Sunday, January 8, 2012

A few ideas to help your preschooler learn the alphabet

Children learn by "hands on" activities; touching, moving, and doing teach so much more than just "looking at", which is one reason why educators encourage parents to actively engage their children instead of putting them in front of a computer, video or TV screen, which is passive learning. During passive learning they are not engaged, they are observing. The more the brain is actively involved, the more real learning takes place. Brain connections are made when the body moves, especially movement that involves crossing the midline of the body-so reaching across your body for something engages the brain more than reaching to the same side. The other big, big benefit is spending time with your child in a fun learning activity.

Looking at flash cards of alphabet letters is not as helpful as touching the letters- making the letters out of materials, writing the letters in various ways. Here are a few ideas to make learning letters fun, engaging, and worthwhile.

Do one activity a day for a short time. The first letters to work on are the ones in your child's name, they have the most meaning to them. You can expand into other letters later- and concentrate on only a few at a time, not the whole alphabet. If your child's name starts with the letter "C" work on that letter a few minutes a day until they are very comfortable with it. Then move on to another letter. Find a way to highlight the letters your child has learned, get an alphabet poster and put a star next to each letter they know, or buy a big poster board and add each letter as they learn it.
  • Take a cookie sheet and put a thin layer of any of the following- flour, salt, cornmeal, cornflour, sand (outside) or any other fine material. Have your child make the letters using their index finger on their dominate hand - it is easy to erase too, just lightly brush the material back into place or shake the pan slightly to smooth it out. You can make the letter first or you can each have a tray. It is OK to have a flash card that shows the letter to your child, the physical movement is what will help make the learning happen. Make this fun, also allow your child to "draw" whatever they want, or you can draw pictures of words that start with that letter and make a guessing game out of it.
  • You can also take the cookie sheet and put shaving cream or finger paint on it and make the letters, it provides a tactile experience that is different than the dry material. Do the same letters they are working on.
  • Play dough and modeling clay are great materials for young hands, they help develop those fine motor muscles in the hands and fingers that will help children with holding pencils later on. Some children who have trouble writing letters or remembering the letters of their name can do so more easily after they have formed the letters with clay. Something about the tactile feel of the letter helps it get retained easier. So, bring out the clay and roll it into long strips. Make a game of it, you make a letter and have your child guess what it is, then they can make one and you guess. Make all the letters of his/her name and put them on the table. Talk about the letters, what is alike and what is different? Some made have curves, some straight lines.
  • As an extension of all of this, some children will like to make the letters out of their bodies, can they make their body look like the letter "C". It may take both of you to make some of the letters and then maybe someone can take a picture of each letter too!
  • Take a white piece of paper and draw letters or your child's name on it. Give them watercolors and have them paint over the whole paper to reveal their name.
  • When you write your child's name, do a capital letter (uppercase) for the first letter and lower case letters for the rest. This is how they will need to write their name for school so why have to relearn it later.
  • Point out letters and words in the world. When you buy a product, if one of the letters you are working on is on the package, point it out or ask your child if they can find it.
  • Talk about the letter sounds, this will help your child more than just knowing the letters.
  • Put magnetic letters on the door of your refrigerator and ask your child to find you certain letters at first, then make simple words or their name. Have them find the letters in their name. When they are ready, you can make some simple word cards and attach them to the refrigerator with a magnet- ask your child to find those letters to make the word. Remember praise them for their effort too.
  • You can get upper and lower case letters at most toy stores, or teacher learning stores. I have some links of this BLOG to a couple of the teacher supply places I especially like. Make sure you buy good quality ones though so the magnets don't fall out, they can be dangerous if swallowed.
  • If you want your child to start writing the letters, it is better to start with a crayon or a thick pencil, but since many preschoolers lack the fine motor control over the crayon or pencil, it can become frustrating for them. You can try dry erase boards and dry erase markers too, they are fun and easy to correct mistakes. You will see that they first write the letters really large, and when they write words, some of the letters will be on one line, the rest on another. That doesn't matter, they will learn all that later. It takes a lot of skill to know the letter, know how to make it, have your brain communicate that to your hand and your hand to follow through with what the brain is telling it to do.

Well, that is just a few ideas for how you can teach letters to you child, I hope you will try them, and I hope you will make learning FUN! If it becomes frustrating for your child, back off a bit; try a different activity. If they are getting frustrated or you are fighting to make them do it, they will not get the benefit of the activity- maybe they are not ready yet.

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