Monday, August 20, 2012

Learning Letters Using Rocks

When my daughter was about 18 months, we were at a party with a bunch of kids.  One of the kids was only about two years old and he was going the room, pointing at everyone's shirt and identifying each letter.  He would yell, "T!  O!  R!"  Everyone was very impressed, including me.  I will admit that I filed away that image for later use.  I really wanted my daughter to be the "trick pony" at a party someday and be able to impress everyone with her knowledge of letters.  I asked the Mom how her little boy already knew all his letters.  She laughed and said, "Because I make him do flashcards every day!"

As a new Mom, I didn't know any better.  This seemed perfectly normal and wonderful to me.  I went out that day and bought a bunch of flashcards and started trying to drill her.  The only problem was that she wasn't interested.  At all.  I waited a few months.  She still wasn't interested.  I didn't want to force her so I eventually put them away, but I was puzzled.  Why didn't she want to learn letters?  Isn't that what little kids do?

A few months later, I met a wonderful former Kindergarten teacher, named Susan Case.  She explained to me that my thinking was totally wrong. Flashcards weren't the answer.  Here are her thoughts:

Young children love to learn by using their five senses and movement. Sensory integration is the ability to take in information through the senses of touch, smell, taste, vision, hearing, and movement, and to combine the resulting perceptions with prior information, memories and knowledge already stored in the brain. In other words, children learn by exploring and discovering using their five senses and movement. You don't need flashcards or expensive products to teach. Of course, flashcards can supplement learning. And it is very important to read books every day possible with your children. But young children may be more interested in the pictures and movable gadgets than focusing on squiggly lines and circles that make up letters. However, there are ways to grab a child’s attention to help them learn the letter sounds and names:

Begin with a child’s name – which is the most important word to them. Help your child form the letters in their name using interesting materials such as beans, pasta, rocks, marbles, buttons, PomPoms, playdough, and pipe cleaners. Always supervise young children when they are using small objects.

As my daughter got older, I took Susan's words to heart.  I found these colorful rocks at the Dollar Store and we use them for lots of different things but this is my personal favorite.  I love it because I feel like I'm doing my job, helping her learn her letters, and she loves it because it's fun!  All I had to do was draw out some letters using circles.  Then I gave her the colored rocks and we talked through each letter as she did them, so she knew what letter she'd made.  I found that she was more interested in letters that spelled words she liked, such as her own name, Mom, Dad, or her friend's names.

Eventually, we got really crazy and started to spell actual names and words using the letters she had created.  She didn't learn all the letters this way, because the reason flashcards work so well is that kids need to do things over and over again before they stick, but I noticed that she now finally has "T" down!

If you enjoyed this post, you will really enjoy reading my newly-released book!  I teamed up with Susan Case (who is also the one who commented above) and we wrote the book together to give a Mom and a Teacher point of view.  You can watch a video that explains more here:

We give you dozens of other ideas on how to keep your kids busy, but in a productive way, so they are actually learning while they are also having fun!  Here is what one of my readers wrote on Amazon after she read our book:

This book seriously saved my sanity. I've read a bunch of parenting books but this is literally the only one that actually gave me real and specific advice and ideas for things to do with my daughter. I'm a stay-at-home mom to a 2-year old and I was at my wits end trying to come up with ideas of fun, easy, creative things to do with her that will keep her busy and occupied and help her learn. I wasn't very good at following through on ideas that I heard about from friends or read in other books or online because they seemed too complicated (aka: messy!) but this book broke it down and made it so simple. I highly recommend it!

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  1. You mean rocks are not for throwing at cars? J/K love this idea I have a bunch of these rocks laying around for decorative purposes now I know what I can actually do with them

    1. Haha oh my little guy definitely thinks rocks are for throwing at cars! Or people...or anything really!! :-)

  2. This is an awesome idea. It is strange my just recently turned 4 year doesn't want to do letters either. I have been trying for months. I am going to see if this works for him. I saw you on Top moms and wanted to come by and vote for you. I joined your facebook and GFC. Hope you have a great day. Hope you will follow me back @

    1. Great to have you! I will definitely swing by!

  3. I love the idea of making letters using all the different things that you suggested. The letters came out great. I imagine your daughter must have loved to pick out which stone would go in each spot. Ours are still a little young to put a stone in an exact spot, but it won't be too long before we try this idea. I have started to read your book and it is great. I can't wait to read more.

    : 0 ) Theresa (Capri + 3)

  4. I love the idea of using rocks! Then you don't have to waste paper and stickers; you can use them over and over!

  5. I love the rock idea. My little ones would love it.

  6. I started off with flash cards too! Hands on activities are definitely better.

    Thanks for linking to Science Sparks. x

  7. The way you mention here really looks great because most of us don't have any thoughts about it. I imagine your daughter must have loved to pick out which stone would go in each spot. I joined your facebook, hope you also follow me back by clicking Sympathy message.

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  16. I'm so impressed by this creative way of learning the letters! Using rocks to help the kids remember the shapes of the letters is a great idea and a fun way for them to learn. ipvanish promotion I'm sure my kids would have a blast doing this.