Connecting the Dots between Talking and Learning to Read

I love alphabet books. There is something oh so satisfying about knowing a sequence, and exploring different ways to follow that same path over and over again. We had zoo alphabet books, ocean alphabet books, and forest ones, as well. Clearly animals give the best hope of finding a U, V, X, Y, or Z! But we had books on alphabetized toys for variety.

wooden letter blocks

Remembering the alphabet is akin to remembering a number line. There is a visual component that links to sound. There is a sequence to ensure both uniformity and memory. We learn in chunks to aid our storage and recall: a, b, c, d ---- e, f, g ---- and so on. These breaks or chunks help us access a target letter when needed, such as when alphabetizing. Have you ever looked up a word in the dictionary and repeated a sequence mid-alphabet: q, r, s, t, for example? Instead of reciting the entire alphabet, you are able to recall the targeted chunk.

Alphabet books help emergent literacy learners understand that a letter is attached to a sound that is attached to a word they can identify. When a book shows E is for Elephant, children see the E as both a letter and as the beginning of a word. Children begin to associate E for short /e/, especially if reinforced by another book that tells them E is also for Eggplant. 

The ability to learn the alphabet and to learn the names of letters is an important emergent literacy skill and a predictor for later reading success. Clearly and precisely sorting and sequencing sounds requires strong phonological processing and phonological memory skills—two key cognitive abilities used for reading and writing.

Recalling 26 letter names in a row is no small feat! The more meaning attached to the letters and their usage, the better our chances of remembering these arbitrary words. The more we link names to meaning, the faster we can access information. If the name "ess" comes with a visual image of S and links to a sound /s/ that I say and hear in the words "snake," "silly," and "sausage," the better I can store and recall the letter name "ess."

Alphabetic knowledge is considered to be a critical emergent literacy skill. So at what age is this important skill to be expected?

It is considered developmentally appropriate for a 4 year old to know approximately 20 letters. The optimal goal is to know 18 uppercase and 15 lowercase letters at the start of Kindergarten. 

random letters on sticky notes posted on a folder


Letters are an emergent literacy skill.

Of course, at Rooted in Language, we know that children who have learning struggles will likely know fewer letters. They will need more time, practice, and content-rich experiences to gain alphabet knowledge. Struggling readers and writers will also be less motivated by print-rich activities. They may avoid or resist looking at books, discussing stories, learning the alphabet, or writing their letters.

But "struggle" does not dictate that we delay teaching kids to read. If your child is of Kindergarten age and "needs extra time" or "isn't ready," the best approach is to get started anyway. Don't delay the learning experience. 

Instead, let's provide learners who struggle with a rich learning environment—one that focuses on meaning, sound, and sequence. Give more time to those who need more time.

Let's help students by providing a multisensory approach in our teaching. This is why Pinwheels is filled with sound-to-letter experiences and games. 

puppet show with short vowel friends

We have seen that a struggling learner will eventually learn letter names IF they begin with the more meaningful connection of sounds-to-letters within words. IF they begin by connecting the act of reading and writing to their oral language skills.

This sound-to-letter approach is the best way to teach reading to all learners—those who struggle and those with strong emergent literacy skills. 


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