Welcome to the second month of “Count Down to Kindergarten,” the awareness program designed by the Rural Accelerator Impact leadership team to help parents know what is expected of children entering kindergarten and to help the children be prepared for the transition to school.
The “Count Down to Kindergarten” skill focus for October covers the alphabet. Children entering kindergarten need to be able to recite the alphabet and be able to recognize all upper case and lower case letters.
Everyone has been told at some time, “It’s as easy as A, B, C.” Being kindergarten ready, however, is not always easy. It takes parents/caregivers knowing what skills are expected of children entering kindergarten and the interaction between the adult and child to develop these skills.
Writing letters and learning the sounds of letters require a much different skill set than simply saying and recognizing letters. It is emphasized that the October focus of “Count Down to Kindergarten” is on just reciting and recognizing upper and lower case letters of the alphabet — not writing letters or knowing the sounds the letters make.
Reciting the alphabet is usually learned at a much earlier age than recognizing the letters, mostly because of the way it is taught. The most traditional way of teaching the alphabet is through the “alphabet song.” Children love music, and singing the alphabet song is a very effective way of helping children recite the alphabet.
As you and your child sing the song, pay close attention to the “L, M, N, O, P” letters. All of the other letters are enunciated more clearly, but these letters are said so quickly that they tend to run together. When children then recite the alphabet, mistakes are often made in the “L, M, N. O. P” section. It is important for the child to know and say all of the letters with distinction and clarity.
Recognizing upper case and lower case letters is more difficult for children than reciting the alphabet. Our entire language is based on twenty-six letters written individually or in combination to form words. It is the sounds of the letters that produce our oral language, including allowing us to read written text. Letter sounds are for a later time; this month the focus is on just recognizing the letters of the alphabet in both upper case and lower case forms.
Experts are often asked which should be taught first — upper case letters or lower case letters. In the argument for teaching upper case letters first, Shirley Houston writes, “The ‘upper case first’ camp believes that ‘capitals’ are easier to identify, differentiate, and draw. They have a simpler visual structure than lower case letters. The only letters that are likely to cause orientation-based confusion are ‘M’ and ‘W’. The ‘capitals’ are predominantly formed with straight strokes.”
When considering all printed materials that children see, however, the vast majority of print is in both upper case and lower case letters. Ms. Houston states, “95% of written text is in lower case letters. When children’s parents read books to them or when they attempt to read for themselves, children will not typically see text written in upper case letters. Visual recognition of lower case letters will be more helpful than that of upper case.” (https://www.phonicshero.com/upper_lower_case_letters_first)
To be kindergarten ready, children should be able to recognize both upper case and lower case letters. Upper case letters have a special, important function and should be taught in context. For example, upper case letters are used at the beginning of names and at the beginning of the first word in a sentence. They should have been introduced in September’s focus skills of personal information – the child’s name, street name, city, and state. When reading with children, adults should point out upper case letters in the first word of the sentence and lower case letters for the remaining words, unless a word is a proper noun.
Children’s worlds are filled with the letters of the alphabet. They see them everywhere they look. Recognizing the letters simply requires the adult/caregiver interacting with the child to identify the names of the letters.
As with all learning, the interaction should be fun for both the child and the adult. Take advantage of when the child is exposed to letters such as on a cereal box at breakfast, as well as other food labels readily available around the house. Point to a letter and ask the child to give the name and ask the child to point to a certain letter said by the adult. Include both upper case and lower case letters. For example, ask the child to point to an “upper case A” or to a “lower case s.” When the child identifies the letter, make sure he or she says upper case or lower case.
Letter recognition can also easily be incorporated when reading with the child. The same ideas, pointing to a certain upper case or lower case letter and asking the child to identify it or asking the child to point to a certain upper case or lower case letters, can be practiced on any page of a book.
All learning occurs through the use of our senses, and the use of multiple senses makes learning more meaningful and useful for children. As children learn to recognize upper case and lower case letters, seeing, hearing, and touching should all be incorporated. The child sees the letter, hears or says the letter name, and touches the letter.
Multi-sensory ideas include, playing board games such as Bingo for letter matching, using magnetic or foam letters to feel the shape of letters, and doing puzzles or mazes that include both upper case and lower case letters.
An inexpensive way to practice letter recognition is to make your own matching game. Using note cards, post-its, or pieces of scrape paper, write the upper case and lower case letters on the paper of choice, one to a piece of paper.
There are many possibilities for the use of the fifty-two letter cards, including asking the child to “pick up” a certain upper case or lower case letter and matching the upper case and lower case letter pairs. Change the roles and let the child ask the adult to “pick up” a certain letter. Make sure the child says upper case or lower case before the letter.
Several free websites are available to support practice of letter recognition. Technology sources should be used, however, to practice, after the learning has taken place through adult/child interaction. One such website is https://www.abcya.com. This website has games on putting letters in order, identifying given letters, and letter Bingo.
Remember, unlearning is harder than learning. If a child is initially taught to write words all in upper case, they will later have to be taught that this is totally incorrect and then have to “unlearn” it. This is why many students continue to use capitals incorrectly in words. Learning is much easier than “unlearning.” Therefore, upper case and lower case letters should both be taught in context of how they are used.
Muscle development and coordination are critical to a child’s overall kindergarten readiness. The gross motor skill focus for October is standing on one foot. When entering kindergarten, a child should be able to stand on one foot for a few seconds. This skill should start slowly and build in length of time to fifteen seconds.
Practice should be alternated between the right foot and left foot. Parents/caregivers can add fun to this activity by having the child stand on one foot with his/her eyes closed. Be sure to practice in a safe, soft, and open space in case the child tips over.
The fine or small muscle skill focus for October is holding a pencil. It should be noted that holding a pencil is much more difficult than adults may think. This skill requires the use of tiny muscles in the hand, which are not fully developed at age four. Therefore, the focus at this point should be more on experience and opportunity.
Children should be provided daily opportunities to hold pencils, crayons, markers, etc. They should be allowed to “scribble” and make drawing that they prefer. However, an important part of this skill to be taught and reinforced is the drawing of straight and wavy lines, dots, and connecting dots. The mastery of these skills will lead to writing letters and drawing pictures of common items such as a house, tree, and picture of the child himself.
As stated last month, ensuring a child is kindergarten ready is an on-going process that requires commitment, consistency, and engagement. During the month of October, parents/caregivers are asked to help their children learn to recite the alphabet, recognize both upper case and lower case letters, and practice the physical activities related to standing on one foot and using small muscles for holding a pencil or crayon.
Reciting the alphabet through singing the “alphabet song” is common; recognizing upper case and lower case letters takes much more time and interaction between the parent/caregiver and the child. Both large and small muscles are developed through repeated use. The development of all kindergarten readiness skills can be accomplished by committing a few minutes each day for fun practice – and FUN is emphasized with capital letters.