Friday, December 6, 2013

Playing with Letters

My daughter LOVES books. LOVES THEM. She loves the pictures and the story lines and hearing them read over and over and over. But she never really showed any interest in trying to read the words, and never paid much attention to letters. We have magnetic letters on the fridge, letter puzzles, and have done a few random letter activities (Letter B, P is for Princess), but I haven't pressured her to learn her letters. I had one of those guilty mom moments about a month ago. You know - the kind that everyone tells you you're not supposed to have, but you do anyway, when you start thinking of all the "shoulds". I thought, "She's 3 years old now. Aren't 3 year olds supposed to know their letters??"

I started to panic and wondered if I needed a phonics curriculum. What would she be learning if she was in preschool right now?? Is she missing out? I googled 3-year-old milestones and scoured Pinterest and all my favorite blogs, and asked questions on homeschool Facebook groups. I rushed to the library to find some books about early reading. Luckily I happened to grab these two - Phonics, Naturally and The Secret of Natural Readers: How Preschool Children Learn to Read. I'm so glad that I picked up these two books! They gave me some great ideas on how to incorporate simple reading and writing activities into our day, and allowed me to calm down a little and see how much she already knew. (I will warn you - The Secret of Natural Readers details the stories of six young children who learned to read before kindergarten. I found it really interesting, and it does explain how children learn to read naturally without being "taught." However, there were some parts in the book when I started comparing my daughter to the children in the book and started to wonder "if only I had done x, y, z when she was 1 or 2..." Be prepared to remind yourself that you're doing the best that you can, and that your child will learn to read when THEY are ready.)

Anyway, I don't know if the activities we did triggered an interest, or if M just decided on her own that she was finally interested in letters, but we have been on a letter binge! Below are some activities we have done to learn the names and sounds of letters. I'll follow up with a second post (here) showing some of the activities we have done to practice writing letters.

Letter Factory

I saw someone on Facebook one day mention that their child learned the sounds of the letters from the LeapFrog Letter Factory DVD. I didn't really believe it, but figured I'd google it and see what it was. I found the video and showed it to M. She was instantly hooked, and requested it almost every day - multiple times on some days. We started singing the songs together (The A says "ahh," the A says "ahh." Every letter makes a sound. The A says "ahh."). You get the picture.

Imaginative Play

Next, I started incorporating some games into our normal play time that involved letters and reading. M loves the library, so we made a pretend library in her playroom with books on the bookshelves, a book return, and her own library card. She practiced "checking out" her books, counting how many books she was checking out, and "writing" the names of books on her receipt.


We also set up a pretend post office area with cards and envelopes and small stickers for "stamps." She delivered the letters in her old mail truck that she got when she was learning to walk - yay for reusing old toys!

I gave her cookbooks while I cooked dinner so she could "read" the recipes and cook dinner at her play kitchen. I started to make some recipe cards for her kitchen with ingredients she has in her kitchen (I still need to finish those...).

Making Our Own Books

Phonics, Naturally suggested Origami Books as a way to encourage writing and creating stories. I didn't really expect M to write her own story, but I thought she could narrate to me and color some pictures. I found these directions online and made a quick origami book and showed it to M. She was much more excited about it than I expected - maybe it was the small size or the fact that she could come up with her own story. She told me a story about a princess and a dragon and she drew some pictures to illustrate the story. Then she asked me to go make some more books! I think we made three or four books that day.

The next day she asked me to make a Big Book of Boo Boos (from Doc McStuffins) so she could write about her "patients." We put a big glittery heart on the front of a book, and she spent most of the morning giving all of her toys and stuffed animals check-ups.

Sound Bags

I took out 26 ziplock bags and labeled them with the letters of the alphabet (upper and lower case). I went on a hunt around the house to find small objects that started with each letter of the alphabet. Some letters were obviously harder than others. I was aiming for 4-5 objects per bag, but some bags still have only one or two. I laid out the bags, the giant pile of objects, and some foam and magnetic letters on the table. M sat with me while we filled as many bags as we could. She mostly played with the objects and matched the letters, but I talked about the sounds as I put objects in the bags. Eventually I'd like to buy or make some nicer fabric or felt bags, but the plastic baggies are fine for now.

Letter Hunt Sensory Bin

While we were assembling the sound bags, I saw that M was interested in the letters themselves, but not really interested in (or ready for) matching initial sounds. I decided it would be best to just play around with the letters first. This was right around Thanksgiving, so I made a quick sensory bin filled with corn, tweezers, and a set of magnetic letters. Before I buried the letters in the corn, I traced each letter onto a sheet of construction paper. I gave the "key" and the tweezers to M and told her she was going on a letter hunt. She used the tweezers to dig through the corn and find the letters, then match them with the outlines on her paper to put them in alphabetic order (like a puzzle).

As she found each letter, I asked her if she knew its name or the sound it made. She knew a few (from Letter Factory), and I told her the rest. We made up silly songs for each of the letters to sing as she found their outlines on the paper. She would purposely move some of the letters to the wrong places so I would pretend to talk like that letter and complain about being in the wrong spot. (Ex. With the letter "j" I would say something like "Juh juh juh jump me over to the J spot, Junior!" Thankfully, 3 year olds are pretty easy to amuse.)


Matching Letters

We were given this Discovery Kids ABC's Fabric Play Set as a gift, and have it hanging on the wall in M's playroom. The lowercase letters and objects attach with velcro so they can be removed and reattached. We honestly haven't actually used it as much more than decoration. After M had so much fun with the letter sensory bin, I decided to pull off all of the lowercase letters from the set and let her try to put them back in the right spot. I think she especially liked that she got to climb up to reach and put the letters up by herself. Next time I might hide the letters around the playroom or in other rooms and let her find them and put them back.


Technology Reinforcement

M loves to play games on my phone (don't all kids??). I have a few apps that practice letters and letter sounds (some free, and some that I paid for the full version). Some of her favorites are Kids ABC Trains Lite (tracing letters made of train tracks), Kids ABC Phonics (we bought the full version, but they have a free version too - she likes putting the matching words on the letter blocks, which is actually very similar to the I Spy Sensory Bin below), and ABC Toddler (which plays some obnoxious music that she loves for each letter of the alphabet). We also have a subscription for, which we use sporadically. M likes the games and songs, and likes "buying" things for her virtual aquarium with the tickets she earns. (I don't personally love the idea of rewarding for completing activities, but I don't think there's a way to disable that...). Anyway, they have some nice letter games (pop all the bubbles with the letter __ before the timer runs out, etc.).

I Spy Sensory Bin

After several more rounds of Letter Factory, playing with magnetic letters on the fridge, playing with the apps on my phone, and talking about letters and letter sounds for a couple of weeks, M is starting to be able to figure out the initial letter sound of words. I created a new sensory bin by dumping a few of the sound bags into the bin of corn from the letter bin.

The first time through it wasn't a huge hit, so we put it away after she sorted a few of the objects. Later in the week she asked to take it out again, and collected all of the "m" objects in her basket to carry around with her. She's definitely starting to get the hang of it!

"Reading" Favorite Books

Since we didn't have a "theme" during this time, I got a bunch of early reader books (mostly Dr. Seuss) from the library to add to the books we have at home. We read TONS of books, and M especially gravitated toward the books with rhymes or books with pictures that could help her "decode" what was written on the page. At night she would want to "read" the books to me before I read to her. She memorized several books so she could read them back almost word for word (I Can Read With My Eyes Shut! was her favorite).


I Spy On the Go

We started looking for letters everywhere. We would spot letters on street signs while we were playing outside or walking the dogs, letters on food containers while we cooked, and letters on displays in the grocery store. We played "I Spy" as often as she wanted - looking for actual letters or for things that started with a certain sound.

She's still practicing, and will be for a while I'm sure, but we're definitely making progress! And the best part is that we're having a lot of fun at the same time!

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  1. I found your blog a while back when I was still pregnant with my now six-month-old daughter, and immediately loved it. As a former teacher (college and elementary; I also worked as a full-time private tutor for a homeschooled family), I want to do the same things with my daughter when she gets a bit older. My husband and I have talked about the possibility of me homeschooling her rather than sending her to a traditional school since I have so much experience in teaching--your posts have made me realize that homeschooling my daughter is not only possible, but would be SO much fun! Thanks for sharing your lessons and approaches, and I can't wait to see what you and M come up with next!
    P.S. I love that your daughter is wearing fairy wings in some of these pictures. So cute!

    1. Thanks Natalie! We are having so much fun! I love that I can give her so many experiences and follow her interests instead of strictly following a standard curriculum. We also have some fantastic local groups, and she is making friends of all different ages.

      As far as the wings, I'm honestly surprised they are in as few pictures as they are - haha! She wears them almost every day :)