It’s no surprise that letter knowledge at an early age is a strong predictor of reading skill later on. But did you know that children learn letter names better, and more strongly connect letters to reading, when letter names are taught with letter sounds?
That’s because a letter name doesn’t have any intrinsic meaning. Although your child is great at learning words that stand for things in the world, letter names only stand for sounds. (Knowledge of the sound structures within spoken language is known as phonological awareness, and this principle, combined with the letter names, sounds, and symbols, forms the foundation of written language.) Playing with magnetic letters, reading alphabet books, and singing the ABC’s are great ways of introducing letter names and sounds.
However, it’s important to remember that letter names are a cultural invention, so they aren’t learned naturally through exploration and play—making your guidance essential! So the next time you’re with your child and you see a “B,” for example, engage in a conversation about it: “That’s a B. It makes a ‘[b]’ sound, like in its name, ‘beee’. Can you think of something that has a ‘[b]’ sound?”
By introducing the letter name in the context of familiar sounds and connecting it to objects, you can supply the meaning your learner needs to actually learn the letter name. And in the process, you can facilitate the connection between letter recognition and phonological awareness that is so fundamental to reading in later grades!
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