Children gradually learn to understand and use symbols during their early years.
We’ve all been amazed at how soon young children learn the meaning of signs in the environment like the golden arches at McDonald’s or the shape and colour of stop signs. It must be remembered though, that young children generally cannot use or understand symbols in the broad sense. A three year old child who knows the “M” in McDonald’s means lunch probably won’t know that a different shaped “M” is the first letter in the word marble.
It takes children time and learning experience to develop the symbolic understanding necessary to grasp the letter-sound relationship.
Many three year olds can say the letters of the alphabet as they sing the alphabet song. These same children are likely not able to match the letters in the song to the letters on a page. Over time children need to learn the names of the letters and what the letters look like.
Four year olds are interested in their names and the letters that spell them. This interest is very motivating and many children at this age begin to match some letters to their corresponding letter names. And, they can learn the alphabet by being taught in a direct and deliberate way. Usually children will need both approaches to learn as completely as they need for reading.
By the end of senior kindergarten children should be able to recognize and name all upper and lower case letters.
Three and four year old children display a rapid growth in literacy knowledge.
Children’s exploration and experimentation with scribbling, writing strings of random letters, and drawing letter like forms helps them learn about written language and reading. This is the reason it is said that reading and writing are learned together. Some four year olds try to use invented spelling by using the consonant letter/sounds they have learned.
A close look at children’s writing shows what they know about written language.
Help Children Learn Letters
Young children benefit by learning about letters through;
- forming the letter shapes with manipulatives such as play dough and paint
- using toys such as magnetic and tactile letters
- playing games like letter bingo or letter hop-scotch
To lay the foundation for reading success in grade one, children need to recognize all the letters of the alphabet and how to produce them. As well and equally important, they need to:
- experiment with the sound structure of words
- practice how to manipulate the sounds within words
- learn how fictional stories work and that non-fiction is different
- have a good and growing vocabulary