Ante-natal classes can be brilliant. They teach you lots of useful stuff about babies. It’s all very helpful when you’re about to have a tiny bubba in your arms and not a clue how to care for it. I met some of my best friends through these classes. They have seen me through every aspect of parenting with the best possible kind of support. But in terms of what I learnt in those classes, it basically covered the first three weeks of parenting and then you’re on your own!
When Ewan turned three he reached an age I could get on board with. I had been a Teaching Assistant in a pre-school class for a year. He was now the age of the little kids I used to teach, so I knew what to do. I started playing games to introduce him to the alphabet assuming every other Mum and Dad I’d met through those ante-natal classes, was doing exactly the same at home.
It was only one day when I was with a very good friend of mine that I realised they weren’t necessarily. Rebecca and I were chatting over a cuppa one play date as usual. Kids causing chaos, and us discussing the recent tantrums and sleep deprivation. Now Rebecca is one of the most intelligent people I know. She is a doctor, a Cardiologist no less. She quite literally goes to work and saves people’s lives. I’m in constant awe of her and the work and training she has done to get to where she is, and her commitment to helping others during the worst moments of their lives. But as we were chatting and I mentioned Ewan learning his name she stopped me. “What are you doing?” She asked, mildly panicked. I explained a couple of games and she said “oh wow I need to do that, I would never have thought to do this? Explain it again.”
And so I did. But I couldn’t comprehend it. I thought to myself, well if Rebecca is finding my little game useful perhaps other parents might feel the same. You see there is no ante-natal class to teach you how to introduce the alphabet to your kid. We know school will do a lot of this but there comes a point where school is still a little way off and you feel they are ready to take on this stuff. But the cleverest person I know didn’t know how to go about it!
So it was Rebecca that gave me the shove I really needed to start this blog. A little place parents can come and find ideas of ways to teach this sort of thing to their little ones, in a really easy, fun way. Whenever I faltered I thought of Rebecca and how many others there must be like her, who have never been exposed to child-led play, or how to set up activities or create games that pre-schoolers enjoy. Never been taught to teach like I had. So I’m sharing all the secrets. 😉
So how do we start it off and when? We start with their names. Kids are self involved little sods aren’t they? So if you start with their name they will naturally take more of an interest. Start popping their names into everything. And as for when? Well, I would say either any time they take a natural interest in letters, and if not about year before they start school. For Ewan it was a few months after he turned three. Flo a little earlier as she has taken up a natural interest due to seeing her brother learning his letters and sounds.
So what games can we play to get going? Here’s a few:
- Playdough – if you decide to get out play doh (or make some – recipe from @mothercould and it’s taste safe for little ones) while your child creates a big brown mess, quietly sit and roll out long sausages you can shape into letters of their name. Don’t show them, just make it and let them ask what it is. If they are familiar with their name, mess up the order and say ‘here’s you name’ and let them have the joy of correcting you.
2. The Target Practise – This was the first game I ever posted. However you can do this game in so many different ways. I recently dipped balls in paint and we threw them at their names on the fence in the garden. Or just skip the paint, and throw balls. Even better if you have those splatting, sticky ball things you can get that usually just ruin your paintwork!
3. When you’re out and about walking, stop at street signs and point out the first letter of their name if you see it. It takes one second but do it 10 times and they will have it nailed.
4. Find the letter. Write loads of letters on some paper but mostly loads of the first letter of your child’s name. Lay them all out with some pegs and a ‘bin’ (any box or bag will do) They have to peg up all the first letters of their name and throw the others in the bin. I peg them on a makeshift washing line but they can peg them to themselves or you, or blankets on a den, or to places around the house – anywhere you like!
5. Rub it out – before they can ever attempt writing their names, a great way to introduce them to the letters is to write them yourself and find ways for them to rub it out. Chalk on a tiled or wooden/laminate floor (test an area first to make sure it rubs out!) and let them rub it out with their socks – maybe have a race. Write their name in chalk outside and give them a pot of water and a paintbrush to make it disappear. Or with a dry-wipe pen on a window and a cloth. Write it in shaving foam or bath crayons on shower or bathroom walls and get them to make it disappear again.
6. Make letters out of Lego or Duplo or blocks as they play. Same concept as the play dough, just mix it into their usual playtime.
7. Write it in masking tape around the house for them to peel off, or draw on to, or drive cars along their name road.
8. Glow sticks – a fun way for making letters in the dark
So there’s just a few ideas of how to get started. My Letter Race Track Game is also a good one. Another fab way is to start having letters around. Foam letters in the bath, or magnetic ones on radiators and fridges, little wooden ones mixed in with toys. The Little Coach House have a wonderful wooden name board that is fantastic for introducing little people to their names.We have one and use it for all sorts of fun! Click here.
So I hope that’s helpful and gives you a good idea of how to get started. Remember it should ALWAYS be fun, the letter learning is secondary to the fun…and not forgetting the Golden Rule too! 😉