Lisa's column

JAN 25

January 25, 2002

January 24, 2002

Learning letters should be fun, not fuss

By Lisa Tedrick Prejean

My 3-year-old likes the alphabet song. She sings it with me. She sings it to her dolls. She sings it while looking at an alphabet chart and pretends she's pointing to letters.


I've wondered if I should do more to help her make that leap from knowing the names of the letters to recognizing that "a" is the symbol for the first letter in "apple."

Children connect with the rhyme and rhythm of a song or nursery rhyme, and that provides a good opportunity to introduce it in printed form, says Rebecca Collinson, a reading improvement/Reading Recovery teacher at Funkstown Elementary School.


She recommends singing the alphabet song while reading an alphabet book, or teaching your child "Baa, Baa Black Sheep" or "Humpty Dumpty" and then showing the child what the nursery rhyme looks like in print.

"They have to hear it and say it before they can read it," Collinson says. "The No. 1 thing any parent can do to help a child have success in school is to read to them every day. I think people think that can't be what will help my child."

When learning to identify letters, a child may notice a letter's name, sound or associate the letter with a word, Collinson says.

For example, child "A" may learn that the letter after "i" is "j" just by looking at it and memorizing the shape.

Child "B" may learn that the letter after "i' says "juh."

Child "C" knows "j" because her mom's name is Jennifer, and that's what the child associates with the letter.

Children may use a mix of these methods to learn their letters, so it's important for parents and teachers to provide opportunities for all three types of learning.

Somewhere between their third and fourth birthdays most children are ready to learn the letters in their name, says Pam Michael, a reading teacher at Winter Street Elementary School.

To help your child learn to recognize his name, write the letters of his name on his artwork and belongings. Form the letters of his name in clay or Play-Doh. Encourage him to touch the letters and trace them with his fingers.

Keep everything playful and fun.

"You don't want to frustrate them," Collinson says. "You start with a known and add just a notch."

If you have magnetic letters, gather multiple copies of three or four letters that have different shapes, such as "a"," r" and "f." Put the letters in a pile and encourage your preschooler to sort the ones that are alike into separate piles.

"They don't have to say, 'That's an "a,'"Collinson says. "You want them to visually distinguish them. Sorting helps them start seeing the difference."

When the child can sort the letters easily, tell him, "This is the "a" pile. This is the "r" pile," etc. Then start adding letters that look alike, such as "v" and "w" or "c" and "e."

Print your child's name on a piece of cardboard and post it on the refrigerator along with your child's in name magnetic letters. Mix up the letters and ask your child to match them to the letters you've printed.

Don't push a young child. Just offer the opportunities and allow him to experiment.

"You could turn this into stress for a child," Michael says. "This is just one piece of the big picture.

"Calm down. Be cool. Take your time and have fun. Most children, if someone takes a little bit of time on it, they'll get it."

Here are other suggestions from Collinson and Michael:

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Point out words on cereal cartons or fast-food boxes and tell your child what the word is.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> If your child has toy blocks or construction toys, ask him what "signs" he would like to have in his play area. Write the words on paper and post the signs.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Allow your child to draw and scribble. Keep pencils and paper in an area where your child can use them. Also keep a pencil and notepad in your purse for times when you have to wait for an appointment.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Encourage your child to experiment with paint, chalk and other art supplies.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Practice some pre-writing skills by encouraging your child to draw balls or circles, humps and straight lines.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> When your child draws a picture, ask him to tell you about it. Talk about some of the words he uses. If he mentions a truck, say, "Oh, a truck? Truck starts with 't.'"

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Put some sand in a tray and practice tracing letters in the sand with your child.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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