My degree is in Elementary and Special Education. I taught for six years; five as a sixth-grade reading teacher and one as a kindergarten teacher. I am one practicum away from my master’s degree in Multicultural Education with a Reading Specialist certification.
Sometimes, I catch myself thinking that since I’m a teacher, Everly should know all of her letter names at an early age. Not because I think that she actually needs to know them at 2.5 years old, but because I think other people expect me as a teacher to have taught them to her at an early age. I want people to think I’m a great mom and if my daughter can identify every letter by name, that will serve as some sort of proof. Look how smart my toddler is!
Those thoughts are fleeting, though. I really don’t care if Everly knows her letter names. We don’t spend time drilling flashcards nor do I plan to.
Everly has years (ugh) of schooling ahead of her. She’ll have plenty of time to learn her letter names and sounds. At this age, I want her days to be filled with play. Sometimes we play by tracing her letter E in a tray full of salt, sometimes we dot the letter A with a bingo dot marker, and sometimes I hide the letter O around the living room for her to find. To her, that’s the same as painting a butterfly, playing with dolls, or fixing things with her tools. It’s just play. There’s no agenda. There’s no mastering of skills. So when she’s done playing “letter E,” we move on.
Everly attends preschool two days a week for two hours at a time. While they introduce a new letter each week, that’s not why I send her to preschool. I’m way more excited for her to learn social skills like taking turns, sharing, and navigating new friendships. I love hearing her talk about the goings-on of life of preschool and hearing her point out a letter X at the grocery store is an added bonus.
I really don’t make a concerted effort for her to master her letter names. That just doesn’t seem to be her thing right now. I know some kids are obsessed with letters. If that’s your kid, go to town with letters. If practicing letters equals play for them, more power to you. Everly seems to thrive when she’s doing a science experiment, exploring outside, making something beautiful with art supplies, or playing pretend with her babies and animals. She only has so many years at home with me to do that. So that’s what we do.
Am I saying I’m dropping her off in Kindergarten with not a letter learned? Nah. I’m confident she’ll play her way through her letters over the next few years. She’ll learn them in her own time and as we read and talk about the world around us. If I sense that she’s struggling with retaining the letter names, then we adjust. When it comes to giving her a head start in reading, the most important thing I can do to help her is simply read to her.
As a former kindergarten teacher, I know that she’ll be introduced to each letter one at a time throughout the first half of the year whether she knows them or not on the first day. She will spend 30 minutes every morning in school tracing the letters in the air, repeating the letter sounds, drawing them on whiteboards, and matching the upper and lower case letters. She’s got more than enough time for that.
But how much time does she have to just play?
If you’re a parent stressing over what letters (or numbers or shapes or whatever) your toddler does or doesn’t know, I say just keep playing. Get outside, get messy, cook, craft, pretend. Don’t feel like you need to do school now when all they’ll do is school later.
Let them be little.