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One of the earliest pre-reading skills that Preschoolers learn is letter recognition. To be able to identify the name of each letter of the alphabet. Once identity is mastered, then it’s “sound” generally comes next. With Olivia and Sophia (my twins), we have just begun really working on letter recognition and as I expected, they are at vastly different levels. Sophia knows all of her letters on sight, but loves to practice saying them and working with them. Olivia is largely nonverbal, so I can only use her responses from her AAC (Communication device) to translate her knowledge, and she hasn’t been terribly willing to use it lately.
Many teachers will hang charts and posters around their classrooms with the alphabet prominently displayed. We have chosen not to do that in our homeschool room. Partially because I believe it’s unnecessary and distracting, but also because we have limited wall space in that room. Instead, I try to focus the girls on one letter at a time. We play with it, practice saying it, and use that letter to drive all of our learning that week.
For example, here is one of the activities we’ve used to incorporate our sensory play into letter recognition. This first game is called Wikki Stix Alphabet and it uses wax covered yarn to encourage hands-on exploration of letter building. The texture of these is a very flexible and slightly sticky feel. The girls both loved this activity and wanted to continue it endlessly! They built on all of the letter cards (capital letters only) and Sophia excitedly repeated the letter as we worked to build it.
The only negative aspect to using this particular set, in my opinion, was that it displayed the upper and lowercase letters on each card as well as a picture that started with that letter. This made it a little harder for me to isolate the purpose of this activity for Olivia. She also had a hard time stopping the activity, wanting to build layers on each letter instead of completing the letter and moving on.
Another great activity we’ve done for letter recognition this year is using Play Foam Shape Alphabet Set. This set came with 10 different colors of play-foam and 13 cards with letters. The play foam is very soft and sticky, allowing it to be pressed onto the card without moving. I really prefer this set because the play foam appeals to my girls’ sensory preferences and each card has only one letter on each side, capitals only! These are really perfect for the first introduction. Sophia wanted to use all of the play foam colors at once, but she also repeated the letter’s name many times while covering it up with play foam. We will likely use these cards for fun with the Wikki Stix too!
A few more things we have tried, but the girls did not like due to texture issues and level of difficulty were finger painting letters, finger drawing letters in sand, and in shaving cream. These may be activities your child will love, so I encourage you to try them as well!
I feel strongly that Preschool should be a child-led, play-based environment. I want the girls to enjoy our structured learning time as much as they do the unstructured free play time. Including hands-on games and activities will make that goal much easier to achieve. One thing we are NOT doing yet is teaching the girls to write the letters with a pencil. While their Occupational therapists are introducing a pencil to them, I do not believe they are developmentally ready to begin writing just yet. Many children, especially those with fine motor skill delays, benefit from a later introduction to writing to allow their hand muscles to develop further.