I very often hear remarks such as, "Your school is play-based, so how are they going to learn anything?" or "Do you teach the children letters and numbers?" or "I do think children need to play, but what do you do for academics?"
In writing my own curriculum this year, I set out to prove that play and academics are the SAME THING! I wanted to show that it was absolutely possible for children to learn (mostly on their own) a wide variety of things with a little help from a planned environment and opportunities for expansion when their interests were piqued.
In November, we got into some serious alphabet work. There are always opportunities for letter work around the classroom, but this was our month to really focus. Since Monkey is in Kindergarten this year, I've had a chance to see what the expectations will be for my students entering school and trust me when I say, things have changed since I was in school! I had to start by learning the phonograms for the letters of the alphabet, each of them also has a corresponding hand motion.
At circle time, we quickly go over the basic phonograms using these beautiful cards.
The children enjoy the hand motions and it makes learning the sounds fun. Of course, we also have to stop and talk about the flowers and the various insects on each card, so I suppose we're getting a botany and entomology lesson as well!
Children entering Kindergarten do NOT need to know all of the letter sounds, they don't even need to know all of the letters, but some children are ready for this information, so I offer it.
Here are some other letter activities:
Alphabet Sorting Box
I printed out some word cards and pictures for those children ready for the challenge. My youngest students love to empty the tiny boxes and then try to put the letters back in their homes.
Another perfect activity for a mixed age classroom. Younger kiddos love to match, sort and line up, my older ones spell their names and end up teaching their younger classmates simply by interacting and talking.
Magnetic Alphabet Maze
An amazing fine motor/pre-writing activity. The letters are all uppercase, making it a perfect first matching work for my little ones.
Alphabet Object Matching
I adapted this activity from something Monkey does at his Montessori school. In the Montessori classroom, each grouping of letters is assigned a color and all of the materials are organized beautifully so the children can choose the correct work depending upon the color grouping on which they are currently working. Visit Trillium Montessori for more examples of these activities.
Not all of my students will move into a Montessori program, but those who do will have a point of reference as my trays and letters correspond to the Montessori color groupings.
Here, the children match upper case to lower case and then match word cards with the appropriate beginning letter. They finish up by matching the objects to the correct word card - L for Lion, J for Jaguar, etc.
Three-Letter Word Puzzles
I adore activities like these puzzles because a child can feel successful with very little help. Bear is just over 2 and he is able to complete all of these puzzles based on the pictures, but he has also already learned that letters make words and words give objects their names. Though he can't recognize most of the letters, he will often complete these puzzles, point to the letters and say, "E, L, Y....car!!" It absolutely doesn't matter that he's totally wrong about the letters, he understands the concept of print.
Alphabet Floor Puzzle
Since we're on the subject of puzzles - let's talk about floor puzzles. I am currently still trying to reach my goal of owning a floor puzzle for every single concept in my curriculum - and there are a LOT of concepts. Floor puzzles are amazing in so many ways, but I especially love this one because it's a train, meaning it is looooong and the children get their whole bodies moving while trying to complete it. They are up and down and over and crawling and side-stepping and all the while, they sing the Alphabet Song over and over so they can figure out what letter comes next. :)
I have laminated cards with letters, numbers and shapes for writing practice, but the children can really write or draw whatever they want. This sand will get changed out for sand or salt with different colors, scents, accessories, etc. just to keep things interesting. And look at that sweet face and perfect chopstick grip! ;)
Play Dough Mats
I don't know about your kiddos, but mine would seriously work with play dough all day every day if I let them (and usually, I do). I make fresh play dough every couple of weeks adding color, scent, texture, even taste sometimes! We have play dough mats that I printed for free HERE. Just search for 'printable play dough mats' and you will hit the jackpot!
And there are just a few of our awesome, playful alphabet activities!!