Many years ago, I was a first-hand witness to the value and power of play-based learning. While I was still a college student, the classroom in which I was doing my practicum was focused on helping children spell their names. There was one child – we’ll call him Christopher – who was having a tough time partly because his name had so many letters. After approximately a week of rote learning, some memorization techniques, and a lot of frustration from Christopher, one of the educators finally changed their strategy. Instead of using flashcards, they used letter blocks, because Christopher had an affinity for playing in the block center. Eventually, Christopher showed progress because the learning process became more enjoyable. While I wasn’t around long enough for him to be able to spell his full name (I must reiterate that it was an extremely long name!) by the time I left, he was able to spell nearly half of it with ease. Most importantly, he had fun doing it!
The Power of Play Based Learning
The Alphabetic Principle identifies written and auditory letter recognition as a foundation for a child’s literacy development. It helps them understand the relationship and patterns that form words so they can read, as well as how letters sound together so that they can verbally express themselves. So an effective preschool program has to have a strong component of alphabet-related activities.
Keep reading for some curriculum activities that you can include in your learning environment.
ABC Tumble Down D
This alphabet-based activity has a lot going on, which makes it perfect for all types of learners. Visually, there is an engaging story prop to hold the children’s attention as they learn. Auditory learners can rely on a sweet nursery rhyme to help them recognize letters. For the kinaesthetic learners in the group, it also has a hands-on component as part of the learning process. Apart from letter recognition, children will also utilize new vocabulary words as well as receptive and expressive language skills.
The neurological benefits of sensory play is always a welcome addition to an early years learning environment, and all the better if it’s combined with another domain of learning. The soothing and relaxing components of this activity will increase the children’s level of engagement, while skills such as questioning and communicating findings add a cognitive layer to their play.
As the preschoolers become accustomed to learning their letters and other elements of the game, modifications can be included. It can be made to be a part of outdoor play to add a novel element. Or it can be turned into a scavenger hunt if appropriate to their developmental level. The best activities are the ones that can be extended in various ways, and this one certainly does that.
As mentioned above, learning the alphabet provides preschool children with the foundation to form simple words. This sight word activity is fantastic for children who have mastered letter recognition skills, and are ready to connect short spoken words with written ones. It incorporates gross motor skills in a very engaging way, as children develop their ability to throw.
From a practical perspective, all of the materials needed are probably already in your classroom, so it’s a play experience that is very easy to add to the curriculum!
Salt Tray Writing
When the little ones are ready to practice writing the letters of the alphabet, this is a fun and charming activity to try. One of the best parts, from an educator’s perspective, is that the play materials are inexpensive and readily available. Apart from the literacy skills of writing the alphabet, there’s also a high potential for developing self-regulation skills, as well as a positive attitude toward learning. Be warned: this can get messy! However, it’s a preschool classroom so messy learning is par for the course!
Alphabet Matching Game
We all scream for ice cream! The learning component in this game involves matching upper and lower case letters by making ice cream cones. The education is sophisticated while the process is fun – a perfect combination! There are also some cognitive components through the development of classification skills, determining positions, and understanding two-dimensional shapes. And then after all their hard work, perhaps everyone can have a bit of ice cream during snack time.
The Importance Of the ABC’s
As evidenced by the curriculum above, the seemingly simple act of children singing the Alphabet Song can be wonderfully layered. Scaffolding this learning will develop skills in a number of domains, and it’s the foundation for more sophisticated abilities. Learning the alphabet grants children the ability to express themselves in writing and in words, so these abilities need to be nurtured. Give the children as many tools and play materials as possible and watch them grow into smart and capable tiny people!
More Alphabet Activities:
Tennis, anyone? This is a wonderful activity for those times when children have a lot of energy (which is pretty much all of the time). In addition to identifying letters, there’s an element of gross motor play incorporated into their learning.
Depending on your group’s development, this simple and effective activity can evolve in a number of ways:
1) Going from letter recognition to word recognition.
2) More intricate rules can be added as children begin to enjoy games with rules.
3) Social skills such as teamwork and cooperation can be included if appropriate.
Spelling Game – Unscrambling Eggs
Get the children excited about reading and writing with this fun spelling challenge! This activity is perfect for when you’re stuck inside, offering extended playing time as you change the words or make modifications to increase the difficulty as the child’s abilities improve.
Introducing toddlers to letters can be difficult sometimes since they don’t enjoy sitting for very long and there aren’t many activities out there geared toward toddlers for literacy. This activity is so fun for little ones because it combines sensory play with literacy by going on a letter hunt.
This activity uses a combination of skills and understanding. The children will use memory, fine motor, as well as an understanding of phonics as they match up the words and learn what the days of the week look like.
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