Thursday, October 13, 2011

Learning the Alphabet

Today I want to record the items that we used at home to show Ryan the alphabet. I can't recall exactly when but most of these were introduced when he was just under one year old.

These items were only for introducing the letters and their names. I have not included the items we have which show words and letter sounds - like A is for Apple and B is for Boat. The items in this post merely show him what is an A, what is a B, etc.

The first "item" we used was probably the alphabet song. You know how it goes, to the tune of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. I do have one issue with it and that was the part that went "LMNOP". All the sounds are crushed together. So I usually sing it a little differently when it got to that part. Actually, there are lots of other alphabet songs that you can use, just pick up a CD at the children's section. I should add that, in Shichida class, for the children who are 1-2 years old, we sometimes sing an alphabet song (very much like the famous alphabet song, just slightly different at certain parts). We sing it while pointing to each of the 26 letters printed on a sheet of paper.

This was probably the first "toy" we used - an alphabet/abacus frame. Richard would have Ryan on his lap every night and he would tap each letter in turn as he sang the alphabet song to Ryan. He would do one or two rounds each time, and then they would move on to play with something else. There are images on the reverse side of each tile so Richard also goes through those with Ryan, to keep things interesting. After a while, and when Ryan started talking, Ryan started pointing to some of the tiles on his own and saying the letter's name. Now of course he can name all the letters on his own and this item has been packed away, waiting for the next little cutie to come along.

I came across the frame by accident. I was actually looking for something like an abacus (you can see three rows of balls on the other side (blue, green and red) if you peek between the rows on the lower left of the frame). To be honest, I was more persuaded by the price than anything else - it was only a few dollars. It's made of plastic, probably made in China - yes I know about all the dangerous toys that come from China, but I knew that Ryan would not be having much skin contact with this sort of toy and he certainly wasn't going to put it in his mouth, so I felt it was not an issue.

Ok, next item. This is a wooden alphabet board. There are wooden letters which fit on the board which I didn't bother to fit for the photo. At present, we've put the board away and we keep the letters in a small container which we sometimes bring along when we go out for meals. When Ryan was still learning the alphabet, the letters were always in their places on the board and all the little images are covered, so you just see the letters and it's not as distracting as it is in the first photo. In fact, we never bothered with the little images.

What Ryan did with this was the obvious - he fit all the letters onto the board. That was it. I guess it gave him a sensorial experience and familiarity with the shapes. As he fit each letter, we would sometimes say the letter's name out aloud but not always. 

These are the letters. The thing that persuaded me to buy this board (apart from its low price) was that it had both the upper and the lower case letters, remembering that it is very important to introduce the lower case letters, in addition to the upper case letters as the lower case letters are encountered more frequently in everyday life. I did not like the font used though - the lower case "a", "g" and "a" are not my desired shape (see the bottom row of letters in the photo). Ryan didn't have any problem with them however. As he grew more familiar with the letters, he would use them without the board, and his favourite thing to do was to match up the upper case letters with their lower case partners. 

Next is this wooden train, made up of letters. All 26 letters are represented, plus an engine and a caboose, and you can hook each one on and off in any order. Ryan loved this and we still keep it out for him to play with, even now. The advantage (although I did not realise it at the time I bought it) was that Ryan could see both sides of each letter.  As the hook on each letter is only on one end (the other end being the eye for the hook), he learned that there was a correct side and a wrong side (for letters like B, D, E, etc). Again, I didn't spend much on this, it was quite cheap.

The last item I will show was a Christmas gift (in 2009) from a friend. This comprised a set of wooden letters and a corresponding set of 26 cards, made by Plan Toys. Each card has, on one side, a picture of an animal which name starts with that letter. There is an empty space on the animal which the wooden piece can sit on. The other side of the card shows the plain letter (which is also the same size as the wooden letter) and there is a dotted arrow line showing how the letter is written - you are supposed to trace the letter with your finger following the arrow. 

Ryan didn't love this immediately, he took a long time to get into it. I guess it was like a duplicate of some of the items above, which he was already playing with. Plus the pictures on the cards were not that appealing, I think. In fact, when he did play with this, he preferred to play on the plain side of the cards, although we never bothered to do the tracing, just the matching up of the wooden letter with the card. Anyway, this toy slowly gained acceptance and now Ryan pulls it out quite regularly to play with, sometimes he plays with the cards (both sides); other times he doesn't bother with the cards, he just holds the letters in his hand or lines them up on the floor and says their names. 

Around the same time that we introduced the Plan Toys set, I also introduced cards with textured lower case letters. You can see what this looks like at this link (I did not buy it through this link though. I bought it off the shelf from a local store). The intention was to get him to trace the letters with his finger, in the order and direction that he would eventually write them. This is what is done in Montessori when they work with sandpaper letters. Ryan did not like these - I think this activity was too restrictive and too advanced for his age so I packed it up after two or three tries. I re-introduced these cards later, and he was much more receptive. I would think that you can try when your child is, at the youngest, 18 months, and even then, when you start, don't ask the child to do the tracing, just show him/her how to do it and leave it at that, until his/her interest is sufficiently piqued and he/she starts to reach for the cards on his/her own.

As for books, we felt that there was not much point buying a book with pages that simply had A, B, C, D, E... etc. So, we didn't use any. After Ryan was already familiar with the alphabet, we did pick up two alphabet books, because by that time, Ryan absolutely loved the alphabet so we wanted to get some books that he would enjoy. One is the famous "Chicka Chicka Boom Boom" (by Bill Martin Jr and John Archambault with illustrations by Lois Ehlert). We bought this fairly recently and have only gone through once or twice with Ryan. The other one is Leo Lionni's board book, "Colors, Numbers, Letters". Ryan read the whole book on his own the very first time he saw it - there are no words, he just named all the colours, numbers and letters. Great book, I will post a review soon.

I should add that we do not have an alphabet chart on the wall at home. 

Before I pen off, I want to mention that, in the beginning, I had the intention of teaching letter sounds first, before teaching the alphabet. I was concerned that Ryan wouldn't want to learn the letter sounds if he had already learned to refer to the letters by their names. My fears were unfounded - Ryan learned the letter names first and had no problem with the letter sounds subsequently. Now, in addition to reciting the alphabet by letter name, he can even do it by letter sound! In fact, when reading up on this, I came across an ex-Montessori teacher who said that she had one student who learned the letter sounds without learning the alphabet and he was so demoralised in pre-school when he discovered that his peers all knew the letter names. He felt out of place and all this negativity affected his ability to learn the letter names, which frustrated him even more. Thinking about it, even if you don't teach letter sounds at home, it's all right because children will get that done in school, but you have to teach the letter names at home, because that's not done in school (the students usually already know the letter names).

All right, that's it. Maybe next time when I write on this subject, I will write about the items we used to introduce letter sounds.

[This post also appears in our Learning at Home section.]


Anonymous said...

U din mention leapfrog DVD a brilliant way to pick up letters and it's sound at ease - mico

Pinkie Pirate said...

@mico- hello! Yes that is a very good DVD! I didn't use that at this stage though. Only later on when Ryan already knew his letter names. He also was not watching DVDs at this age (under one). I will include that in a post on letter sounds. Thanks for your input, much appreciated!

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