Wednesday, November 30, 2011

So wrong... 12 Things We Won't Be Getting Bethany For Christmas

I’ve been looking at the internet lately, trying to think of Christmas present ideas for Bethany.  I haven’t found anything I definitely want to get her, but I have found a few that we will try to avoid.

There are a few 'shocking toy' lists floating round the interwebs.  Initially I was just going to link to another one of these lists, but I found that most of them included toys along the lines of the breastfeeding doll (which... Gasp! might encourage your child to imitate breastfeeding - quick, stop them, they might learn that breasts have a non-sexual, nurturing function) or a cleaning set (which... OMG! Might encourage your child to clean) etc. The fact that so many people are up in arms over children having toys which depict normal, healthy activities that most children probably see every day is probably even more disturbing than the following list.

Although this list is pretty disturbing...

12. Adolf Hitler Doll 

Comes with removable Nazi uniform. 

11. Aqua Dots 

They look innocuous enough. You wet them and they stick together so you can make exciting pixellated pictures.  Only problem is that if you swallow them the chemical coating on the beads turns into the date rape drug gamma hydroxyl butyrate, which can induce seizures, unconsciousness, coma and death. 

 10.  The ‘Laugh A Lot’ Doll 

Creepy, no?  Otherwise known as ‘Chucky’s Psycho Younger Sister’.  
Apparently laughs with maniacal hysterical laughter. 

9. Pee and Poo 

I mean, I know we’ll be doing toilet training in the near future, but this is one step too far for me. 

8. Little Red Riding Hood 

I don’t know what version of Little Red Riding Hood this is, but probably not one sold outside of SexyLand. 

7. Childbirth Barbie 

Yes, childbirth is natural and normal, but this doll definitely is not.  Of course, it would be great for re-enacting scenes out of Alien. (I don't know who manufactures this doll - I suspect it's not technically the actual 'Barbie' brand.)

6. The Sunburnt Village People Doll 

This doll raises more questions than it answers… like: Why is he sunburnt?  And why is there a sad face on his chest?    Unlike some of the others in this list, it’s not creepy and weird.  I just can’t stop wondering: why? 

5. You Can Shave the Baby

Apparently this doll was a work of subversive art from the 1960s, not for realz.  Thank god. 

4. Aspirational T-Shirt

*Sob* I’d be so proud.

3. An Epidermit

This doesn’t just look odd, it is actually made out of genetically engineered human flesh.  Like any other toy made from human flesh, you need to store it in the refrigerator. 

2. Russian Roulette Game 

Don’t worry, kids!  Not real bullets.  You hold it to your head and hippo legs just spring out and smack you in the face when you least expect it.  It’s random – just like real Russian Roulette!  Good to play after Xmas dinner before sitting down as a family to watch The Deer Hunter.

1. Stripper Doll

Style!  Interesting!  Music!  Flash!  Up and Down!  Go Round and Round! 

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Exploring letters with a 1 year old

I realise that teaching letters to a one year old is neither necessary nor mainstream, but it is something I do with Bethany (now 16 months) and I thought I'd do a blog post about how we do it and why.

Other mums seem to have one of several reactions when I talk about it: a) good on you, but I couldn't be bothered; b) oh no, am I a bad mother for not teaching my baby letters?; c) um... why? it's not like she'll understand;  d) you are a pushy parent and you may be damaging your child; and e) but won't she then be bored at school?

So, let me talk about the why and what I understand of the research on this topic.  After that I'll describe some of the ideas I'm trying and why I feel comfortable with these ideas in light of the research, but here's a quick summary response for those who don't want to read through this entire lengthy blog post.


I could find little research on the effects of teaching literacy skills such as letter recognition to very young children.  Most of the research focuses on 3+ yo's.  That said, a couple of points seemed to emerge from the research I did find:

  • young children with more unstructured, experimental play (ie. not sitting down and drilling them with letter worksheets) tend to have statistically better literacy results once they reach school than children who did not have much of this kind of play - it is extremely important to not to neglect this kind of play, it is how children process their world;
  • learning effectively at school requires much more than knowing things like the alphabet - the ability to self-regulate emotions and behaviour and to handle abstract concepts have a big impact, and these skills are not taught through very adult-directed 'educational' activities;
  • the more engaging literacy activities are, the more interested children are, and interest and motivation has a strong predictive effect on literacy skills;
  • literacy ability in early primary school is affected positively by doing activities prior to school that focused on hearing (phonological) and written (visual) letter discrimination; 
  • what is taught in the school classroom accounts for very little of a child's literacy ability; and
  • literacy ability may have a very large genetic component.
In short, fostering letter knowledge certainly doesn't do any harm, but it is only one small factor in later literacy development.  Letter activities can have a damaging effect when they are part of so many structured activities they child has no time to develop through free play, when they make a child feel judged, humiliated or incompetent, or when they create a negative attitude towards literacy activities.

Drawing on this, my approach with letters is to use structured activities with letters as a springboard for unstructured play so that Bethany has the opportunity to explore letters through unstructured play, and the activities invite exploratory play that use all her senses.  All letter play is kept fun and stops as soon as Bethany shows a lack of interest.

The Why

The biggest reason why is that my parents played letter games with me from when I was very young and some of my vivid and most happiest memories of early childhood feature them.  I remember sitting on the kitchen bench when I was about two while my mum was baking bread and talking to her about spelling my name.  I remember my father holding me up over his head so I could reach an alphabet frieze in my room at around the same age, and playing a game of finding the letters and pictures.  I remember having a very serious and satisfying conversation with my three year old kindy friends about the spelling of 'milk', and I remember when my parents brought home some early readers from kindy and asked me if I'd like to learn to read - and I was so excited because I thought that reading was magical.  And as I learned to do it, I fell in love with stories and the ability to dip into them any time I chose at my own will.  

The way my parents approached literacy, it was never a chore.  They never pushed me faster than I could go myself.  My father in particular was so passionate about reading that he read to me at night well into my teens.  By the time I was six he had read me the Chronicles of Narnia, the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, and a many books about classical myths.  I was halfway through the Narnia books myself when I started primary school.  I imagine I didn't read every word, but I read enough that I could follow the stories by myself.  

This was a blessing and a curse at school.  Some teachers took it into their heads that I couldn't possibly be reading at that level, and one made me start with 'Here is a cat' level readers, and another took it upon himself to publicly humiliate me.  On the other hand, being able to read the instructions on a page was an advantage in nearly every school subject.  Instead of struggling through the letters, I could focus on the meaning.  (As for the students, they weren't fussed whether I could read or not).  But how my teachers reacted was in no way as important to me as the intrinsic pleasure I got from reading, and have continued to get from it my entire life.

I play letter games with Bethany because I want her to share some of my joy.  The joy is the focus here, not the skill of recognising letters or being able to read early.  The games we play are fun, and they come easily to me because I remember playing them when I was young.  It is something we can share together - in the same way I imagine that mums who enjoy cooking try to cook with their kids etc.  But I am also conscious that reading was fun for me because when it came time to learn reading, everything already looked so familiar.  I remember that when my parents asked me about trying to read, I was nervous - but my dad said to me: 'You know, I think you already can read.'   And he was right.  The letters just sprang off the page with meaning, and I quickly felt confident that the awesome, magical, mystical business of reading was something I could actually do.

I didn't realise how different my experience was from some other kids until many years later I decided to study Mandarin Chinese at university.  I had no prior knowledge of Chinese whatsoever, and what I found incredibly frustrating was that for months I could not 'see' at a glance how the characters were different, or which characters were which.  It was only after I spent months and months copying 'radicals' (the component symbols of Chinese characters) that the differences started to register for me.  It occurred to me at that point how much of an advantage it was to recognise letters really, really well before you start to read.  

Of course, this does not, by any stretch of the imagination, require them to be taught at 16 months.  But I personally reached the decision that I would teach them to my children before primary school, because my experience of the way they were taught in primary school was using rote learning, endless copying of worksheets, and generally lessons that rarely involved the whole body or all the senses.  I don't think this is a very effective or enjoyable way to learn anything, let alone something as abstract as letters - and for some children might demoralise them and turn them off literacy altogether.  My gut feeling here seems to be supported by the research, which suggests that only 25% of children's print knowledge is attributable to what they learn in the classroom, and 82% of that depends on the kind of interaction they have with their teacher (McGinty et al).  This does suggest to me that what you do at home has a huge impact, and leaving literacy to your child's school teacher might be a bit of a lottery depending on the quality of the teacher, and the teacher's capacity to engage with your child.

As to when we'd do letter games, my answer was that I'd do them when my child responded with interest to them.

The Research

Many of the criticisms surrounding teaching letters to a young child concern putting too much pressure on the child or inhibiting the child from undertaking more creative 'free play'.  

A number of studies have found that the experimental nature of free play helps children to effectively learn key concepts that underpin later learning, such as understanding shapes and space, patterns and numbers found in their surroundings.  Children figure out how things work through play and resolve ambiguities in their understanding that may not be addressed by more adult-structured activities.  Imaginative play develops the ability to handle abstract concepts, perspective taking, creativity, intelligence, memory, language, and literacy.  It is particularly important for developing the ability to manage one's own emotions and behaviour (Fisher et al).  One study in Michigan in the US looked at the effect preschool experiences had on literacy found that certain skills such as letter knowledge are positively affected by time spent in preschool, but that time in preschool had no effect on vocabulary growth.  The ability to self-regulate behaviour and emotions, which is very important for school readiness, was not enhanced by current preschool curriculums which focused on quite directional, structured learning (Skibbe et al).  The ability to handle abstract concepts alone has had a demonstrably strong effect in promoting early literacy and numeracy - as strong as specific training in literacy and numeracy (Pasnak et al).

Research has shown that children who have lots of exposure to child-driven, exploratory, playful learning environments in a warm, encouraging atmosphere showed 'showed superior social behaviors, fewer conduct disorders, enhanced academic performance and retention beyond children who experienced didactic instruction and play-learning' (Fisher et al).  In particular, play should emphasise child driven exploration and foster the child's natural curiousity (Fisher et al).  

It is not surprising that the emotional and behavioural control gained through exploratory play should have such a strong influence on academic ability, when one considers how important these skills are to absorbing knowledge in a school setting.  A study that looked at a child's emotional and behavioural competencies to participate in classroom learning (eg. to sit still, word independently etc.) found that such difficulties had a consistent, significant impact on literacy outcomes (Bulotsky-Shearer and Fantuzzo).  Another study showed that a child's temperament, particularly their attention span, activity level, and level of negative emotionality had a signficant impact on their literacy and numeracy skills (Coplan et al).  However, it's important to note that this study may not reflect the capacity of a child of a particular temperament to learn literacy and numeracy, but rather their capacity to learn it in the current school classroom environment.

In one study, the kind of activities classified as exploratory, child driven play include: using child-sized play sets (like kitchen sets etc), going outside to run around or use a playground, playing with balls and other objects, playing with stuffed toys, playsets, dolls, stuffed animals etc, dressing up, using everyday objects as toys, playing with building blocks, playing with other children, drawing and crafty activities, exploring things inside and outside the house, playgroups, and running around for no particular reason. By contrast, reading, listening to music, going on trips to the library / museum / zoo, coming along on a shopping trip, and doing chores around the house alongside an adult are considered structured, adult-led play.  Things like using flash cards, watching TV, and most electronic toys are obviously structured play. (Fisher et al).

To my mind, this is a bit of a confusing list.  After all, I can sit down with Bethany and provide a very structured environment for playing with a kitchen set by directing all the 'cooking', or she can accompany me while I do the washing and occasionally hand me a peg but mostly run around and amuse herself.  I could be wrong, but I tend to think that while certain kinds of toys lend themselves to exploratory play (paint, for example), and certain kinds of toys lend themselves to structured play (electronic games, for example), for the most part the quality of the play would have to depend on the way the toy is used and the freedom the child is given to initiate exploration as opposed to following directions.  I am baffled as to why exploring around one's house is 'unstructured play', but going to the zoo is 'structured'.  Surely it depends on what you do at the zoo when you get there?

Another ambiguity in the research is as to the interdependency of child-directed and adult-directed play.  Child-directed play may be immensely valuable for developing problem-solving ability and emotional self-control.  But quite a lot of what is classified as child-directed play must necessarily be preceded by an adult exposing a child to certain situations and objects.  I can't imagine a child would make believe they are a fairy unless somewhere, at some point, some adult had exposed them to a story or a picture or some inkling of what a 'fairy' is.  To some extent, I would think that the structured experiences in one life must provide foundation knowledge and skills for undertaking unstructured activities, even though perhaps this knowledge is not effectively processed without being explored through unstructured play.

It is not so much that structured activities are necessarily 'bad', but that a good amount of exploratory, child-driven play is a very good idea, and care should be taken that structured play does not 'crowd out' unstructured play.  It is also easy to overestimate the importance of learning vocabulary, or how to identify shapes and letters etc., because such knowledge is easy to identify and quantify.

Unstructured play may have positive results for literacy, but so do structured activities.  For literacy in particular, phonological processing (the ability to hear and interpret sounds), phonological memory (the ability to memorise sounds and recall them in response to particular stimuli), and visual processing ability play key roles.  But it is not just processing any sounds and images that is important, it is the ability to distinguish between the particular sounds of one's own language and the ability to distinguish between letter-like shapes.  For example, in one study, general visual processing ability was controlled for by a task involving matching patterns using blocks, and a relationship was still found between reading ability and the ability to distinguish between particular letters (Brunswick et al).  

Letter knowledge itself has been found to be one of the most important predictors of subsequent reading ability (Denton & West, Mann & Foy, Molfese et al - ref'd in Brunswick et al).  Brunswick et al also make the point that while phonological awareness is seen as key to early reading, early visual letter work allows children to explore how the sounds and visuals of letters are related - and many studies fail to control for the pre-existing effects of early reading on phonological ability.   There is a strong argument that writing, reading, and letter-naming activities help young children to 'grasp and manipulate language concepts' (Diamond et al quoting argument by Bloodgood), although the age at which this effect has been studied is amongst 3 and 4 year olds.  Appreciation of letters has been argued in one study to be an important precursor to literacy activities such as learning to recognise words, and that this skill is not enhanced by reading stories as children focus on the pictures rather than the print in books (Levy et al).  Writing activities, which involve using the body to engage with the letters, have been found to be particularly important in developing literacy skills (Diamond et al).

My own thoughts are that toddlers these days learn to recognise brand logos and characters like Dora and Elmo from baby age, because this is what jumps out to them from the stimulation they are exposed to.  Kids in a traditional society might learn to recognise different kinds of plants and animals.  I don't think there anything inherently different about learning to recognise different letters.  The question is whether focusing the child's attention on letters is a worthwhile exercise.  I tend to think it is regardless of whether she actually learns the letters any time soon, because talking about letters with Bethany sends the signal to her that I believe they are worth spending time talking about, and having fun with letters gives her the experience that they can be fun.

I also think it stands to reason that children can be responsive to learning some visual language at this age, given that many children (both deaf and hearing) learn visual sign language at much the same rate as a hearing child learns spoken language, provided they are exposed to it. 

Are literacy skills nature or nurture?  I found one twin study on the extent to which literacy skills are hereditable, and was surprised to find that this study tended to lean towards the conclusion that they were substantially influence by genetics.  This study suggested that the extent to which reading, reading comprehension, and spelling is affected by genetics is something in the order of 70%, although for the acquisition of vocabulary it is much lower (around 40%).  This genetic factor appears to be substantially independent of genes which affect general intelligence (Byrne et al).  It should be noted that this study showed more variance from 'nurture' with those twins in a culture where reading was not taught in preschool and differences would be picked up from a home environment, and this variance levelled off once formal literacy tuition started.  If the school environments the separated twins were placed in were substantially similar in their teaching approach, it may be that the lack of variance does not reflect the potential of other teaching approaches to have a significant impact.  It may be that it is not literacy skills which are hereditable, but something more akin to temperament, or the ability to learn literacy skills in a standard school environment.

One fairly recent study found that children's literacy was in a huge part driven by children's interest in literacy.  In particular, children's interest drove more literacy-oriented activities by their mums, and the children were in turn more responsive and more interested (Deckner et al).  This study stated:
"We agree with recent admonishments that highly didactic interactions with very young children are developmentally inappropriate; as Piaget argued, the work of children at this age is play.  Subsequently, we think that literacy efforts that allow children to follow their sense of play will be most successful.  In this light, we suspect that the mothers in the current study who successfully used metalingual utterances to guide their child's attention likely had children who were primed for such interactions by their interests, and that intervention efforts incorporating shared reading should look for ways to promote children's interest in addition to modifying caregivers' behaviour."
Another interesting study looked at the effect between parental discipline styles and reading and language comprehension skills.  The study looked at the difference between 'nondirective' discipline practices that invited a dialogue between the child and the adult (where behavioural issues were seen as shared problem-solving opportunities, and children were offered explanations of why they could not engage in a particular activities) and 'directive' discipline (which emphasises obedience, where parents set all the rules and behavioural issues are seen as needing correction by punishment).  Consistently higher literacy skills were found for parents who used non-directive discipline.  The study proposed three possible reasons for this: firstly, it is likely that parents who engage in dialogue in a discipline context will engage in it in literacy activities and this may promote better understanding; secondly, parents who use non-directive discipline may use it because their child is receptive to it and such a child has the kind of self-regulation that makes them better equipped to learn literacy skills; and thirdly, children who have been raised with non-directive discipline may be more willing to listen to their parents, seeing discussion as an opportunity for learning rather than punishment (Gest et al).

The How

Letters are everywhere.  The very first things I did with her was finding letters when we were out and about.  This was initially because I had a toddler baby to keep entertained while shopping, and pointing out letters was a fun activity that could be done almost anywhere, particularly while waiting in queues.  The 'big blue W' was so much of a winner that I could comfort her on the way to the shopping centre by telling her we'd be going inside to see the big blue W soon.  From about 12 months she loved to match similar objects, so if we found one 'W', then we tried to find another 'W' and another 'W' and so on.  She initially took a particular liking to 'B', 'W', and 'S', so I just ran with that, and ignored all the other letters.

Because she loved finding and matching up letters, I decided she was old enough to get some letter games.

Alphabet in 3D Space

I have an alphabet on the wall using removable vinyl wall stickers that goes around one half of Bethany's room.  When looking for an alphabet wall chart, I wanted something where the letters were easily identifiable.  Finding this was harder than I expected - as there are a lot of artsy fonts or letters covered in pictures or patterns that make the actual letter almost unrecognisable.  This one is actually Australian made and designed (hence, I assume, the K for koala), and has clear pictures and both upper and lower case letters.  It is made by Bright Star Kids, and while at $59.95 it is a toy that is not super cheap, it will provide hours of entertainment for years to come, and unlike pieces of paper I have previously sticky-taped to her wall, she does not rip them off.  I am comfortable I have already got my money's worth.

Standing on her mattress with the alphabet wall stickers.

The advantage of wall stickers over a book or even a wall chart is that I could create something free flowing that really gets Bethany moving in the space, and which can be redesigned if it ever gets boring.  The wave pattern I have used here shows the alphabet is a sequence but it also gets her reaching up high, crouching down low, looking around and moving up and down the length of the room.  This is great for a toddler who loves to move about and who is learning to navigate the 3D world.

There is so much information in the wall stickers, though, that I tend to only do up to 3 letters at one time.  Otherwise it gets a bit boring and repetitive.  But with three letters we can talk about what sounds the objects make, the shape of the letters, the colours, act out concepts etc.  With K for koala, for example, we did lots of cuddling her stuffed koala toy and making the connection.  The idea is that the letter provides a springboard for communication and some games, not that I expect her to correctly identify letters.  I do say: 'Can you see the Y?' but if she's unsure or gets it wrong, I just cheerfully say, 'Oh, you found an Z for Zebra.  See this one over here?  Here's a Y!  Y for yo-yo.'  (At which point she does the cutest version of 'wro-wro' imaginable.  I point to Y a lot just to hear her say 'wro-wro'.)  If she's not interested, she wanders away and does something else.  If it starts to get a bit serious I initiate something more fun like a tickling game.  I don't want her to feel any pressure.  And one of the nice things about doing letters early is that there is absolutely zero pressure.  I'm not worried that she has to keep up at school, or pass NAPLAN tests.  So what if she doesn't recognise the letter J for another 4 years?  It doesn't matter.

Occasionally I sing the alphabet and point at the letters, but not much.  She's not very interested in the song, and I don't think it's all that useful until you're learning to put things in alphabetical order.  Until then, I reckon all it teaches you is that 'elemenopee' is a word.

Alphabet puzzle with 3D letters to manipulate

Essentially, this activity is a shape sorter.  I picked it up for $10 at the Nightcliff Post Office.  Bethany is right at the age where she loves shape sorters.  When she does this puzzle she gets to feel the letters in her hands, engaging with their shape using multiple senses.  The nature of a shape-sorting puzzle draws her attention to the shape.  However, this is as much a fine motor activity and an exercise in matching as it is about letters.  The letters are incidental.  This puzzle is reasonably fiddly - too fiddly for her to do without some assistance - so I am on hand to help when she gets really stuck.

Lower-case wooden letter puzzle.

However, what I like about it more than most of the other alphabet puzzles I've seen, including easier ones with knobs, is that the puzzle pieces are exactly the shape of the letters, not abstract blobs with the letters painted on.  This means that she really feels the shape of the letters.  She feels that some of them can be worn on her fingers like 'rings'.  She is fascinated by the way a 'w' can become an 'm' when turned upside down, and because this is a lower case puzzle, p's and d's and q's are also very similar.

She will usually do the puzzle for a while then initiate other activities, like putting all the letters in a bag and shaking it to hear the sound it makes.

Putting the letters into a bag - is this not the cutest outfit ever?

These days, every object is turned into a phone and put to her ear with an: 'Arro!' and letters are no exception.  So I run with this, and when (for example) she hands an 'm' to me I say something like, 'An m phone!  Wow, that must be an m phone for mum.  Is it a phone for me?  Can we call a marvellous mouse on this phone?'  I put it to my ear and say,  'Hello, marvellous mouse!  I might mumble, emm, emm, emm...'

I also try and mix activities together, so I might pick up a letter from the puzzle and say, 'Hey look, it's a Y.  Can you see a Y on the wall?  Can you put this Y with the other Y for Yo-Yo?'

Matching the wooden 'y' with the 'y' on the wall.

I keep the puzzle in a clip-seal bag and we put away all the letters when we've finished with it, because otherwise they will be captured by the block-sucking black hole that apparently exists in my house.

Squishable, Edible Letters

I found this box of cookie cutters, which includes shapes, letters, numbers, holiday shapes etc.  It was a bit pricy at about $45, but I figure it can be used for everything from making cookies to playing with playdough to tracing and other crafty things for many years to come.

I made a batch of cookie dough - I kept the sugar and butter quantity fairly low, used rapadura sugar (as it has actual nutrient value), and replaced about a quarter of the flour called for with almond meal.  Once I rolled it out, I got Bethany to help me find the letters and to cut out the cookies in letter shapes.  Mostly at this stage she can help me press the letters down, but the rest is a bit fiddly.  Unfortunately, I couldn't let her really play with the cookie dough as it contained raw eggs and she just wanted to eat it.  While the cookies were cooking, I sliced some apple thinly and cut out some letters out of the apple slices.  I found this worked better when the slices were about 2ml thick, as the apple wasn't strong enough when thinner, though I imagine this relates to the brand of apple you use.

Bethany then got to play with the letters, rearrange them on some plastic plates, and eat them.  Here are two photos taken before cookie crumbs and plates went everywhere:

The ever-popular letter 'B'.

Yummy letters!

It was interesting some of the ways she spontaneously explored the letters.  She picked up a 'Q' and showed me and said 'O' - and I said: 'That's a Q.  It's like an O but it's actually a Q' and pointed at the extra bit that protrudes on the Q.  So she ate that bit and looked delighted and showed me and again declared 'O'.  Then she ate some more and was fascinated to see the 'O' turn into a 'C'.

Afterwards, we had more letter fun with washing up, by which I mean Bethany takes all the dishes I have already washed, holds them under a tap, plays with a sponge, and tips water everywhere.  Running water play is one of the luxuries of living in the tropical north of Australia.

I wish we had a learning tower or similar 'safe stool' for her to stand on, but can't quite bring myself to pay so much for it, or buy something that large that has to stand in the middle of my kitchen and can't be packed away.  I have been looking into options to make one or import a Kitchen Helper from the US, but more on that another day.

Basically, there is a lot of fun you can have with letters, although what you will notice about all these ideas is that none of them involves expecting a toddler to keep still, pressure to identify letters correctly is kept low, and the structured activities lead into opportunities for unstructured, exploratory play.  The priority is to developing a positive relationship with letters and to encourage exploration and play second - developing actual familiarity with the letter shapes and sounds as a third priority.

I didn't find any research on the effectiveness of teaching young children about letters, but I will say that my experience here is that Bethany is learning them.  She can accurately point to about half the letters in the alphabet about 80% of the time, and now that she has started speaking, some of her favourite letters (particularly 'O' 'A' 'B' and 'Yo-yo') are some of her first words.

And finally, a cute story...

Each afternoon after work I have been trying to go for a walk with Bethany.  On the way, we usually pass a number of road signs.  She is particularly taken with the one that says 'Mindil Beach' as the first word begins with a 'Mum' as she calls an 'M' and the second with a 'B' (for Bethany and Baby etc).  We go up to it and she points at the letters she doesn't know and asks me what they are.  We found the 'I's with the dots', and the 'e for egg' and the 'a for ant' (which was a good one given there were ants crawling all over the sign).  

Then she pointed to the 'l' and I said 'l for lion grrr', which she looked moderately confused about.  She pointed to it again and I said 'l for love'.  She looked at me, her face lit up, and then she gave me a big cuddle and kiss - which is a good reminder that no matter how much fun letters are, there are other things to learn which are far more important, but playing with letters does not have to get in the way of those other important things.


Brunswick et al, 'Early cognitive profiles of emergent readers: a longitudinal study' (2012) 111 Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 268 (yes, I know it's still 2011, but I assume the ref is for the upcoming issue of the journal)

Bulotsky-Shearer and Fantuzzo, 'Preschool behavior problems in classroom learning situations and literacy outcomes in kindergarten and first grade' (2011) 26 Early Childhood Research Quarterly 61

Byrne et al, 'Genetic and environmental influences on aspects of literacy and language in early childhood: Continuity and change from preschool to Grade 2' (2009) 22 Journal of Neurolinguistics 219

Coplan et al, 'The Role of Child Temperament as a Predictor of Early Literacy and Numeracy Skills in Preschoolers' (1999) 14(4) Early Childhood Research Quarterly 537.

Deckner et al, 'Child and maternal contributions to shared reading: Effects on language and literacy development' (2006) 27 Applied Developmental Psychology 31

Diamond et al, 'Development in early literacy skills during the pre-kindergarten year in Head Start: Relations between growth in children's writing and understanding of letters' (2008) 23 Early Childhood Research Quarterly 467.

Fisher et al, 'Conceptual split?  Parents' and experts' perception of play in the 21st century' (2008) Vol 29  Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology  305

Gest et al, 'Shared book reading and children's language comprehension skills: the moderating role of parental discipline practices' (2004) 19 Early Childhood Research Quarterly 319.

Levy et al, 'Understanding print: Early reading development and the contributions of home literacy experiences' (2006) 93 Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 63.

McGinty et al, 'Does context matter? Explicit print instruction during reading varies in its influence by child and classroom factors' (2012) 27 Early Childhood Research Quarterly 77. (another 2012 ref!)

Pasnak et al, 'Promoting early abstraction to promote early literacy and numeracy' (2009) 30 Journal of Applied Devleopmental Psychology 239.

Skibbe et al, 'Schooling effects on preschoolers' self-regulation, early literacy, and language growth' (2011) 26 Early Childhood Research Quarterly 42.