If you are wondering how you can support your child’s early literacy skills, the best way to start is to remember that your child is born to learn how to read. Their brains are wired to absorb language from the sources all around them. The more you talk to them and read to them, the more they will naturally retain. But there are more active ways that you can provide them with opportunities and tools to grow.
It’s important to remember as you read the following blog posts that there is no correct order in which each child learns to read. Your child does not need to master one skill before they move on to the next. You’ve probably noticed that your child has “memorized” certain books or can pick out whole words here and there before they can truly “read.” They will learn whole words at the same time as they are learning phonics. Their brains are latching on to all that information and storing it away for them to process as they build on each skill. Keep incorporating new skills and see what happens. They will grow in leaps and bounds.
The best way to start is to make sure your child is learning letter names and letter shapes. You probably have some blocks with letters on them or a puzzle with letter shapes, and these are great. Keep finding new ways for your child to interact with letters: both their shapes and the names that we call them. Having tactile opportunities for your child to interact with letters is valuable, because it activates more parts of their brain when they use their hands, rather than just seeing a letter written out on a piece of paper. Below are a range of different tactile ways to get your child comfortable with letter shapes and names:
Sandpaper letters are just what they sound like: a piece of cardboard with the letter shape on it made out of sandpaper. They allow your child to trace their finger along the letter shape. You can also make these by cutting letters out of sandpaper yourself, or by writing letters with glue and dropping sand or glitter on to them to create a raised letter shape.
Alphabet stamps are stamps in a set that represent the entire alphabet. These are useful when you want to give your child an opportunity to take a break from using a pencil and paper to “write” with letters.
Tile letters (left) are plastic letters that are very useful for “writing out” words as you go along in this process.
Foam letters (right) are very inexpensive and are pieces of foam in the shape of letters.
You can also spray shaving cream across a table and spread it around, and then have your child trace letters into it. Additionally, Play-Doh and clay are great tools. You can either spread out the Play-Doh or clay and have them “write” letters in it, like with the shaving cream, or you can roll snakes out of it and have them reshape those into letters.
With all of these tools, your goal is to reinforce the shape of each letter as well as the name of the letter. Keep asking your child what letter they see and feel, and give them as much positive reinforcement as possible so they are excited about learning.
One thing to remember when you are teaching your child about letter shapes and their names is that your child may learn some uppercase letters and some lowercase letters, but they will be unlikely to learn all uppercase and then all lowercase, or vice versa. They don’t need to have complete mastery of both uppercase and lowercase letter sets before moving on to other skills. It’s usually best to start with uppercase letters in the beginning, but if your child is already familiar with some lowercase letters, you can work on them simultaneously. Just show them both versions of the letter and they will quickly learn that they are both representing the same letter and name.