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Activities To Increase Emergent Writing and Letter Recognition Skills

Updated on September 5, 2012
A child uses long and short rectangles to make letters on the floor.
A child uses long and short rectangles to make letters on the floor.
Tape letters help a child make playdough letters.
Tape letters help a child make playdough letters.

Learning Through Play

Parents often buy countless workbooks and flashcards for their children hoping to promote letter recognition and emergent writing skills. Unfortunately, for many children, these activities carry little weight and any information obtained is quickly forgotten because the information was only memorized rather than being understood. All children learn differently and at their own pace, but one concept that is universally accepted across the board is the fact all children learn through play.

A few years ago, during one of my parent-teacher conferences, I informed a parent her child lacked confidence whenever letter games were played at school. The mother's smile instantly vanished as she began to shake her head. She expressed guilt in not being able to spend more time with her youngest child due to long hours at work and the demands of juggling schedules for three older boys. The mother promised to go out and buy flashcards for her child with the intent of drilling him until he felt "confident about the alphabet." I reassured the mother that by playing simple games with her child she would notice a huge difference in his confidence level. The learning materials could be found around the house and would be fun for the entire family. She took my recommendations to heart, and by the next conference her child not only knew the letters in the alphabet, but he had begun writing his name. Most importantly, he wanted to learn and felt good about his accomplishments.

Fun Activities That Promote Letter Recognition and Emergent Writing Skills:

1) A shallow tray filled with rice, beans, sand, flour, etc.- your child can practice making letters inside the tray. This is a great tactile activity.

2) Paper cut into long and short rectangles- the strips of paper can be used to make letters on the floor, table, patio, bed, etc.

3) Tape letters- use colored tape to make letters on any flat surface. Children can trace the letters, use them for crayon rubbings, cover the letters with cheerios or cover the letters with playdough.

4) Playdough letters- after practicing making playdough letters using tape letters as a guide, children can stretch their knowledge by taking away the tape letters.

5) What letter is missing game- find four plastic letters and spread them out in a line. Cover the letters with a small blanket and say, "One, two, three four...one letter is missing on the floor." Then remove the blanket, making sure to grab one letter inside the blanket. The children then guess which letter disappeared.

6) Make letter bags- write a letter on the outside of a small or large ziplock bag. Search for objects around the house that begin with the letter on the bag. Take the bags on long car-rides or trips to the grocery store. A few bags offer hours of fun. Later, use the objects to play the game What Object is Missing?

7) Shaving cream- spread shaving cream across a table or inside a tray. Children can practice writing letters in the shaving cream using fingers, q-tips, paintbrushes, sticks, etc.

8) Fishing for letters- fill a small bucket with water. Place a few magnet letters into the bucket. Have your child fish for letters using a string with a magnet attached.

9) Chalk letters- make chalk letters outside. Use a water-bottle to "squirt" away the letters.

10) Wipe-off boards- use the board to illustrate a story. For example: Once upon a little time there lived the letters A, B and C. A, B and C each wanted to build a house. Letter A built his house out of straw while letter B built his house out of wood. Letter C was very clever and built her house out of bricks. One day a big letter D came walking down the rode...

Make It Relevant

Any activity should fit the needs of your child. Structure the game around your child's interests. If a child finds the activity exciting and fun then he or she will retain the information better. I remember one year I had a child in my class who had no interest in the alphabet, but he loved trains, especially the trains found in the widely popular Thomas The Train series. Fortunately my nephew loved trains as well so I knew most of the names for the trains and decided to use them as a teaching tool. I asked the mother to bring in one train each week and I played games with the entire class using the train as inspiration. P for Percy would hide in the sandbox and we had to dig him out. P for Percy would make tracks in the shaving cream. P for Percy would magically disappear during our What's Missing Game. P for Percy would be painted during art-time and then given a bath during water-play. P for Percy would fall asleep with his friends during nap-time. In a few months the boy who never wanted to play any alphabet games became the boy who sat down first for circle-time. He had found a love for learning.

Take The "No" Out Of The Equation

Offer positive feedback. Instead of saying, "No, that's not the letter D;" try to offer words of encouragement like:

1) "Good try. Let's try again."

2) "I see you have been practicing. I am so proud of you. Let's practice together."

3) "Hmm, I see you are frustrated, but I like how you are using your words. Sure, let's see how we can figure this out together."

These simple words build a child's confidence and his/her ability to problem solve in the future. You will be amazed how saying, "Let's try again," can become a motivating phrase during times of stress in the future. When a child understands everyone makes mistakes, that it is all part of the learning process and that everyone can try again, the pressure is lifted and allows a child to feel confident just by not giving up. He or she finally understands the process is always more important than the product.

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