There are basically two schools of thought about how early a child should begin learning the alphabet and other subjects that he or she will learn in school. One theory believes that the child will be bored if he learns too much, too soon, so you should let him “be a child” during his preschool years. Proponents of this theory state if he is too far ahead of his class, it may be stigmatizing for him to be singled out if he can already read while the rest of the class is still learning the ABCs.
However with the more advanced nature of elementary school today you can be doing your child a favor by giving them a head start on the reading skills he or she will need in order to be academically successful. Kindergarten and 1st grade teachers spend little time teaching the alphabet since most students come into school with high degrees of parental preparation and many times even two years of preschool. In addition many of these teachers are prepared for students who have differing skills levels and can most likely offer additional challenge to your child should they need it.
But no one is saying that learning cannot be fun. The other school of thought regarding teaching skills such as the alphabet to very young children is that as long as the parent makes it a fun experience, it is no different (in the child’s eyes) from building a block tower together. And if you make learning an exercise in parent-child togetherness, you will have the side benefit of building your child’s self-esteem.
So if you are the parent of two-year old who has not attended preschool or a three to four year old who is in preschool, if you feel that your child is ready to start learning then it may be the right time to begin. Some things to look for are:
- Does your child appear interested in letters? While some children can be coaxed to begin learning the alphabet you will have a lot more fun and ultimately more success if your child is curious as to what letters really are.
- Does your child have a controllable attention span? Some children have not yet reached the developmental stage where they can concentrate (when asked) for a period of time. If your child appears frustrated or unable to focus on the letters let it go for a few months. When you pick it back up with them you may find they now have the maturity to participate in learning the ABCs.
- Why are you teaching them the alphabet? Overeager parents who want to impress will often stress themselves into pumping their child full of information. If you are not really sensing that your child is ready to take this step then it would be much better for you to back off and wait for awhile. Keep in mind that there really is no contest as to when your child learns their ABCs and if they do not learn it until age four or five they will still be fine in school. In addition you should consider your own temperament when teaching your child any particular skill. Many parents find that when teaching academics or other skills they become highly frustrated while others can do it for hours on end. Know your limitations and make time with your child (whether educational or not) something both of you will value.
- Do not over prepare. Keeping it simple is often the key to success. While there are entire stores full of great educational tools to help you teach the alphabet, you can start simple. Simple alphabet blocks, refrigerator magnets, stamps or stickers can start you on your way for lots of alphabet fun with your child.