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   Ask Jeanna - Nine Questions about the "A-B-C" Song

  Should I sing the "A-B-C" song with my children?

Sure!  Sing away!  Learning and singing the song can be fun, and it involves memorization and keeping a tune.  It will also probably result in smiles and compliments from grownups for the children who sing the song.

Many people think it teaches kids the alphabet.  It seems that way, but it's not really so.

Young kids who sing the "A-B-C" song are imitating what they have heard and have basically memorized a long sequence of sounds ("AyeBeeSeeDee-Eee-ef-jee" ... "elemenoh-pee").  And that's an accomplishment, and a first step.

Sooner or later, children who have learned the song realize it's all the letters of the alphabet from A to Z.  This can come in handy, years later, when they learn to alphabetize words or need to find a word in a dictionary or a name in a telephone book.  That's when we need to know the sequence of the letters of the alphabet.

Need to find a word in the dictionary that begins with "N"?  you'll probably first think L M N O P.  And you'll probably know that this comes in the middle of the song/the middle of the alphabet, so you'll look in the middle of the dictionary after L and M and before O and P.

Try another letter:  Looking in the dictionary for a word that begins with "X"?  You'll probably first think W X Y Z (or a longer sequence U V W X Y Z). And you know it's at the very end of the alphabet so that's where you'll look. Either way, knowing the sequence of the letters helps us get where we need to go.

It even comes in handy at the library when you and your children are looking for books that are in alphabetical order.

So sing away!  Have fun, and know that children are also gaining some very useful skills.

Q: Can the "A-B-C" song help my children learn "their letters"?
  The "A-B-C" song can help your children learn all of the names of the letters of the alphabet, especially if you sometimes show your children each letter as they (and you) sing the song.

How to do this?  Get a long strip of paper (or tape thee pages together to make a long paper). Print the whole alphabet in capital letters.  Try to leave some space between each letter.

A   B   C   D   E   F   G   H   I   J   K   L   M   N   O   P   Q   R   S   T   U   V   W   X   Y   Z

Have fun pointing at each letter (with a smile or a nod of your head) while you sing the "A-B-C" song.  Your child will hear and see each letter of the alphabet, and it will help your child make the connection that each sound in the song is the name of a letter.

Just be sure that whenever you point at a letter, you touch the page and point just under the letter (not on the letter) so your child can see the whole letter.

Another time, help your child to touch the page and point at each letter while you both sing the song.  Even a young child can point (especially with a loving hand helping to move his or her little hand). 

And if your child wants to point to each letter without your help, that's fine too.  If your child misses any (or even most) of the letters, that's O.K.  Just say, "You're really learning the names of the letters!" or "You're really learning how to point at the letters!"

Encouragement goes a long way.

Q:  How else can I print the letters of the alphabet?

Let's say you've already printed A to Z in upper case letters (capital letters).  Next step: Get a long strip of paper (or tape three pages together to make a long paper) and print the whole alphabet in lower case letters.

a   b   c   d   e   f   g   h   i   j   k   l   m   n   o   p   q   r   s   t   u   v   w   x   y   z

Think about it.  Most words on a page are made up of lower case letters.  For children to eventually learn to read, they need to see that letters can be written in upper case or lower case (or some combination of the two). 

So yes, print the alphabet in lower case letters as a useful item to accompany singing and pointing.  It's one of the ways your children will learn that the name of each letter can be written two ways.

Want yet another way to print the letters of the alphabet which you and your children can sometimes use while singing the "A-B-C" song?

Print the alphabet on a piece of paper like this:

A       B       C       D 

E       F       G

H       I      J       K 

L       M      N      O       P

Q      R       S

T             U       V

W      X       Y       Z

Now try singing the "A-B-C" song while you point. 

You'll see this arrangement of the letters matches the rhythm of the "A-B-C" song, making it easier for some children to succeed in pointing to the correct letter as each letter in the song is sung.

This also puts letters in sequence the way we read words in English (and many other languages) - left to right, one line at a time, from the top of the page to the bottom of the page.

And it keeps things interesting.

QDoes it matter how big I write the letters?
  Nope.  What matters is that the letters aren't crowded together.  If you write ABCDEFG, it's hard for young children to see each letter, and it's too crowded to point to each letter.

Spacing out  the letters . . .

A      B      C      D      E      F      G

. . . makes all the difference.

Getting back to your question about how big the letters should be, have fun!  Teach your children it's still a "B"  if you write  B  or  B  or  b  or   b.   You and your children can say "That's a B and that's a b.  They're both Bs!"

You can also show your children that it's still a "B" or a "b" if it's written with a red crayon, a yellow marker, or a black ink pen.

These are all important concepts, important things to learn.

Q:  More alphabet ideas, please.
  Take another piece of paper and write all the upper case and lower case letters from A to Z.   Try to space them on a page something like this:

A a      B b      C c      D d      E e      F f      G g

H h      I i       J j        K k      L l       M m    N n

O o      P p      Q q      R r      S s       T t       U u

V v      W w    X x       Y y     Z z     

Then, when you sing the " A-B-C" song, you and your child can point to each set of letters.  This can help your child make the connection between the name of the letter and how that letter can look.

Of course, this is a very handy page for all kinds of quiet games and activities - with simple conversations and no singing.

For instance, you can help your child learn that each letter can be written two ways - upper case and lower case.  You can point at "B" and "b" and say "This is a 'B' and this is a 'b' and they're both Bs!"

You can also play the game "I'm going to find letter 'A'" and point to it with a smile. Then let your child take a turn. 

If your child points to the same letter and says nothing, you can still give your child a compliment:  "You pointed to letter 'A'  You know how to point!" 

Maybe your child points to the same letter you did and repeats (correctly) "A" or maybe your child points to a different letter and (correctly) says the name of that letter.  Either way, more smiles and compliments.  You might say, "Yes, that's 'A' (or whatever letter it was)!  You're really learning the letters of the alphabet!"

Q:  What if my child makes a mistake?
  Imagine that your child points to a letter and says the wrong letter.  Still try to say something positive. (Don't say "No, that's wrong" or "No, that's not "B" or whatever letter your child said.)  Say something positive because criticism - however brief, however well-intentioned - will likely make your child want to avoid learning new things.

You can encourage your child by quickly saying something like "I like how you point! . . . That's 'A' . . . You can say 'A'"  And if your child then says "A," you've got one more thing to compliment. "I like how you said 'A' . . . You're really learning that's an 'A'!"

While we're on the subject of compliments, lots of adults try to say something positive to children by saying "Good!"  or "Good girl!" or "Good boy!"   But think about it.  Think about what message you want to give your child.  If your child is learning something new and makes a mistake (like pointing to the letter "A" and saying "B"), your child wouldn't be "Bad."  So when we say "Good"  or "Good girl" or "Good boy," we risk that a child can worry that making a mistake about a letter of the alphabet, or a million other things, would mean they're "Bad."

That's why it's worth learning how to give a specific, age-appropriate, compliment, like "You said 'D' and that IS a 'D'!"

Nowadays, many adults also tend to say "Good job!" to a child who does something correctly.  It is a simple, positive thing to say, but it doesn't give your child any additional information or expand your child's vocabulary with additional words or a full sentence. 

That's why you might want to try different ways to compliment your child by smiling and describing what your child is trying to do.  Here are several examples:  "I like how you pointed to the letter "a"  - or - "You know which letter is "A"  - or - "I like how we take turns and point to letters and say their names"  - or - "I like how we do this together" - or - "You're really learning"  - or - "You're really going to learn the letters."

I can see that the "A-B-C" song is fun for children to sing and that children are singing all of the names of the letters of the alphabet in order.  But does the "A-B-C" song help children learn to read?

Great question!  The "A-B-C" song helps children learn the names of the letters of the alphabet (especially if you have sometimes combined singing with pointing at the letters as you and your child sing each letter).  If you've done this, your child is on-the-way to learning (or has learned) the names of the letters and how the letters look.

However, in order for your child to learn to read (outloud or silently), your child also needs to learn the SOUNDS the letters make - something the "A-B-C" song doesn't do.

Take a moment to think about it.  When you see the word "CAT" or "cat," you can read the word because you are smoothly putting the SOUNDS together.  The three letters in "CAT" sound like "k ah t" when you say these sounds quickly.

Saying the NAMES of the letters "c" "a" "t"  (by pronouncing "see" "aye" "tee") isn't reading.  Saying the names of the letters "c" "a" "t" is SPELLING. Spelling is a useful skill, but it's not the same as reading.

To read a word, your child needs to know the SOUND that each letter makes.  And your child needs to put each of the sounds together - from left to right.

That's why it's really wonderful to help children learn how the letters A to Z look and the sounds they make. 

Q:  Should I teach my children the sound each letter makes?
Young children enjoy imitating sounds, especially when an attentive adult gives them smiles and encouraging words. 

Infants and toddlers imitate the sounds they hear adults making, especially the sounds adults make to them.  That's how young children - including your children - learn to speak their first words, more words. and then hundreds and hundreds of words.

Many young children also enjoy imitating the sounds animals make - like the cow says "Moo"  and the cat says "Meow."  And many children enjoy imitating the sound things make - like the sound of a fire engine.

Young children can also enjoy learning some of the sounds and then all of the sounds that letters make.  And this knowledge sure comes in handy - and is essential - when children later learn to read simple words and then more and more words.

Q:  How can I teach my children the sound each letter makes?
  There are many ways to help children learn the sound (or sounds) associated with each letter. 

Here's one idea that uses the A to Z alphabet pages you wrote - the pages that you and your child used for singing the "A-B-C" song, pointing, and looking at upper case and lower case letters.  These are the pages that you used as your child successfully imitated you by pointing to letters and saying the names of the letters. Your child associates these alphabet pages with seeing your smiles, hearing your compliments, and feeling a sense of accomplishment. 

Now, pick a relaxed time to play another "game": showing your child the sound a letter makes. Here's how -

You point to a letter and make the sound.  Your child gets to imitate you. Then your child points to another letter, and you make the sound. 

Each time, you get to smile and compliment your child.  You can vary what you say - "You're learning the sound the letter makes!"  "I like how you say the sound . . . That's the sound the letter makes!"  "I like looking at letters and making the sounds - with you!"

You don't have to go in order from A to Z (unless your child wants you to).  You also don't have to do every letter.  Just point to any letter and say something like, "That's a 'J' and the sound it makes is 'ju'. . . You can say 'ju'"

You might want to start with the first letter of your child's name.  Let's say your child's name is Ben.  You could point to the letter "B" and say "That's a 'B' and the sound it makes is 'bu' like 'bu'Ben!"  You might want to show your child "M" for "MuMommy,"  "D" for "DuDaddy," and any other letters for brothers, sisters, best friends, pets, etc.  This will help your child hear the first sound that occurs in each name.

You can show your young child one or more letters and the sounds those letters make - and then move on to making lunch, reading a book, or going to the store.  In other words, helping your child learn the sounds the letters make doesn't require an hour or hours.  It's simply something you can do for a moment, a minute, or several minutes at a time - depending on your child's mood and interest. And over the course of your child's early years, your child will learn most of the sounds.

You're simply using your child's natural ability to imitate what you say.  It's simple.  Fun.  Free.  And effective.

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