Letter recognition has long been one of the most important and reliable factors in predicting a child’s reading success. With the knowledge of such claims, it becomes increasingly important to offer alphabet recognition activities in early childhood.
Do early childhood educators really understand the importance of letter recognition in preschool? Let’s take a really deep dive into the topic.
The Benefits of Letter Recognition Skills
Even our most seasoned preschool teachers offer alphabet activities to their preschoolers. Teaching the letters of the alphabet has long been included in preschool settings, even before we had decades of research supporting it.
But recognizing letters isn’t just about memorizing them. And just because a preschooler can quickly recall letters flashed at them on cards does not mean she is ready to begin decoding words and reading.
But is letter recognition critical to success in learning to read?
Absolutely it is!
Luckily, we know so much more about the science of reading and how children learn to read. Now we can offer preschool and kindergarten children explicit and systematic instruction in letter recognition and learning letter sounds.
A Case for Explicit and Systematic Instruction
To be effective in teaching the alphabet, teachers need to follow a systematic scope and sequence for letter introduction. This is confirmed by the National Reading Panel. What does this mean?
- Explicit alphabet instruction – The teacher directly tells the children letter-sound correlations through a time set aside specifically for letter learning.
- Systematic alphabet instruction – This is when children learn one letter name and sound at a time and instruction gradually progresses through every letter of the alphabet.
There is no arguing that explicit and systematic instruction in phonics (letter identification and letter sounds) is the most effective way for children to learn that alphabet. Large, longitudinal research studies have confirmed it again, and again, and again, and again.
This is why in our early childhood education classroom we use Daily Lessons in Preschool Literacy Curriculum.
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What is Letter Recognition?
Letter recognition is the ability to name letters, identify characteristics specific to said letter, and letter formation of all 26 uppercase and lowercase letter symbols used in the English language. That’s 52 letters total.
Other Terms You Might Have Heard
Letter recognition has a few different names, as you have probably discovered during your preschool teaching journey. Here are some other terms that are often interchanged with letter recogntion:
- letter identification
- alphabet recognition
- recognition of letters
You may have also run across the term “alphabetic knowledge” in your research. This is a larger umbrella term to describe how letters and sounds make up written language.
The Four Components of Letter Recognition
There are four components in teaching letter recognition to preschoolers. They are letter recognition, letter naming, letter-sound knowledge, and letter formation. Let’s break down what each of these mean in regards to preschool literacy instruction.
- Letter recognition – the ability to identify letters
- This includes identifying letters by name, shape, and sound.
- Letter naming – the ability to associate letter names with their letter shape
- Letter-sound knowledge – the ability to associate letter names with the corresponding letter sound.
- Letter formation – the ability to freely form the letter shape like in letter writing
The Hard Facts About The Importance of Letter Recognition
As stated earlier in this post, there are numerous studies that support the learning of letter names and sounds in the preschool classroom. But what do those studies say?
Here are the cold, hard facts about why every preschool classroom should be teaching explicit and systematic phonics instruction.
- Alphabet recognition continues to be one of the strongest predictors of ease of learning to read.
- Weak letter sound knowledge is known to cause difficulties in translations from reading to speaking, and is an important component to pay attention to in order to help children learn to read
- Children who learn letter names and sounds at an early age have higher reading achievement.
- This is also correlated to higher academic achievement in general.
- Recognition of letters and letter formation go hand in hand.
- For children who struggle to learn letter recognition, early intervention is critical.
- Early intervention is also more cost effective.
- Motivation plays an important role in early literacy development and is supported by positive lerning experiences.
What to Do When a Child Struggles to Learn Letter Names and Sounds
For most students, learning the alphabet happens at a predictable pace with appropriate explicit and systematic phonics instruction. But other children struggle, leading teachers and parents to question when a child will be able to recognize letters.
Research has made it clear that, for those students who fall behind in early literacy, opportunities to advance or catch up diminish over time. This means that the more time that passes, the harder it becomes to close the reading gap between the struggling student and her peers.
So, what do you do if a child continues to struggle to learn the alphabet and letter sounds?
- Teach one-on-one letter recognition and sounds.
- Keep following a proven phonics curriculum and teach letter-sound recognition one at a time.
- Teach phonological awareness.
- Phonological awareness is the ability to recognize and manipulate the spoken parts of sentences and words. It includes skills like (but not limited to) counting words in sentences, rhyming words, and counting syllables in words.
- Phonological awareness should also be explicit and systematic.
- Teach the alphabetic principle.
- Alphabetic principle is the idea that letters and letter patterns represent the sounds of spoken language, meaning that there is a correct ad direct correlation between letters and sounds.
- It is also the understanding that there are systematic and predictable rules in the English language.
- Teach print awareness.
- Print awareness is the understanding that written language is organized in a specific way. It includes (but is not limited to) the understanding that English is written from left to right and top to bottom, or that we turn pages of a book from right to left.
Administering Letter Recognition Assessments
One of the most important pieces in teaching letter names and sounds is to regularly administer letter recognition assessments. These assessments should be done three times a year; at the beginning of the year, just before or after Christmas break, and near the end of the year. However, a good phonics curriculum for preschool will also include frequent progress monitoring assessments, too.
Letter assessments should include all four components of letter recognition. This one is my favorite.
Get a Proven Preschool Phonics Curriculum
These daily lessons take the guesswork out of teaching preschool literacy. When you get these year-long lesson plans with our systematic sequence of skill progression, every literacy lesson you teach, builds upon what you’ve previously taught, so students feel successful and confident each day they’re with you.
AT A GLANCE — WHAT’S INCLUDED
- 40 weeks of daily oral language lesson plans
- 40 weeks of daily phonological awareness lesson plans
- 40 weeks of daily phonics lesson plans
Together, these three literacy components are the powerhouse of preschool literacy education because they are the early indicators of whether students will be come successful and confident readers. And these lesson plans feature only proven techniques and teaching strategies.
- BONUS! Supporting pre-reading printable centers for the entire year
This is the most engaging, most comprehensive, least prep required preschool literacy curriculum on the market.
More Preschool Letter Activities
Given the importance of letter recognition in preschool, we cannot risk using alphabet activities that are not effective. The internet is loaded of tons of alphabet printables and worksheets, but the most effective alphabet activities outside of the Daily Lessons in Preschool Phonics curriculum will be hands-on letter recognition activities, like the following.
I’m Sarah, an educator turned stay-at-home-mama of five! I’m the owner and creator of Stay At Home Educator, a website about intentional teaching and purposeful learning in the early childhood years. I’ve taught a range of levels, from preschool to college and a little bit of everything in between. Right now my focus is teaching my children and running a preschool from my home. Credentials include: Bachelors in Art, Masters in Curriculum and Instruction.