This post originally appeared on Afterthoughts on October 21, 2009.
I have a great secret: teaching letters has always made me nervous. I’m serious! I have said here many times that I was once a reading tutor. I gained a lot of confidence in teaching a child to read, and also in the ability of children to be taught to read.
Every child who ever came to me for tutoring, came with a basic knowledge of letters, both upper- and lower-case.
This means that while teaching phonics was something I already knew how to do fairly well, when it came to the alphabet, I approached my own children with fear and trembling.
It was very helpful when, on his second birthday, my firstborn received from my mother-in-law a big plastic backpack brimming with stuffed capital letters. We played with these letters while I was on bedrest for my second pregnancy, and lo and behold, he learned his letters.
His capitals, anyway.
This gave me some confidence, and so I boldly went where I had never gone before: the lower-case letters. This didn’t go nearly as smoothly. My son was utterly offended by my assertion that a had the same name as A. Why, they look nothing alike! he said (loudly). We had to take a break of many months before coming back to them because they upset him so.
Now, I’m working with Number Two, also known as my daughter A. I knew the plush letters would only confuse her, so we learned the capital letters with a beautiful book for little girls, A is for Annabelle. This took some time, but went fine.
This year began with me facing two girls (A. and Neighbor M.) who didn’t know their little letters well. A. didn’t know them at all, and Neighbor M. needed review. Because of my experience with my oldest, I was very nervous! What if the existence of lower-case letters enrages them?
Thankfully, all is well here on the microhomestead.
In the process of working through all of this, I have learned something very important: it is very helpful if children come to phonics with the idea that A and a are the same (as well as B and b and so on and so forth).
So I developed this:
No, I didn’t develop the alphabet. This ended up being exactly what I needed. It’s a game. I decided that in order to build the A-a B-b connection, a matching game was just the thing.
This is what I’m doing: I cut each letter out into its own little square. I printed all of this out twice so that each girl has her own set. Every day, they get a new letter. Neighbor M. is going faster than A. on this now, receiving two letters per day instead of one, but I expected that since A. is a bit younger and likes to go slow anyhow, while Neighbor M. is a firstborn go-getter.
So as I was saying, I cut them all out and matched them into pairs. On the first day, each girl got a set of letters where the capital and lower-case versions match exactly except that the lower-case letter is smaller. This means they received the letter pairs for C, O, S, V, W, X, and Z. For a few days, they simply played matching games with the letters while I drilled into their heads the idea that they were the same. As an example, I used their selves. Right now, they are little girls. When they are older, they will be big girls. But always, always, always they will be A. and M. Then we talked about other examples, like a big cat and a little cat are both cats. A baby boy and a grown man are both human beings. Etcetera.
The idea I was trying to teach them is that big letters and little letters have the same names. This is an important place from which to begin phonics because they also make the same sounds.
After they seemed to get the idea, I’ve been adding one letter set a day, beginning from the little letters that are almost exactly like their capital counterparts (like u and p) and moving toward the letters that look nothing alike (as in E and e). Neighbor M. is set to be ready for a phonics binder sometime next month. My own little A. will take a bit longer.
With all of this said, I’m providing the “game sheet” of letter pairs in case anyone else out there finds it useful.
Even though I’ve been very interested in doing cursive first, having the girls practice tracing the pairs has been helpful for reinforcing the symbols, especially for A. I think Neighbor M.’s parents prefer printing anyhow. With A., I plan to use the printing worksheets only to help her with symbol recognition, and then move quickly on (in kindergarten or first grade) to cursive so that all copywork can be done in cursive from the very beginning.
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