“What’s this word?” my students ask.
“Oh, you know it.” I reply.
“No, I don’t.”
Then I give them the secret. “What if I told you it started with a capital letter?”
For the beginning reader, we add an unnecessary difficulty to learning the letters and their sounds by introducing fifty-two letters when twenty-six is all we need.
Ninety percent of all printed matter is in lower case print. It just makes sense to introduce the lower case letters first.
After the child learns all the lower case letters and their unique sounds, it is usually not difficult for them to learn the capital letters. For most children, you can begin to introduce the capital letters after they are reading three word phrases.
Reading success is built on a foundation of two skills:
- Being aware that words are made of individual sounds.
- Understanding the relationship between letters and sounds.
Reading without understanding these foundational concepts forces the young reader to adopt a coping strategy of symbolizing words, meaning they look at the word and just remember that a certain set of lines means “cat”. The young reader does not then develop the decoding skills of knowing that the three letters in cat make three different sounds.
Without this knowledge, reading becomes limited to the number of words you can manage to memorize, and can be visually confusing when trying to memorize the difference between similar looking words such as cat, can, cap, cab, cad, car, etc.
Depending on visual memory for word recognition along with the inability to assign a sound to each letter are the main reasons that the reading level for many adults makes them ”functionally illiterate”.
The National Center for Educational Statistics reported in 1997 in the National Adult Literacy Survey that forty to forty-four million adults in the United States were only able to perform the most routine literacy tasks. Adults at this level could usually locate one piece of information in a sports article or locate the expiration date on a driver’s license. They could not locate two pieces of information in a sports article or locate an intersection on a street map.
Forty million (40,000,000) adults are unable to read because neither their parents, their teachers nor anybody else made sure that they knew the reading basics.
The report also showed that these adults were also in the bottom twenty percent for income.
Assure reading success for your child by introducing only the lower case letters first. With only twenty-six symbols to learn, we double the rate of learning success because lower-case letters make up 90% of all printed matter.
Learning the letter/sound relationships is also critical for reading success. Make sure your child knows all the letter sounds for the lower case letters before you introduce capital letters.
It will be easier for your child to be a successful reader by introducing one alphabet at a time–the lower case alphabet first.
Next: Preparing The Hand To Write
Your article made such good sense! As a preschool/preK teacher, I will take heed and focus on the learning of the lower case alphabet first. Thanks for the help!
Jewell, I think you’ll find it makes a big difference.
Teaching the lowercase letters first make so much sense. Wonderful article.
My preschoolers learn only the letter sounds of the lower case letters and I am proud of their individual ability, in independent reading.
It makes perfect sense! I’m curious why children usually start writing in upper case letters even when they’ve been exposed to lower case letters first. I’ve noticed this with both my children but also in many classrooms I’ve taught. Is it just because they’re easier to write? Looking forward to your insights!
Frederica, good morning!
The main reason I think that children will start with uppercase first is that is what is modeled. When you look at the alphabet charts in most classrooms the capital letters are first, then the lower case. Aa Bb Cc… Many parents will write in capitals for their children, too.
In Montessori classrooms we use sandpaper letters to begin the letter/sound recognition process. The only letters the child sees outside of books are the lowercase alphabet. In a Montessori classroom the children are guided to write in lowercase first, and they do. In my experience, seeing a 4-year-old write in capital letters is rare.
Interestingly enough, lowercase cursive is easier to write for children than print capital letters. For example, a capital A requires three lines and readjustments on the paper. A cursive lower case a is one fluid process.
That is one reason I advocate for teaching lowercase cursive first. It makes writing easier and much more fun.
Plus when you learn to write in cursive first, it doesn’t become an obstacle to reading.