Start as early as possible is the best advice I could give to parents who want to teach letters and numbers. When my son was starting to identify things when prompted (i.e. “Where is the ball” and he would point it out) is when I started letters. He absorbed them as rapidly as he was absorbing all the other new objects at the time. By two years old, he mastered all his letters and the numbers 1-10. He could also count on his fingers and had grasped a loose concept of number value (1 apple, 2 apples, 3 apples, etc.). This was all learned through play.
Teaching letters and numbers doesn’t have to be formal or complicated. With most little guys, I think the less formal the better. The lessons that begin with “Ok, we are going to sit down with flashcards and learn numbers and letters” are potentially the worst lessons with little ones. Don’t take my word for it. Just give it a try. It doesn’t work because you are asking them to do something and they know from experience they will most certainly not want to do anything you are asking them to do.
Don’t underestimate the power of informal learning. Don’t make it a big deal. Mention a letter or number while playing or coloring. Have the rest of the family and relatives join in on the game. Introduce through coloring books, sit down and draw with them while they are at their high chair eating dinner.
Use plenty of praise. Great job. And when they get it wrong? “No, not quit. Try again.” Always encourage them to keep trying. Give them hints. Even if you have to eventually point or tell them, don’t give up or let them give up. You can tell them they are incorrect but in a way that makes them feel it is ok to make a mistake.
Light competition does work. Why? Because it’s fun to win! No one really wants things handed to them. They want to earn it.
Be patient and keep it light. As a teacher, the unspoken (and sometimes spoken) rule is you can’t force learning. You can lead, and guide, and coach, but ultimately you need them to be open and cooperative. You know your own child. Your best bet is to find a game they like and find a way to weave learning into it. For example, if your child likes peek-a-boo, play peek-a-boo with letters or numbers. Hide a letter or number under the table at dinner and have it appear. Simple, learning is happening and the
Don’t over think it or try too hard. As soon as children know you are trying to get them to do something. Game over. They don’t want to do it. Keep the stress your pre-school is placing on you away from you child. And don’t you stress either. They will get it, if not now, in their own time.
Here are three fun suggestions to get you started:
“Where is the letter A?” Point to a magnetic A on your refrigerator.
This identification game works best with younger children, but depending on how it’s presented and who your child is, it could work for older children. You can also point out letters in books, on TV, Signs on the street, anywhere. Letters and numbers are everywhere. Simple casual learning consistently and you will be amazed at how quickly your little sponge absorbs the knowledge.
Take flash cards – or make them yourself with markers and index cards – and hang them at random points in the house. Tell them we have to find the letters or numbers. You can play this game a number of ways. The main idea is making sure they are having fun and are engaged. You could even make it a race against the clock to add excitement.
Hide and Seek
Same idea but go looking for letters and numbers that are hidden. Could be played with a single letter or number, or multiple if playing for mastery.