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The Alphabet Isn't The Starting Place by Emma Kirk @pagesandpaintau

Nowadays most stores have a dedicated educational resources section filled with all things Alphabet, Spelling and Reading. They are marketed as being beneficial to develop early literacy skills and often labelled suitable for children aged 3+. Let me tell you something… the alphabet isn’t the starting point for literacy learning. There are other key concepts and skills that children need to understand before learning the sounds and letters of the alphabet. 

When building a house a strong foundation is critical. Everything depends on it and if rushed or short-cuts are taken, the house will inevitably prove problematic down the track. Similarly, introducing literacy concepts to children too early and before they are developmentally ready has been scientifically proven to cause difficulties in later years.

So if the alphabet isn’t the start, what is? With specific reference to learning to read and write, there are a few key ingredients. One of which is Phonological Awareness.

Phonological Awareness is most commonly referred to by educators as an umbrella or continuum of early skills that increase with complexity and build upon each other. It is oral and auditory language based. Below is a very condensed snapshot of key skills it includes;

  • Exploring words as a whole: identifying how many we say, whether they are long or short and playing around with compound words.
  • Syllables and onset-rime: segmenting and blending words into syllables, identifying rhyming words and generating additional ones.
  • Phonemes (sounds): looking at initial, medial and final sounds and blending, segmenting and playing around with words by deleting sounds and inserting new ones. It is only here at this level where alphabet resources start to become of relevance and support.

 As a parent do I need to fully understand all of this? The short answer is not really. These skills form the base of formal early literacy learning and will be explicitly taught when appropriate along with other essential components. It is however beneficial to have a level of awareness where literacy learning begins, and that learning the sounds and letters of the alphabet is a complex skill reliant on prior knowledge and skills of the way language and sounds work together.

Be assured that there is no need to buy every educational resource we think we should have or do with our children. What we should divert our efforts to is the most powerful learning tool for children; providing a playful environment rich with conversation and connection.