When babies are born they rely on their sense of smell, touch and hearing until they are 8 months old. It is during this time that they their sense of vision has almost developed as an adults. With vision being a new sense, they are inquisitive and constantly grabbing and trying to understand what the object is.
Every image the baby encounters is new and it will be explored. This inquisitive nature is the first step in developing the connection to associate an object with a function and ultimately a word. When the baby encounters a new object it has no meaning, it is simply a form. Through repetitive exploration the form begins to have context of function. For example, a baby picks up a cup and puts it in her mouth. She continues to play and see her parents drink from a cup. It now has a purpose and use. In a short time the young child is able to identify the image of a cup in a picture, its function, and may even be able to say the name. The initial experience with the cup reinforces its name, familiarity and function. The key word here is “function” – the cup has a function.
The same can be said about when children encounter the alphabet. At first, the letter has no meaning and is nothing more than a meaningless form. The young child must first make an association between the letter and its function. This may be difficult for a child to do because although they may be able to hold a foam letter, it really doesn’t offer a function for the letter other than being a chew toy. It isn’t until children begin to read that the true function of a letter takes place. Therefore, it requires more effort for children to learn the alphabet.
Parents are encouraged to help build these connections by introducing letters with tangible associations, such as “A” is for apple because it creates a function which they can build on their experiences of letter recognition. This is the first step to help the child grasp the concept of words through object and alphabet associations. Because they are being exposed to a variety of experiences during this process they are able to apply the learned information later to help them read.
Classes such as the Motherhood Center’s Alphabooks is designed to introduce the child to the alphabet through multi-sensory activities and other early literacy avenues to strengthen letter recognition. Furthermore, because the class is in a parent-child format, the parent also benefits by learning the methodologies to reinforce the instruction at home. Ultimately whether a parent chooses to enroll their child in a class or teach them at home, one thing is for sure – combining letters to objects is the best way to build the connections of the alphabet and life long interest to read.