Have you ever wondered what might be the best order to introduce letters to young children? There is no standard for which order to teach the alphabet. Some educators use a letter-of-the-week method that may or may not be based on letter frequency, while others follow the alphabet in order.
Very young children may already have some print knowledge. Typically they are motivated by the letters in their own name. When introducing the alphabet to young children, here are some things to consider in your planning.
The two greatest predictors of reading success are knowledge of letter names and letter sounds (phonemic awareness) in the early years. Once children begin to have an understanding of these concepts, they can grasp the relationship between sounds of speech and letters (alphabetic principle).
It is easier to predict the sound of some letters than others. When a letter’s sound can be extracted from its name, it is easier to build an understanding of the alphabetic principle. The name of the letter E, for example, can be heard in its sound. However, when W is spoken, it does not sound like its name: ‘double-u.’ So when choosing which letters to first introduce to your group, consider letters that have an obvious correlation between letter name and letter sound such as: A, B, D, O, T, V, and Z.
There has been much debate about whether to introduce uppercase before lowercase letters. One could argue that most print is in lower case and therefore children should be taught how to read these letters first. But when it comes to learning to print, it is easier for young children to reproduce uppercase letters. These letters are larger and can be more easily reproduced with their predominantly straight lines. With limited pencil control, young children can print large letters with vertical and horizontal lines more easily than smaller ones with curves and diagonal lines. Begin with letters that have vertical and horizontal lines such as H, L, I, and E.
To help you decide what order to teach your children the alphabet, here is a look at what is age-appropriate:
- Toddlers can learn to sing the alphabet song and should be read to daily. This age group enjoys simple, rhyming stories and songs.
- Encourage toddlers to recognize the first letter of their name.
- At two years of age a child may be able to produce vertical strokes, and horizontal ones by two and a half years.
- Expose toddlers to print and model adult printing for them.
- Encourage the development of the fine motor control needed for printing through scribbling, manipulatives and play dough.
- Preschoolers may be able to learn to recognize and name some of the letters of the alphabet. To strengthen their understanding of this, focus on beginning letter sounds of a word. For example blue, berry, brown, bag.
- They can develop dexterity and pencil control through colouring, tracing letters, and completing simple mazes. Children this age may scribble, create mock letters that are unrecognizable, or string random letters together to represent words. Typically at three years old a child can draw circles, print a cross at age four, and a square at age five.
- Continue to expose children this age to increasingly complex stories. Ask them questions about the stories to encourage development of their narrative skills.
Keep in mind that writing tools for young children should be small. Short, thin crayons are recommended over thicker ones.
Literacy is a journey that takes time and cannot be rushed. Encourage print motivation (an interest in reading) by providing a child-centered environment that is rich in literacy. Incorporate the interests of the children into their learning.
Each child develops at their own pace and there are many cognitive and fine motor skills needed before the process of reading and writing can begin. As educators, our role is to set a strong foundation for success and foster a love of reading in the early years.
References: Lucy Hart Paulson, Ed.D, CCC-SLP Communicative Sciences and Disorders University of Montana. Taken from Niagara Speech Services Emergent Literacy Conference 2015.