by HEIKE LARSON | photos by Richard Unten

Don’t Teach the ABCs

Early Literacy Mistakes and How to Avoid Them


Can you read this: teeaichee seeaytee esaytee?

If you can’t, you’ll want to reconsider how your child is introduced to reading and writing in preschool. Most preschool reading programs start by teaching letter names: learning the ABCs, singing the alphabet song, and coloring in pages with letters. Most intro-to-reading toys that parents buy also teach by letter names – from fridge magnets to videos and talking alphabet caterpillars.Unfortunately this approach actually slows down the learning process. This is supported by scientific research. Cognitive neuroscientist and author of Reading in the Brain Stanislas Dehaene cautions against teaching letter names, “Sometimes the child knows the names of the letters (ay, bee, see, dee…). Unfortunately this knowledge, far from being helpful, may even delay the acquisition of reading. To know that ‘s’ is pronounced ‘ess’, ‘k’ is pronounced ‘kay’, and ‘i’ is pronounced ‘eye’ is useless when we try to read the word ‘ski.’ Letter names cannot be assembled during reading – the hookup only concerns phonemes.”

mp_leport2That first sentence you struggled with? It’s “the cat sat” written with letter names – which makes it rather challenging to read, right? Teaching letter names is one of the five key mistakes made in early literacy instruction. ANOTHER MISTAKE IS TEACHING CAPITA LETTERS FIRST, DESPITE THE FACT THAT MOSRT OF WHAT WE READ IS WRITTEN IN SMALL LETTERS. The other three are teaching reading before writing, expecting children to handwrite and “word-build” simultaneously, and using the whole word approach instead of systematic phonics.

So how should we start the reading process? To read, a child first needs to discover that speech is made out of “phonemes (or sounds)”, which are combined to create words,’ and those sounds can be represented with letter symbols.

This is exactly how we introduce literacy in Montessori preschool. It’s called phonemic awareness, and our toddlers and preschoolers learn it by playing sound games. In these games, children isolate the beginning sounds of a word. For example, a teacher may hold up a few miniature objects in her hand and say quietly, “I spy something in my hand that starts with ‘mmm’ – to which a child may respond by picking out the mop. It’s a fun game which you can also play at home!

We then follow a carefully crafted sequence of activities, which enables a typical child to read quite fluently by the end of kindergarten, at a level that is far ahead of most other programs including the expectations set by Common Core.

Want to learn more about this highly effective approach to early literacy? Join us for a free parenting talk:

LePort School Solana Beach
1010 Solana Dr., Del Mar, CA 92014

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Name of Institution: LePort School Solana Beach
Head of School: Shawn Edwards
Year of Establishment: 2015
Address: 1010 Solana Dr., Del Mar, CA 92014
Phone: 858-207-6474
Description of School: The first LePort School opened in 2000 in Orange County. LePort now has three locations in North San Diego: Carlsbad, Encinitas, and Solana Beach. The Solana Beach school opened in Spring 2015 and now serves infants through sixth grade students. The institution is an authentic, high-quality Montessori school for infants through sixth grade students. They foster creativity, strong academic skills, personal confidence, and independence so children are prepared for success in school and in life.