Teaching Letters to Young Children
Do you use the letter of the week method? Why?
Many early childhood educators teach letters and their sounds by presenting a new letter each week, and then emphasize that letter by programming activities that begin with it. For example, when teaching the letter B, they might string “b”eads, study “b”utterflies, and eat “b”agels. When using this method, which is informally known as the Letter of the Week method, it takes almost the complete school year to get through the alphabet.
Teachers, caregivers and parents who advocate this method say they use it because:
Some of the reasons:
Children are developmentally ready, and motivated, to learn the names and sounds of letters, at different ages and stages. If a child is ready to learn letters, they are ready to learn lots of letters, not just one. I have seen motivated children learn a complete alphabet and most sounds within 2 weeks! Imagine the boredom and frustration of these children if they are presented with just one letter a week, the same letter over and over again. Hopefully they will go ahead and learn all the letters by themselves anyway, but just imagine all that time that is being wasted in the group setting, plodding along with one letter a week. So many more exciting things could be accomplished during this wasted time. How about the child that is not interested or ready yet? Is learning a letter a week going to increase the interest and motivation, and hasten personal cognitive development? At best, it will provide some busy work to fill time. At worst, it bores and frustrates.
Current educational research indicates that children learn letters and their sounds best when they are presented in small groups of 2, 3 or 4; when many hands on games and social activities are presented at the same time to reinforce the names and sounds (this does NOT mean poking holes in paper for the letter P); and when the letters are “studied” in context, along with other letters, and not in isolation.
This is how I have taught letters to young children in group settings, and this I what I recommend.
OK, I can hear you saying “But if I don’t do a letter a week, what am I going to hang my curriculum on?” Well, that’s easy. Follow a theme curriculum. Some teachers like planned themes; others follow a more emergent approach (studying interesting topics that come up in the course of the day or week). Letters (and I might add shapes, colors and numbers) are taught separately from the theme, at the pace of the group and what they are ready to do. (Observe, record and assess). Of course, exploring and learning letters can be incorporated into thematic activities whenever appropriate, but they should not dictate the theme.
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