As the pressure to pass standardized tests increases, even preschools are spending more time on strictly academic subjects. Instead of a general introduction to the alphabet, many preschools include a “Letter of the Week” component. This component teaches the children the letters in a more formal way, focusing on not only recognizing the letter but what sound(s) it makes and what words start with that letter. This can be a problem for some children in preschool or for some parents using a “Letter of the Week” home school curriculum.
If you’re worried because your 3-year-old doesn’t know his letters, relax. While her preschool may be doing the “Letter of the Week,” it doesn’t mean they expect her to master all the letters right away. If you’re doing the home school version of “Letter of the Week,” don’t expect him to start reading in the next few months. Teaching the letters and their sounds is a small component of early literacy instruction. If your child comprehends stories, uses language when playing and improves her vocabulary regularly, then her learning is on track.
Before children are ready for letter recognition, they need to understand some basic visual cues. They need to recognize lines versus circles, basic shapes like triangles and squares, and their colors. Preschoolers need to be used to discriminating differences between objects on the page before they will be able to discriminate between letters. Once your child recognizes basic shapes and colors, then he is ready for “Letter of the Week.”
In addition to recognizing visual cues, preschoolers need to have phonological awareness before they are ready to learn about letters. Phonological awareness is the ability to discern sounds in words. It includes recognizing rhymes; hearing the initial, final and medial sounds in words; and being able to put sounds together to make words. For example, does your preschooler know that “cat” and “bat” rhyme? Can your 4-year-old tell you that /b/ is the first sound in “bat”? Would your child know what word you were saying if you said each sound like /c/ /a/ /t/? Having phonological, sometimes called phonemic, awareness is a crucial early literacy skill. Teaching the letter sounds won’t help your child if he can’t discern that words are made up of different combinations of sounds.
Sitting still and paying attention aren’t exactly the strong suits of most preschoolers. Yet when we give them direct instruction on learning their letters, that is what we expect them to do. So we need to motivate them to learn; make them excited to pay attention during “Letter of the Week”. One way to do that is through other literacy activities. A child who loves to hear stories or pretend to write is going to be a lot more motivated to learn her letters than one who has no interest in books or writing. Read aloud to your child regularly, write down his stories or picture descriptions, and point out all the times you read during a typical day.