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Encouraging letter learning

Learning about letters plays a critical role in children's literacy progress. To read and write, children need to learn a lot about letters and words. However, even if children know very little, they can learn about letters, words and sounds through a lot of reading and writing. Parents can start the process at home and have great fun by making use of magnetic letters with their children. The experiences of exploring letters and words enable children to know how to look at letters and words and learn how words work. Magnetic letters can be used to support this learning in the home.

As children learn letters, they learn to distinguish how one letter is different from another, they learn the names of letter, and the sounds associated with them. However, it is very important that children see each letter symbol as very distinctive. For the beginning reader learning to distinguish one letter from another can be quite challenging, especially when the letters are embedded in words!

Children learn prior to school that many objects remain the same no matter how they are positioned. For example, a book is a book: even if it is placed upright or flat, it remains a book. However, the orientation of a letter is not as static. Letters have small loops and curves, taller stems, and extra humps, which can change one letter to a different letter. Add another hump to the letter n and you get the letter m! Add a taller stem to the letter n and you get the letter h! This can be very confusing for the beginning reader and writer.

Parents can make use of magnetic letters at home to begin the process of helping their children see differences in letters. The child's name is a great place to start. Children love their very own names and often notice letters in their names in other words. Magnetic letters are a great resource as children can touch and manipulate magnetic letters and this provides a real feel for the differences in letters. Using the letters in a child's name a parent can try some of the following activities:

l Place the letters needed for the child's name in a plastic bag with a card with the same name printed on it. Have the child use the magnetic letters to make the name on the card under the printed name.

l Place the child's name in uppercase letters in one bag and lowercase letters in another bag. Have the child match the upper- and lower-case letters.

l Provide the child with the letters in his or her name and add a few other letters. Ask them to make their name but take out the letters that they do not need.

l Place the words mom and dad in two containers. Give the child the written version of mom and dad. Have the child make the names from the magnetic letters.

Magnetic letters allow children to look more closely at letters to distinguish one letter from another. Home activities with magnetic letters can include:

l Talking about the distinctive features of the letters.

l Looking for parts of a letter that makes it different from another similar looking letter.

l Recognising the same letter but in different forms such as uppercase and lower case.

l Building speed by having the child recognising a letter they know that is embedded in several other letters.

l Having the child sort letters by similarities, for example all the letters that are round (o, a, d) and letters that are straight or tall (l, f, t).

Keep in mind it is easier to find new letters if the child knows the other letters or if they look different from the letters known. In the beginning use the letters that are distinctly different. Examples of sorting different letters:

l Sort t from m, o, q

l Sort c from w, j, l

l Sort y from n, e, h

A more complex sorting of magnetic letters can include letters that are similar in shape and size. Some examples of more complex sorting tasks:

l Sort h from n, u, and m

l Sort a from e, d, and c

l Sort b from d, q, and p

When beginning to work with magnetic letters, it is important to keep the letters reasonably apart, but ultimately children need to discriminate letters embedded in words. As children become more proficient at finding the letters, place the letters closer together. What is important is to look out for the speed of recognition to increase.

Children can learn early how to distinguish letters and name them, but these are not the most important understandings of letters. Children also need to learn many ways of using a letter. Parents can also provide key words for letters and clear sounds. For example, the letter a can be associated with the word apple. Some children may not quickly remember to name a letter but may be able to give a key word for a letter or its sound.

Encourage all features of letter learning. The fluency, speed, and ease with which children can name and recognise letters are important for reading and writing. However, many things must be learned such as letterform, the letter sound, and words that begin with the letter. A parent can provide many opportunities for learning in the home prior to formal school with the use of magnetic letters as additional practice, in addition to lots of reading and writing experiences.

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Published March 06, 2012 at 1:00 am (Updated March 06, 2012 at 8:20 am)

Encouraging letter learning

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