But where do we start? The answer is simple...letter naming. I don't just mean they can memorize the letters. That's just not enough. Kindergarten students need to identify the letters out of order, in both upper and lower case and in different fonts. A child’s ability to quickly name letters is an indicator of whether they will be a successful reader or one that struggles. Don’t race through this critical step!!!
This is where we start. The very first step in learning to read is knowing how to recognize the characteristics that make a letter different from other letters. Our youngest learners need experience noticing these small differences. Don’t skip over this step or rush through it, if you do you children will struggle later on. Are you starting to notice a trend? Don't rush, kids need to truly see all the features of a letter. Children must be able to make the distinctions in letters before they begin to match sounds to letters. It’s worth spending a little extra time on this crucial step. Our goal is for the children to have experience with letters. To really notice the differences. To hold letters in their hands, to draw letters in sand, to make letters out of play doh. Does this letter have a long stick? h or a short stick? n. Is there a circle? a or no circle? t Do they realize a letter is the same regardless of the font? Do they notice that g is the same letter regardless of the font? These are all very important abilities when learning about letters. Children need experience seeing letters in different fonts, sorting letters by their characteristics, and matching upper to lowercase letters. They not only need to know the name of each letter, but each unique shape.
Whether you agree with the common core or not, for many of us, it will dictate what our administrators expect to see in our classes. Under the category of Print Concepts we find the goals for letter knowledge.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RF.K.1.D Recognize and name all upper- and lowercase letters of the alphabet.
I agree we need students to name all the letters of the alphabet, but I think this simple goal glosses over such an important skill. It’s not enough to just name the letters. Simple drill with flashcards can get kids to memorize the names. We need to go deeper. We need kids to really see the characteristics of letters, to understand they look different in different fonts. We need them to have experience in hands on centers.
What about NAEYC??? For anyone who works in early childhood education you already now that NAEYC is the gold standard for everything kindergarten. So what do they say about learning to read and letter knowledge? How does this align with building your NAEYC portfolio?
2.E.03 Children have opportunities to become familiar with print. They are actively involved in making sense of print. They have opportunities to become familiar with, recognize, and use print that is accessible throughout the classroom:
2.E.07 Children are given opportunities to recognize letters.
It should be our goal to be intentional when we teach. If we know why we are doing what we are doing and the children know what they are doing our goals can be met faster and more accurately. I use student objective sheets for my letter activities. I just copy, laminate and place these in plastic frames as a table top reminder to the children.
So many people who do not teach kindergarten think we “just play all day”. I can honestly say my students work hard, and frankly so do I. We have goals and objectives just like everyone else. These sheets help other staff and administrators understand we teach with intention. My principal loves to see these table top objective sheets when she visits. It helps her understand my goal.
For a complete resource of how to teach letter knowledge to kindergarteners, check out my comprehensive Letter Knowledge packet