Wednesday, March 18, 2009
As promised, here is a Q&A on our "alphabet approach" - what's been working for this 1-year-old. There's no formal education or research behind this, so take it for what it is and feel free to borrow anything from it you wish!
What is the Alphabet Approach?
It’s simply picking a focus letter for the week and doing activities based on that letter, working your way through the alphabet. Books, rhymes, songs, crafts, food, naming or signing pictures or actual objects that start with the letter, etc. Any kind of activity that works for both the parent and the child.
What’s the Purpose?
The initial purpose for me was to give me focus. I wanted to do fun things with my baby, to learn and grow with her. Playing with her toys was rather boring for me after a short while! By researching stories and rhymes and music and crafts, I was getting exposed to new things (and reminded of old) that I could share with my baby.
At her young age, having my toddler learn the letters and the sounds they make is simply a side effect. As she gets older, it may be more of a purpose.
What Age Should You Start?
Technically, you can start at any age. A newborn can be exposed to music, art, and stories related to a letter of the alphabet. I wish I had thought of this sooner. As it was, I recited the books of the Bible and the times tables to my baby as I was pacing the floors trying to get her to sleep. I figured it wouldn’t hurt her any, and it gave me something to do.
What you do for each letter will vary depending on development, attention span, and interests. I gave my daughter markers for the first time when she was almost five months old. I wanted her to be exposed to art mediums from an early age, so kept offering them to her and encouraging her with art. She was eleven months old when she finally started drawing/scribbling/painting on her own without a lot of encouragement.
Once a toddler has reached that step, the crafts can begin! Initially Esmé would paint or color the material, and I would put many of the crafts together myself. As she’s gotten older, she’s taken on more and more of the craft or activity herself. And what I love most is when she adds her personal touches, sometimes changing the craft completely from what I first had in mind.
We actually started on a letter a week when Esmé was 15 months old. I tried a couple of other “curriculum” ideas first, but this is what worked for us.
Why the Alphabet? What about Things like Colors, Numbers, Shapes, Etc.?
One of my initial attempts before starting the alphabet was to do a different theme each day. Monday was a letter, Tuesday was an animal, Wednesday was a Bible story, Thursday was a country, and Friday varied between numbers, colors, shapes, emotions, etc. And I tried to fit everything in each day – computer time, music, a craft, an outdoor activity, books, etc.
Talk about crash and burn! This took way too much prep time and wasn’t nearly flexible enough to accommodate my schedule and Esmé’s interests.
What I’ve found is that everything else fits in with the letter of the week. During “Y” week, for instance, we did a lot with yellow. “R” week is a good time to go over the colors of the rainbow, as well as rectangle shapes. And numbers can be introduced by letter (four during “F” week, for instance), or just through counting items that begin with a letter, such as counting acorns during “A” week. Just pick an object that starts with the letter you’re on, and you can identify the color, shape, and quantity of that object to get all those concepts in.
By keeping the main focus on the letter, it allows for a lot of flexibility. We can do several crafts one day and none the next. We’ve got a whole week to get to music, books, computer time, and other activities, fitting them in wherever works best for us. And we’re not limiting ourselves to just one animal or country, etc. I can introduce as many as we have time for. If Esmé gets bored with Australia, we can jump right on to Antarctica and bring out the ice and penguins, or whatever.
Why a Week?
For some letters, like “X,” a week is all I could easily squeeze out of them. Some letters I could spend a lot more time on. Having a set amount of time on each letter keeps me moving through the alphabet – or else I might still be on “B”!
The next time around, I actually plan to spend two weeks per letter. That will give us a little extra time to focus on other things – seasonal, book-related, or ideas inspired by other blogs.
So there’s no scientific reason behind a week. I do recommend setting aside a specific amount of time per letter, but not stressing if you spend more time on a letter here or there. Whatever works for you!
How Much Prep Time Does it Take?
I’ve discovered that the more prep time something takes, the more destined it is for failure. I can’t always predict what will keep Esmé’s interest. Something that takes an hour of prep time might only occupy her attention for 5 minutes, and that’s just not worth it for me.
Example: fingerpainting. I really wanted to introduce fingerpaints during “F” week. Living in Mozambique, it was a major chore to round up the ingredients, particularly the food coloring. Then I had to cook the stuff up, let it cool, and finally present it to Esmé to work with. She wouldn’t touch it! Major failure (appropriate for “F” week!) in my mind.
My prep time lately has been about 1 hour a week. I look up song, craft, and activity ideas on a few alphabet websites and jot them down. I might print out a few coloring pages as filler activities. I brainstorm words and ideas throughout the week and write them on the list. As I’m grocery shopping (or doing any kind of shopping), I continue brainstorming. And then I bring out the ideas as time allows and adapt them with Esmé depending on what she’s interested in doing and what materials we have on hand. When I’m looking for something to read to her, I’ll keep an eye out for books related to the letter. We do scavenger hunts – I look for things that begin with the letter, sometimes just in old magazines that we can tear up, or in picture books. Sometimes we get on the http://www.totlol.com/ site and search together for video clips relating to the letter.
I also keep a running list of ideas for all letters. When I see an idea on someone’s blog that I want to try sometime, or hear another parent talk about a great idea, I add it to my list for the appropriate letter.
I’d love to spend more prep time researching ideas, and I’m actually planning to do so the next time around. We’ll see how it goes.
One thing I try to keep in mind is that each hour of prep time is one hour less spent with my child in actually doing activities, so a good balance is really important. If the prep is something I can incorporate Esmé into (like shopping with her, or letting her help “prepare” the materials by coloring or gluing them), then I don’t mind the time spent.
It’s all about flexibility – what works for you and your child. I didn’t have access to a library or craft stores or dollar stores in Mozambique, so copying someone else’s curriculum plans wouldn’t have worked for me there – I had to make do with what I had. And at Esmé’s age, I didn’t want to force her into some rigid schedule where she’s required to do things she’s not interested in.
Now That You’ve Gone Through the Alphabet, What Are You Going To Do Next?
We’re going to go through the alphabet again! The first time through was primarily for my benefit – to give me ideas of things to do with my toddler. Now that Esmé is almost two, she’s getting more benefit from the emphasis on letters. So I’ll stick with a good thing.
I’ve thought of doing a literary approach instead – picking a book and doing activities related to that book for a week. But I’ve decided that limits my flexibility. With the alphabet, I can still pick a book on the letter and do things related to that book. But I’m not limited to that. So if Esmé doesn’t like the book that I’ve spent my prep time on, or if I run out of ideas, I can move on to other activities…
I WILL do things a little differently this time, giving Esmé more options and choices in what she does. That will take a little more prep time. You can check back next week for more detail on my plans this coming year.
Are There Any Alphabet Websites You’d Recommend?
Glad you asked! I have a few favorites, but I know there are more I’m not aware of yet. I’m putting a Mr. Linky here, and I’ll start it off with the websites I use regularly with preschool activity ideas broken down by letter. If you know of others, please add them! And if you're regularly including alphabet activities on your blog, go ahead and add that, too.
While we’re at it, note that I have a list of all our letter activity posts in my sidebar. Each of these has a Mr. Linky, as well. So if you’ve done a blog post about a letter (or about an activity that would be appropriate for a specific letter), link up on that letter’s Mr. Linky. And if you’re looking for ideas for a letter, you can check out the appropriate letter activity post and all the links on it!
Now, here's Mr. Linky...