Most preschoolers can happily sing the “ABC Song”. And knowing the alphabet is certainly an important step in learning to read. But recognizing the names of letters is only the first step. Knowing the sounds those letters make is even more critical. Many children often don’t even realize that “elemenopee” is not one word.
Even more important than reciting “A, B, C”, pre-readers need to recognize the sounds letters make. Without understanding those sounds, we can’t build words. Try pronouncing “win” or “rug” only using letter names. When a Montessori teacher teaches a child the alphabet, they might point to a letter and say, “This is a ‘C’.” They don’t stop at identifying the letter, however. They will then go on to explain, “A ‘C’ makes a kuh sound.” They’ll have the child repeat the sound. Then they ask, “what words start with C?”
Integrate learning in your child’s daily activities
There are numerous ways to integrate letter sounds in your daily activities. Sing songs like the alphabet song, or point out the sounds of letters in everyday objects. “That’s a ball! What does ball start with? Buh. That’s right! What else starts with buh?” Over-exaggerate the sounds as you say them. While we take for granted what a B sounds like, it’s not intuitive for a 3-year old. Their brains don’t always make connections with the sounds their mouths make and those marks on a paper we call letters.
The Montessori language materials incorporate tactile reinforcements as well as aural. Sandpaper letters allow little fingers to trace the shapes of the letters without the need to grasp a pencil. Doing exercises like tracing simple shapes (triangles, circles, horizontal, vertical, and wavy lines) will help develop the fine motor skills that they’ll need to write basic letter shapes.
It is only after the child understands the correlation between letters and the sounds they make that they can take the next step to build and recognizing words.