Alphabetic knowledge is comprised of knowing the letter names, sounds, and physical formations of letters. Often children are first exposed to the alphabet through the ABC song, rhymes, or books that present the alphabet in order. It’s natural to think we should start with teaching letter A. However, starting at letter A and ending at Z isn’t necessary. There isn’t a perfect sequence to teach letters in; however, there are many reasons for teaching letters out of alphabetic order.
Alphabetic knowledge is just one of the skills integrated into the Language and Literacy skills and goals within Experience Curriculum.
- Meaningful or Memorized?
- Follow the Research
- What’s the Purpose?
- Individual Letters
- Introducing Letters
Meaningful or Memorized?
Rote memory is not meaningful learning. Learning the order of the alphabet and the letter names is an important part of learning to read but children must be able to connect the sound the letter makes to the name of the letter. With 26 letters, an upper and lowercase formation of each letter, plus the 44 sounds the alphabet letters make, there’s a lot to learn! In order for it to be meaningful learning, we have to go beyond memorization. Young children need meaningful experiences with letters to build their alphabetic knowledge skills.
Follow the Research
Research verifies learning letters out of order allows children to more deeply understand that each letter symbol is unique and represents a specific sound. Children will revert back to the letter name rather than the sound of the letter makes when attempting to identify letters. Children need repetition and continual exposure to all letters. When starting with the letter A, children are more likely to remember the beginning letters but not be as familiar with the last half of the alphabet.
What’s the Purpose?
The purpose of learning the alphabet is for reading and writing. In order to read, children must know the sounds letters make. When children learn individual letters and their sounds, they will be able to more easily decode words when the letters are put together.
When children understand that symbols represent other things, they can begin to understand that letters represent sounds and sounds combine to represent words (DeLoache, 1991). Identifying letter-sound connections helps children develop phonics and reading skills. Letter and letter-sound knowledge are two of the strongest predictors of later reading proficiency (Skibbe, McDonald-Connor, Morrison & Jewkes, 2011).
Each alphabet letter is unique and represents a different sound. Knowing how to sing the alphabet song doesn’t have much value without knowing each individual letter’s name and sound.
Preschoolers begin to recognize some familiar words in print such as their name, mom, dad, or stop. They will also identify five to seven letters and their associated sounds until eventually, they will name all upper and lowercase letters when presented in random order.
So then the question is, what order should we teach letters in? Experience Curriculum introduces letters as they coordinate with the themes and daily topics to create context. This makes the letters meaningful. For example, if we're learning about trees and introduce letter T and coordinating activities, the children are more likely to connect and recall the letter name, form and sound to the letter T. Experience Curriculum's Scope & Sequence varies each year. There is no one “correct” order in which to teach the letters, and different phonics programs use different sequences.
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