Today’s post is aimed for very young children, pre-writing activities, early primary school and remedial activities.
Think of how a baby learns by putting everything into its mouth, feeling it and turning it to look at the object. Young children need to feel, see, taste, hear and smell a new object in real life before they can truly relate to images, written forms and shapes of the object. Using many senses heightens their learning experience and increases their connection to the object they are studying.
“We learn best when we think, feel and do. That’s the message of Dr. Adele Diamond, a cognitive developmental neuroscientist who currently teaches at the University of British Columbia in Canada. “We might refer to this as “whole body learning.” According to Dr. Diamond, the executive function of the brain — the prefrontal cortex — works best when we go beyond the rational mind by also involving emotions and physical behaviors. That makes sense since the more we involve other parts of the brain, the more neural connections we make that reinforce learning.” (http://www.michaelleestallard.com/brain-research-to-improve-learning-use-whole-mind)
In the same way, when exploring abstract concepts like maths, map work, and letter shapes, children need to connect to the concept and object in real life, or at least, with some of their senses.
3D stands for 3 Dimensions = length, width & height = a physical shape that has height/ mass/ or shape that stands out.
2D stands for 2 Dimensions = length & width = a flat picture or image or drawing
So, when teaching a young child his print letters, you want to teach the letter’s name, its sound (phonics), what it stands for (represents) and how to make that shape … first 3D and then 2D. Quite a number of things to learn!
Only teach 1 new letter! Our pre-school homeschool co-op sang the alphabet song every day and then we taught 1 new letter each month. Actually we stayed with ‘a’ for ages, probably for 3 weeks, doing ‘a’ for ‘angel’ Bible stories, angel songs, “a for apple/ ant/ acorn/ antenna stories, pictures, crafts. In a whole year, we only got to about ‘h’!
Revise the letter daily, adding a new letter if the child is absolutely certain of the letter or is really keen and ready to learn more.
Here are some simple, fun activities that help the young child learn the letter shapes, letter formation, directions and positions:
- Make letters out of play dough – rolling sausages, pinching dough, squeezing dough balls – all these activities helps develop finger muscles!
- Use a hula hoop, stick and skipping rope to make letters shapes on the ground.
- Use their bodies lying on the ground to make letter shapes using skipping ropes or hula hoops or sticks – left and right up and down relates to spatial awareness.
- Build letters out of Lego blocks.
- Use cheap plastic/ wooden letters to match picture cards – [Tip: a good self-correcting letter recognition game: Use index cards and stick pictures from magazines to identify each letter of the alphabet (e.g.: ‘a’ for apple, ant, avocado; ‘b’ for ball, baby, bell, butterfly etc.) Put a dot on the top right hand corner the back of each card and draw the outline of the magnetic letter on the back of the card. Now the child can match the letter to the pictures and check to see if the magnet letter fits in the outline on the back. Siblings enjoy helping find pictures to stick on each card!]
- Use wooden/ plastic letters - hide a few of them in a little cloth bag and let the child feel the letter shape without looking and identify the letter.
- Make cookie dough and fashion letter shapes out of the dough and decorate them, bake and eat and enjoy!
And remember, that many letter shapes look similar, so the child needs to recognise how they differ. This requires spatial awareness. Here are some more activities that your child can do to reinforce direction and position of the letters. Also these are good exercises for children who struggle with reversals or are simply unsure.
- Use the arrow chart (Free Download: Arrow Chart) It is an incredible tool.Use in random orientation (hang it differently each time you use it) and simply point to the first arrow in any row (start at one end and move across the row to the end) and the child must quickly move into the correct position (place the bean bag/ step out the hoop/ move in relation to a chair/ move both arms straight up or down or left or right). You must keep quiet. Don’t speak. Let the child recognise the direction. They can call out the direction as they move. Train them to do it quickly and promptly. If you are working with more than 1 child, train them to move once you tap on the arrow. Not before, not long after. Turn the chart if they are ‘reading ahead’ or start a new random row. You can work vertically too! Use the whole body, find actions that are fun.
- Use a hoop and pool noodle or long stick – point to similar letters on a chart and ask the child to move the noodle/ stick to form the letter on the ground. (b, d, p & q)
- Use a hoop and rope to form letters that have curved lines joined to the round shape (g, f, t, j, y)
- You can call out the letters, or make letter dice and throw the dice to play letter recognition games.
- Use play dough to roll sausages and form letters. Let them learn all the letters that are round (a, c, e, o) then letters that are simple straight (l, i, k)
- Use pipe cleaners to make letter shapes.
- Use clear descriptive words to describe the letter: “a” (say the phonic name) “for apple is like a round apple with a straight stick on the right side”
- Describe an object that it resembles: “ef” (for the letter ‘f’) looks like a tall sun flower with its head looped over the top …” and let them draw the flower over the letter f and turn the cross line into 2 little leaves.
- Reinforce concept with the correct phonic sound especially the vowels.
- Use fun physical ball and bean bag games to show positions: above, below, right, left, inside, under, on top, next to, touching. Let the child sit inside a hoop and place the bean bag outside the hoop in the correct position.
- Draw a large chalk circle on a wall and let the child throw a beach ball according the position words you call out.
- Use foam letters (from a craft store) and arrange a few similar letters in a row. Ask your child to find the specific letter/ the odd letter/ the letter with a straight side on the left or right.
Have fun and keep these activities short and sweet. If something doesn’t “stick” find other creative ways to teach your child! Hope that these ideas help.