For most children, learning the alphabet is an experience that takes place over a long period of time and involves a lot of repetition and familiarisation across many different contexts.
There is a lot to learn, from the names of the letters to their order, to the fact that there are lowercase and uppercase versions of every letter. That’s a huge amount of information to process and apply when you’re just five years old!
My granddaughter Daisy is increasingly comfortable using lowercase letters, regularly attempting to read short basic sentences that her Daddy has left for her on the fridge door (eg ‘we can sit on a rug’). She also enjoys constructing her own nonsense words with those same magnets, and then inviting her parents to read out these (scarcely pronounceable) phrases.
Her latest passion is for uppercase letters, and she can’t get enough of them.
As she’s demonstrated to me before during a remote phonics session, Daisy already knows the individual sound that each letter of the alphabet makes and this knowledge has supported her efforts at reading. Now she has begun to use the name for each letter and is learning the order of those letters in our alphabet.
In part her current enthusiasm seems to stem from knowing the Alphabet song by heart – this provides her with a lot of confidence because she has the key to unlocking the order of the letters – as well as from her frequent viewing of Alphablocks.
As demonstrated by her use of the fridge magnets, Daisy sometimes learns best when her learning involves some level of kinesthetic play – that is, learning that involves a physical element. This was born out during a recent self-directed play session.
She began by humming the first seven letters of the Alphabet Song, and then fetched a bag of jumbo plastic uppercase letters from one of her toy boxes.
Sitting cross-legged on the carpet and singing the song, Daisy sorted these first seven letters into the correct order, in a straight line on the floor. Then, together with Daddy, she worked her way through the sections of the song to verify that the order was correct and together they constructed an alphabet line. Daisy may not automatically know the order of the letters on a visual level, but she knows the song well enough to use it for reference.
At the moment, Daisy is also very fond of writing and mark-making in general; she will write on any available scrap of paper if there is a pen to hand. Over the following days, Daisy decided on a couple of occasions that she wanted to practise writing the uppercase letters too.
On the first occasion, she wrote them on a large sheet of paper, again starting from memory, and then with Daddy providing reference letters below when she needed support. She aimed to keep things neat and orderly, with a line separating these two rows and a ‘stop dot’ at the end of the sequence.
Daisy leads the class
The next occasion involved more role play, and Mummy and Daddy were encouraged to take a more active role.
In a reenactment of her experience during lessons at her reception class, Daisy took on the role of schoolteacher, with her parents playing pupils. She ensured that everyone had a mini ‘white board’ (a large piece of white card), and she announced which letter they would be writing next.
After drawing each letter all the participants shared their work to check that it was correct, and Daisy offered words of encouragement or assistance to her charges as appropriate!
At first Daisy selected letters at random; then, under her guidance ‘the class’ managed to write the alphabet in the correct order, with Daisy practising writing in uppercase and Daddy writing in lowercase.
Then Daisy invented a new game – the class was asked to write down the alphabet in reverse, but leaving out every other letter (Z-X-V-T and so on). After that they had to follow the process again, this time only listing the letters that were missed out before (Y-W-U-S)– a challenge to complete before bed time!
It was fascinating to see Daisy come to grips with the capital letters and with the order of the alphabet in this way. On occasion, she still reverses capital letters like E, just as she occasionally wrestles with discerning whether she’s reading a lowercase b and d. This is typical of development at Daisy’s age and all part of learning what we must remember is an incredibly complex and nuanced sequence of graphemes.
Options from A to Z
Although a lot of Daisy’s learning has been via magnetic lowercase alphabet letters and plastic uppercase letters, there are plenty of very useful printable alphabets available on the internet. These can be cut out on individual cards and used in the same way as the magnetic letters. They are versatile and are ideal to use when travelling,
Learning the order of the letters in the alphabet will continue for Daisy, through her writing and her play with the magnetic letters and jumbo letters. We have sets of uppercase and lowercase letters at our house and, with Daisy’s help, we intend to combine them, matching individual uppercase and lowercase letters to create the full alphabet. Who knows, sometime in the future we could be practising the alphabet backwards, with Daisy’s help.
After these alphabet activities with Daisy I find myself humming the alphabet song, even when I’m not with Daisy!
Granny Smith says…
- Any fun activity that helps a child to practise the order of the letters of the alphabet is valuable. If they enjoy writing it using a mixture of upper and lowercase letters, or include some reversed letters, the most important thing is to celebrate their success at knowing the order of the alphabet. As children grow, develop and use the alphabet, they will become as competent as you are at using uppercase and lowercase letters appropriately.
- UK-based readers searching for a relevant Alphabet Song online, should look for a UK version that ends with a ‘zed’ and not ‘zee’ for z.