Have you ever went on Google or Pinterest to search how to teach children letters or, or anything related to preschool letter recognition? If you have, I bet you can relate to me on this. There are just so many different ways to teach children letters, everyone has different ideas, and just different processes, that it is just downright confusing when trying to figure out the best way.
And I want to be real clear here about the best way for children. To me, I think it’s super important that we’ve looked at how our children feel about learning and making sure that we are not damaging their love for learning that they come in with as as just wide eyed, ready to explore the world preschoolers. So while yes, some methods of using drill and practice and flashcards will get them, I always like to think about what damage if any, am I doing on the way there.
Because if it’s dull and boring, and feels like it’s not exciting, like learning use to feel like for them, it may start damaging their thought behind school – their love for learning. And that is certainly something that we never intentionally want to do. But I think it’s important that we reflect for ourselves, is this going to keep it engaging for our students? Is this the best way?
What is Letter Learning
So what exactly is preschool letter recognition? Well, if you look in the dictionary, it’s basically the act of recognizing and naming letters, which comes right down to visual discrimination. Children have to be able to see the differences in letters, then they can start to assign a name and sound to them. So research is telling us a lot about how children learn letters. Our traditional ways might need a change. Today, I wanted to focus on three mindset shifts that I think we as preschool teachers should be making when teaching letters. Now this is definitely a process that I have had to go through.
As a former letter of the week teacher, I know how comfortable it feels to know that children are getting what they need. But unfortunately, the results for me were never there. While my children may have enjoyed some of the activities we did, during a focused letter day, it didn’t always cross over to them actually recognizing the letter later. So I knew that I needed some mindset shifts behind this. And then after seeing what the research was telling us and how much sense it made, I knew it was time to make some mindset shifts around it. So I want to share my mindset chips with you to maybe give you some better perspective around what research is telling us about letter learning now.
Mindshift #1: letter learning isn’t linear
Oh, this one’s kind of hard, because as much as we would like preschool letter recognition to fit on this nice little line and this nice little process… Research tells us that the way children learn letters is not linear. And it’s not the same for each child. So if it’s not linear, and in a certain order, we kind of have to ask ourselves, okay, are we teaching in a linear order, but yet children don’t learn that way? Are we doing the best for them? That’s kind of a question that I had to kind of confront myself with – if children aren’t learning in this step by step way, then I shouldn’t be teaching it in a step by step way. But this is hard. This is hard for teachers because if you’re like me, you like to plan you like to have things in order.
Knowing that children don’t learn linear, helps us see that maybe we need to change the way we do things, even though it can be hard. Letting go of teaching letters in a linear way can feel like losing control.
Mindshift #2: teaching letters in isolation leaves no way for connection
There is just so much information out there about children learning best through meaningful connections. And it makes total sense, because they are so incredibly egocentric. It’s all about them. So unless it connects to their lives, sometimes in their minds, it just doesn’t exist- so we need to take that into account. We need to use that egocentric state, to make the connections to things we need them to learn.
When we teach letters in isolation, we aren’t necessarily helping them make a connection that they need to learn the letter. So example here, let’s say you’re doing a letter, with a letter of the week type of curriculum, and you’re doing A for Apple. Just because you relate A to Apple, does it mean that every child is going to make a meaningful connection to apples. Some children may not eat apples at their house or they may hate apples… so, what kind of connection is that? So, A for Apple may not reach every student. So even though they may see it, they may connect with it, they may interact with it, it’s not sticking, because it’s not meaningful to them. They haven’t made this meaningful connection, because they don’t even care about apples.
We have to focus on the things that matter most to them. And since they are such sweet little egocentric beings, names are a fantastic place to start. Because what’s more important to a child than their name? It makes them unique, and it’s full of letters! We also can look at important items to them, other people in their family, their friends, their classmates, things they love and print that’s in their world. Those are great places to start.
Mindshift #3: differentiation is important
So when we teach letters in a one size fits all linear pattern, we are doing our children a pretty big disservice because we have to consider that when every child walks through our classroom door, they have had prior experiences with letters. And those prior experiences are all different. Some may know all their letters, some may have never even seen a letter in isolation or paid attention to one before. Some may not yet be interested in letter learning. And so we have to remember that they’re all in different places. Therefore, it wouldn’t make sense to teach in a linear fashion because they’re all over the board.
The truth is children in your class are going to be acquiring different letters at different times based on what they already know or what they’re ready for, or what relates to them. So it’s even more reason behind the idea that we must let go of this whole linear one sized approach to better meet our children right where they are.
Let’s recap these three mind shifts around letter learning:
Mindshift #1 – letter learning isn’t linear. One child’s path to preschool letter recognition of all the letters is going to be drastically different from another child’s path.
Mindshift #2 -teaching letters in isolation leaves no way for connection. Children need connections to letters, that actually means something to them. They need rich experiences around letters and print and the freedom to forge their own path to letter recognition.
Mindshift #3 – differentiation is important. We know this to be true. So it’s time to take that differentiation to letter learning, because no learning path is ever the same, even with letters.
Letter learning is just one piece of the emergent literacy puzzle. There are actually so many wonderful literacy skills and experiences that we can be doing with our preschoolers to help them be prepared in all aspects of literacy for later in life. Which are those skills might you ask? Well, I have a list for you. And it lays out all the wonderful things that we can be exposing our emergent readers and writers to, and it’s called the preschool literacy list.