Our guest post is written by Valérie Touze of Les Trois Elles, who created Montessori Letter Sounds. Valerie is an AMI (Association Montessori International) trained teacher, and worked in a bilingual school in France for eight years. She is also the mother of four children – two who have interfaced with speech and language therapists in France and Great Britain. This post gives parents background about the “letter learning” process in early childhood education, and helps us assess apps for letters and phonics.
Most parents teach their toddlers their ABCs and feel proud once their little ones repeat the song! It’s as much of a stepping-stone as having a first tooth. In fact, learning letter names has become so natural that parents don’t even stop to think “why am I teaching my 2 year old letter names?” In this post I would like to explain why children would be better off if more parents asked themselves this question.
Let’s start by reviewing the reasons why letter names are useful.
- We use them to spell words, names, reference numbers…
- They are also useful for alphabetical order purposes; if you’re looking something up in the dictionary, in a cookbook or in the phonebook for instance.
- Letter names are also used in Math, Physics and many other subjects.
- I’m sure there are other utilizations for letter names, but none of which are really useful before 6 years old.
Some of you might be thinking “funny, she forgot to mention learning to read and write”. Actually, no, I didn’t forget.
Try reading a word using letter names: “see-ey-tee” for instance. Does that sound like “cat”? Not really. Spelling and reading are two very different things.
In Montessori schools, we teach children letter sounds. More often than not, children already know some letter names when they arrive in our schools. Obviously we don’t tell them they are wrong if they say “see” when they see a “c” but we explain that letters have a name and they also make one or more sounds, which is even more important when you’re learning to read and write.
In the same example as above, if you say the letter sounds faster and faster [k] [a] [t], you end up hearing “cat”. This method is also known as “phonics”. It is not a new method but one that people are coming back to after having tried other ways that proved less successful.
What are the down sides of phonics?
Some languages are more phonetic than others. The only complication with phonics in English is that some letters are pronounced differently depending on the words and that English uses a lot of phonograms that have to be learned by heart. Still, experts believe that it is a strong base and time has proven that children who use this method become better readers in the long run.
With this in mind, what should parents look for in a letter app?
Basically there are three ways of approaching letter sounds in a word:
- I can hear and see (c, a, t, in cat)
- I can hear but I can’t see (f in xylophone)
- I can see but I can’t hear (a in tea)
These three ways are valid, as long as the child knows what he is looking at.
Based on these three rules, parents should be able to decide whether the examples used in the app were thought through or just randomly selected based on the letters used to spell the word. It’s so logical when you think about it! I can’t help but wonder why you would say “A like Ant” and “S like Ship”, unless you specified “I can see but I can’t hear”…