in ONE post, so please be sure to visit each of the highlighted links to get a more thorough look at HOW and WHY I teach the alphabet the way that I do.)
|Homemade dot-to-dot letter page with a Bingo blotter|
I, typically, teach the alphabet over the course of 2 years. The first year (around 3 or 4-years-old), I GENTLY introduce the letter names. This "teaching" comes in simple form. I help my preschooler create an alphabet picture book. I make intentional selections of ABC-themed books for our read-aloud time. I seize every opportunity to organically point out letters in everyday life.
The second year (around 4 or 5-years-old), I get a bit more intentional in my efforts to teach both letter recognition and phonetical awareness.
|Animal "mystery bag" for introducing NAME and SOUND concept|
Introduce the concept of letter NAMES and letter SOUNDSThe idea that a letter has a name AND a sound can be a confusing concept for the average American child who has been taught to sing the popular ABC song (set to the "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" tune) at a very early age. After spending his tot years memorizing the names of the letters in song form, it is not uncommon for a child to be frustrated at the knowledge that the sound a letter makes rarely corresponds to its name. (Have you ever tried to explain to your preschooler why the letter G says "guh" and not "juh"? Or why the letter Y says "yuh" and not "wuh"?)
I transition from NAMES to SOUNDS with the help of a simple animal game. I place toy versions of several well-known animals in a "mystery bag" and invite my child to pull each animal out of it. Every time he draws an animal from the bag, I ask him to tell me the name of the animal PLUS the sound that it makes. Since animal sounds are often some of the first words a baby learns, most children have no problem understanding that the NAME of an animal is not the SOUND that the animal makes...and vice versa.
From there, it is easy to explain that letters are like animals. They each have a NAME and make a SOUND.
|Alphabet "parking lot"|
Re-order the ORDER of the ABCsAs unconventional as it sounds, I never teach the alphabet in ABC order. My goal in teaching the ABCs is to unlock the mystery of the written word. If reading is the goal, shouldn't I focus my efforts on the letters that are most-frequently found in WORDS? And so, with PURPOSE, I reorder the letters before I teach them focusing on short vowel sounds, then frequently-used consonants, then less-used consonants, then long vowel sounds.
Focus on the lower-case letters
|I'll say the sound, you find the letter.|
Teach one letter a weekOn the whole, I tend to shy away from the "mastery" approach to learning subjects that are spiral in nature such as phonics and mathematics. While I think it would be wonderful for every child to completely grasp EVERY concept before moving on to the next, I also understand that sometimes, forward motion in conjunction with LARGE doses of spiral review are the most effective and most merciful methods of learning for many children.
For this reason, I typically stick with a one-letter-a-week schedule. I continue to review all previously learned letters EVERY DAY, but for the sake of my preschooler and his/her short attention span, I try to move on to a new letter and a new set of letter-themed activities each week. (My current first grader can read simple picture books, and yet, he still sometimes get hung-up on the sound of short E. If I had stuck with a MASTERY ONLY approach, he would still only be able to decode the short vowel sounds and REAL READING would only be a wistful dream.)
|Hide-and-Seek Letters with magnets, letter cut-outs, flashcards, or puzzle pieces.|
Teach the letters FORWARDS and BACKWARDSTrue learning...true mastery...is evident when known information can be recalled instantly. If my child has to pause for any length of time to remember the name or sound of a letter, he/she hasn't TRULY learnED them. He/she is STILL learnING them. For this reason, I review the letters many different ways. I try to incorporate all of the different learning styles in my review. Some examples of this might include...
- He SEES the letter and has to say its name.
- He SEES the letter and has to say its sound.
- He HEARS the name of the letter and has to say its sound.
- He HEARS the sound of the letter and has to say its name.
- He HEARS the name of the letter and has to write (or point to) the formation of the letter.
- He HEARS the sound of the letter and has to write (or point to) the formation of the letter.
- He HEARS the sound or name of the letter and has to pick out the correct letter from a selection of many letters.
- He HEARS the sound or name of the letter is shown a letter and has to determine whether that IS or ISN'T the letter that corresponds with that sound or name.
ABC ActivitiesAs I teach a new letter every week, I preplan four to five main activities in my yearly schedule that will teach/reinforce that letter. I continue to rotate those same activities each week plugging in the NEW letter to the day's assigned activity. After reviewing all previously learned letters with a fun game, I focus on the new letter of the week. Our week typically looks like this...
Monday- Introduce the letter name and sound with an alphabet bagWith the help of Mini Alphabet Flashcards, I introduce the name, sound, and a "clue word" (a word that the child can use to help connect the name with the letter as in, "A says, a as in apple."). Then I bring out an alphabet bag stocked with many items that begin with that letter. My child draws each "mystery" item from the bag, says the name of the item, and gets reminded of the beginning sound and this week's letter. (I usually have my older children stock the bag the night before I introduce a new letter. They love the challenge of finding as many items as they can. And I love the review it provides THEM as they search for applicable items.)
Examples of what went into the bag during short U week are as follows:
- an umbrella
- an under the sea book
- a pair of underwear
- the movie Up
- a flashcard depicting the word under
- a photo of an uncle
Tuesday- Review with a hands-on craftEach week, I print out the outline of the letter-of-the-week and create a hands-on, process-oriented art project that reinforces the letter sound. At the end of the year, I compile all of these in an ABC Book that I have spiral bound at a local office supply store. Over the years, I have entered these preschool keepsakes into our local country fair and have watched proudly as they have all been awarded ribbons...a well-deserved honor for my little learner and all his/her hard work throughout the year!
Wednesday- Review with a living literature alphabet picture bookThe alphabet bag is a gentle introduction to every-day words that start with the letter-of-the-week, but let's face it, only NOUNS can be gathered and deposited into a pretty gift bag. There are many colorful verbs, prepositions, adjectives, and-so-on that would make for helpful illustrations to the letter sound. I'm able to present these words with the help of a simple alphabet picture word book. On that particular day, I open up the word book to the letter-of-the-week and just enjoy a little snuggle time with my preschooler as we look at many other words that begin with that particular letter. (There are MANY picture word books/first word dictionaries on the market. My current is an out-of-print copy of The Sharon Picture Word Book.)
Thursday- Review with the alphabet as a wholeI think it is vital to INTRODUCE the letter separately from the other letters of the alphabet. But, once I am confident that my child has a firm grasp of that individual letter, I think it's helpful to REVIEW the letter in its original context of the alphabet as a whole. At the beginning of the year, I purchase or make a simple ABC chart and hang it on the wall at my preschooler's reach. I cut out a paper "frame" and use sticky-tack to adhere it to the wall just beside the poster. When it is time to review the letter using the ABC chart, I remove the frame, hand it to my little one, and begin to sing the ABC song while pointing to each letter as it is sung. My preschooler sings along, but is instructed to STOP the song when we get to the letter that we are learning that week. Once we stop, he/she places the frame around that letter, and we continue with our song.
Friday- Review, review, reviewOver the years, I have purchased many alphabet games, manipulatives, and puzzles from yard sales, used curriculum sales, and library sales. At least once a week, I pull out one of these from my school hutches to play with my preschooler. When pressed for time, I sometimes assign my older kids to play instead. (It's been a great way for my older ones to review the basics and for me to help foster a loving, caring relationship between siblings.)
For more ideas and to continue the conversation, be sure to visit my ABC Pinterest Board.