We believe so very strongly that our children learn best through the practice and exploration inherent in play. We know that research supports young children’s need to informally experiment with ideas and new knowledge as they make connections with their current perspectives. This view coats everything we plan and do in our Pre-K program.
Still we are pleasantly surprised each time we see it at work. Below, you will find three separate instances of groups or individuals creating their own play centered around symbols of the alphabet. Each is focusing on a different aspect such as form, function, and linear pattern. All of these activities were initiated and sustained without teacher intervention. How lucky we are to see such involvement and cognitive development every day.
Most of the children I have taught throughout the years come to me with some knowledge of our written language system (i.e. letters). Almost all of them have been practicing writing their name. 99% of the time, they’ve been practicing using all capital letters. This makes sense when young children are first learning how to produce a picture of their name. Very young children are much more capable of drawing straight lines rather than curved ones. As beginning writers/drawers, they use their entire arm to make marks on the paper. They usually control their movement through their shoulder or their elbow. But as they gain experience and dexterity, they move to using the small muscles in their wrist and fingers to direct a writing implement. In Pre-K, the children who have not already done so, begin the switch to the finer muscles of the hand. At this point, expecting them to begin practicing the more rounded lowercase letters becomes appropriate.
I focus on lowercase letters for another purpose, as well. Open up a book or magazine you have sitting nearby. What do you see? There are a sprinkling of capital letters, a few non-letter symbols, and a bit of punctuation. Most of what you’ll find in the print is written using lowercase letters. As our young children practice early reading skills, it is helpful for them to have more experience with the types of symbols they will see most in their world.
I use Zoo-phonics, here at PKN, as our main phonics curriculum. This program also focuses on the lowercase letters. While practicing the letter-sound relationship, the children become accustomed to this more frequently used set of symbols. By the end of the year, my goal is that the children will all have a strong understanding of the symbol-sound connection. Most of the children will be able to identify, out-of-order, all of the basic sounds represented by our 26 letters. For those that are already comfortable with this skill, we’ll work on beginning reading skills. As they grow over the next few years, I want them all to have a strong phonics foundation to build upon.