What kid doesn’t love French fries? I know my daughter does; her fave meal is “chick and friesss.” So when I found Ian’s Alphatots fries in the local market the other day, I grabbed a pack from the frozen section. Gluten free, egg free, milk-free, they are great for kids with allergy or dietary issues. V helped put them on the baking sheet to bake and when ready, we sat down at the table to enjoy. She pulled each letter out of the Pyrex container, saying the ones she knows (I, O, G, M) and guessing at others until I gave her the correct answer. This is a fun and tasty way to practice our letters. Alphabet pasta is another fun option; unfortunately, our box is still sitting in our cupboard waiting to join my next soup, as V opted not to eat the tiny, tiny letters.
I am not an advocate of flashcards; they seem too pushy for children less than 2 (or even older). We have a few packs of flashcards with Space and Dinosaur pictures and themes that V likes to sort through and ask questions about. This method feels fine to me, because it is self-initiated and unpressured. We do have one pack of alphabet flashcards graciously given to us by one of V’s grandparents. I will offer V the opportunity to play and explore them, but do not think it is developmentally appropriate to perform drilling exercises with toddler age kiddos. On the other hand, textured letters, which toddlers can trace with their fingers, offer them an opportunity to have a sensory experience while learning the beginning strokes of writing. We have not created textured cards yet, as I feel V is still a little young, but we will eventually do this craft project. You can use index cards, Elmer’s Glue and sand or glitter to create a textured card, or you can use fabric (this is more labor intensive and adult-driven). Felt ABC’s on a felt board are also a fun free-play experience for young children; make sure they are large enough to avoid a choking hazard. For older children, ABC sewing cards where they can thread yarn through letter shapes is another fun project. You can cut these out of cardboard, punch evenly spaced holes with a punch and purchase some shoelaces for easy and inexpensive lacing. You can even have your child help you paint the cards as an art project!
In our house, we do A LOT of reading. We started reading to V, while she was in utero. The book of choice was “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” a book that we hoped would appeal to both my husband and my literary preferences. It amused for a short time, but the writing was so poor, that we eventually gave it up! These days, the reading selection is a little more child-centered, but still a huge part of our daily routine. We read before bedtime, during potty training efforts, and on breaks through the day. V has sat through 120+ pages of Dora the Explorer stories at one sitting, and has started to say words from some of her favorite stories on her own. While she may not be “reading” yet, she is certainly memorizing and getting clues about the words from contexts. She mimics the exact tone I use to read the same words in some of her favorite Duck and Goose stories by Tad Hills. Miss Spider’s ABCs is another great kids’ book for letter learning; the colorful illustrations are captivating as well. There are many strictly “ABC” books, but I find that V learns whole words as well from her reading experiences.
Alphabet refrigerator letters are a great way for kids to get their fingers around the shape of the letter and also get additional exposure to letters. V likes me to put the letters in order and point to each one while we sing our ABC’s. She also likes to sort the letters by color, and can be found carting around all the “pourple” ones in a little Easter basket she plays with. So these can be a great tool for learning colors as well! Sometimes we spell words together like “Mama, Dada, V’s name, Dog, Bunny, Go”.
My husband invented a fun action-based game where he uses heart signs attached to popsicle sticks to instruct her to follow certain actions: hugs, dance, jump, stop, go, freeze, time-in. Only a few of these signs have any additional symbols, and V can read each of the signs presented to her. The actions associated with the words have made them fun, and she is getting reading exposure as well.
V also plays an adapted version of Eric Carle’s “The ABC Game.” We show her a card and have her move her token to the matching letter. She loves matching games, and LOVES playing “gamies” with Mom and Dad, so she really enjoys this. We don’t attempt to play this game by the rules at this point, nor do we expect her to finish our version of play. We do it as long as it remains fun, then we move on.
I know all the research shows that TV for small children is a no-no, and especially for children under 2. But I have found that for many of us moms or dads, we need a half-hour a day to prepare a meal, take care of personal grooming, make an important phone call, or just to function. So while I try to limit V’s TV watching, she does not live a TV free existence. However, we do not have cable, and I think it is really important to choose V’s viewing options carefully. WordWorld is one of the best shows I have seen for young children. All of the characters and much of the scenery are made up of words. The “Let’s Build A Word” song gets V moving and she also repeats some letters after them. I caught her in the act of spelling a word while watching WordWorld one day, and I tell you, it assuaged a tiny, tiny bit of the mama guilt I feel over the TV viewing! So if you let your child watch TV, WordWorld is a great educational option.
Each week, my husband and I pick one letter of the week to focus on. We have a chalkboard in V’s playroom where we write all of the words we can think of beginning with the chosen letter. We read them out loud to V when we think of it; I read that children learn words best when they hear the words from more than one person, so having a verbal household where she is exposed to lots of different words, both simple and complex, will hopefully set her up for long-term language learning. We do this as a fun exercise for us, and maybe she’ll pick up a word or two along the way. She does remember the letters we select for the week, and will occasionally point to the board and tell us the letter. So she’s getting something out of it.
V likes to point out letters on t-shirts that M and I wear and sometimes she gets them right! I think providing children many opportunities to be exposed to letters and words in a fun and nonthreatening or unpressured way is the optimum environment for language learning! My psychology background is not in literacy, however, so you may want to do some research on your own to get additional perspectives. From the outcomes I’m seeing with V so far, our approach to language learning seems effective; she recognizes some letters, can identify some words, and is speaking in two-three word sentences. She is 21 months old, so I’m feeling pretty good about her learning.
I am interested to hear your thoughts and ideas about teaching letters and words to toddlers; please share any projects, games or crafts you use in your house!
Author’s Note: Pamela is not receiving any compensation for the products discussed in the above post! Wouldn’t that be nice!