How to Teach the Alphabet using Language Objects
Teaching the Alphabet using Language Objects
One of the biggest mistakes parents make when teaching the alphabet is focusing on the names of each alphabet letter.
It's easy to get all excited when your toddler starts pointing out alphabet letters on signs and in books and asks, "What's that?" Almost on autopilot, we give the name of the letter and think we need to start singing the alphabet song!
But... knowing the names of the alphabet letters does not prepare your child for later writing and reading!
I'm going to walk you through an approach to teaching the alphabet that's (very) DIFFERENT and makes so much more sense.
When it comes to teaching the alphabet, it's the sound each letter makes that's essential for toddlers and preschoolers to learn first.
Knowing each letter sound means the letter symbols will have meaning for your child. The letter symbols won't be so abstract. You're child will think: "That's not just a curvy line, that’s the sound /c/ as in cat."
You want your child to understand that each letter symbol represents a sound that he or she already knows. This way you’re building on existing knowledge, and it's simply a matter of associating each sound with its alphabet letter.
Ultimately, you want your child to be able to blend the sounds /c/, /a/ and /t/ to make the word "cat" versus naming the letters as "see", "ay" and "tee".
The first step is to play sound games to teach alphabet letter sounds.
An easy and engaging way to teach alphabet letter sounds is by playing sound games using language objects to draw attention to the sounds in words and help your child understand that words are made up of sounds in a row.
Usually children who are around 2.5 to 3 years old are ready for the first sound game in a series that you can play over the next year or so to develop phonemic awareness.
Click here to learn how to start a collection of language objects (including lots of ideas for language objects you can find in your home!) and how to say the alphabet letter sounds. You'll also get a step-by-step script for playing sound games using language objects.
Once you've gotten in the habit of playing sound games daily, then come back here to learn what to do next!
The next step is to associate each letter sound with its alphabet letter using lowercase tactile letters.
Once it’s clear that your child understands that words are made up of sounds in a row and he or she can consistently identify the sounds in words, then it's time to associate each letter sound with its alphabet symbol using lowercase tactile letters.
Children learn best through hands-on experiences that involve the senses and movement. Tracing a lowercase tactile letter and saying its sound helps your child develop muscular, visual and auditory memory of what the alphabet letters look like and sound like.
You'll want to start with lowercase tactile letters because most of the letters we write and read are lowercase letters, but you'll need to decide if you want to introduce the cursive or print version of tactile letters.
How to Play the Sound-Letter Association Game
Select three lowercase tactile letters that look different and sound different. Place them face down on a table along with a small box or basket that contains several language objects. Ideally you'll have about three language objects for each of the sounds represented by the letters.
The "Naming" Period
Start by talking about some words that start with one of the sounds you’ll present. Invite your child to think of a word that starts with the same sound. Then show your child the tactile letter and model how to trace it and say the sound it makes. Invite your child to trace the letter and say the sound. You’ll repeat this process for the other two tactile letters. Don't mention the name of the letters!
The "Show Me" Period
This step makes the process of associating the alphabet letters and sounds into a fun game. Place the three tactile letters in front of your child. Invite your child to "show me the /m/" and "touch the /s/" and "pass me the /f/" and so on. Always invite your child to trace the letter and say its sound. Repeat with each letter a few times in random order, moving them around on the table to increase the challenge.
Then place one language object in your child's hand and name the object. Invite your child to say the beginning sound of the language object and then match it with the tactile letter that makes the same sound. Repeat with all of the language objects.
The "What Is?" Period
Gather the tactile letters into a pile and place them face down on the table. One at a time, turn over a tactile letter and say “Please trace this and say the sound.”
On another day, introduce three new tactile letters. The order doesn't matter. Your child doesn't need to master each letter before moving on to new ones. You’ll keep cycling back by playing a variety of sound-letter association games using the tactile letters. This approach offers lots of opportunities for repetition to reinforce letter recognition without the need to prepare a new craft or letter activity for each letter of the alphabet.
In The Playful Path to Reading™ preschool reading program, you'll learn more letter recognition activities using tactile letters and an easy way to keep track of which ones you've presented. You'll also learn exactly what to do next, as soon as your child knows most of the alphabet letters and the sounds they represent.
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About the Author
I'm Lisa Adele, an AMI-trained Montessori teacher and the creator of The Playful Path to Reading™. I help parents of preschoolers use hands-on activities to develop early reading skills.