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Little Letters or Big Words: Using the Alphabet as a Pathway to Speech

Suggested Activities for kids: encouraging speech with the alphabet

by Kate Downs

Is your toddler quiet? Does he or she seem disinterested in speaking to assert an opinion? Have you noticed other children, even younger than yours, with a great command of basic vocabulary? Instead of losing sleep over the possible cause of your child’s delay, you might want to consider a new approach to aiding your child’s language development.

A child’s delayed verbal capacity can be a source of great anxiety for parents. In the age of Autism awareness, failure to reach language development milestones can cause stomach-turning concern for parents. The stress of this concern increases exponentially when their pediatrician suggests they ‘keep an eye’ on the situation.

Concern is only natural when we suspect our children may be suffering. However, the anxiety that accompanies the suggestion of Autism is a burden too many parents are being prematurely saddled with. Language deficits may have biological roots, but are also commonly the result of emotional or environmental barriers.

Parents can help their struggling or disinterested child to achieve communication by participating in learning activities that put success within their child’s reach. Introducing your toddler to the alphabet, even prior to their attaining verbal skills, can help them learn the building blocks of speech as no other tool can.

It may be difficult to believe that your child is ready to learn the alphabet when you have been trying for nearly two years to teach them “bye-bye”. However, the speed with which many children memorize the alphabet is shocking for parents. Proud mothers and fathers have posted home videos of their young children reciting the alphabet all over the internet. The visual proof exists. Not only can it be done, the advantages of teaching your child the alphabet are numerous.


Unique Advantages of the Alphabet

Like most parents facing this situation, you have probably tried traditional methods to encourage your child’s language development. You talk and sing to your child. You likely make reading part of your daily routine. You may even have purchased a dozen books designed specifically to teach first words. If these steps have failed to improve your child’s communication skills, the unique advantages of the alphabet may be just what he or she needs.

The alphabet can serve as training wheels for the complex vehicle of language. Most letters of the alphabet are easily reproduced. Their pronunciation requires less mechanical skill than even the simplest words.

The true complexity of words becomes clear when we compare the construction of the word “ball” to that of the letter “B”. Where “ball” requires the mastery of three unique sounds, the letter “B” requires only two. Many letters require only one unique sound. Through the alphabet, children are able to learn and practice one twist of the tongue at a time.

Not only are letters easier to reproduce, they offer struggling children a faster return on their efforts. If two years of unsuccessful attempts at “bye-bye” have you feeling discouraged, imagine how your child feels. Using the alphabet puts these first language accomplishments within reach. Success serves as a powerful motivator in the learning process and helps to build self-esteem. Likewise, continued failures serve to disinterest children and cause them to doubt their own abilities. Self-confidence builds with the mastery of every new letter and children become more comfortable experimenting with sound combinations.

Another unique benefit of the alphabet is the singular focus on associating shapes with simple sounds. When children endeavor to learn objects, they are forced to consider much more than the object and its name. For example, “ball” may seem like a simple concept, but in our earliest learning experiences with a ball its name is only one of its many intricacies. Long before a child will learn to name a ball, they will learn its characteristics: its usefulness, how to physically interact with it, and the basic rules associated with its use. A child will be reminded and distracted by these lessons every time they see a familiar object.

Letters are different. To your child, they have no purpose and no rules. The only consequence associated with letters is the praise a child receives for recognizing and pronouncing them. For the purposes of enabling verbalization, letters require no association or context. The alphabet, itself, presents no intellectual distraction. It is not important that a toddler knows the aural function of letters in order to progress linguistically.

Additionally, a child’s opportunities to practice the alphabet are unlimited. Because letters appear so frequently in their universe children can and do continue their lessons independently. Your may have thumbed through their picture book countless times, but the book holds new interest as a child recognizes familiar shapes in the text. Letters appear on packaging, appliances, doors, television, and more. In fact, almost every facet of your child’s universe offers them the chance to practice the alphabet.

The simplicity of the alphabet and its multitude of learning opportunities allows your child to practice developing speech with no pressure and little emotional involvement. Unlike “hi” or “bye-bye”, it does not require an understanding of social propriety. Where objects can arouse wanting or even fear, letters carry little emotional attachment for children. Because a toddler doesn’t understand a letter as a tool, their memorization does not require a comprehension of cause and effect. Children are freed from the stress of learning language by the utter uselessness of letters in their lives.


How to Start

Quality learning materials are available to parents in abundance. A walk through the education section of any bookstore will present an endless selection of puzzles, flashcards, and word association games. However, these materials can be costly and may fail to capture or sustain your toddler’s interest.

Children’s television programming is another powerful learning tool, but may not serve well as an introduction to the alphabet. The lessons provided are not concentrated and it is difficult for small children to focus on learning when material is presented in a mass of entertainment. However, once your child begins to recognize those bizarre shapes, this form of education will be more effective.

Perhaps the best tool available to parents is their own computer. Many websites exist for the specific purpose of educating infants and toddlers. In order to attract visitors, many baby-oriented corporations have invested heavily in the development of free online learning games.

Of these corporate websites, Fisher-Price may provide the best early introduction to the alphabet. The company’s “ABC’s Zoo Learning Game” for infants provides a clear and entertaining review of letters and their names. Children are presented with a single letter and short animal animations as a narrator clearly speaks the letter name and the animal’s name. Even better, the infant version of the game allows your child to advance letters by pressing any key, rather than requiring the ability to use a mouse.

Youtube is another fantastic source of learning material. A simple keyword search will provide clips of educational material from popular modern and vintage children’s programming. You may find your child enjoys the same images and songs you learned from as a child.

However you choose to begin the process, remember that teaching your child the alphabet will take practice. Parents should provide a variety of learning tools as their child will likely tire of even the most captivating games. Patience, reward and repetition are the keys to a positive learning environment, no matter which environment you choose.



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