Think about how many fonts you have access to on your computer. Between books, magazines, posters, and signs, how many more fonts do you see in one day? While these types all look different, there is enough of a similarity between them to make it possible to recognize one letter across multiple fonts (at least until you get to Wingdings — does anyone really use those?).
In order to be capable readers in the world around them, children eventually need to be able to recognize letters across a variety of fonts as well. While I would always recommend first introducing letters in a simple font, as a child becomes familiar she can examine a variety of fonts to find what salient qualities makes a “T” a “T” and a “B” a “B”, no matter how many extra curls are attached.
One way to do this is by pointing out — or even collecting — environmental print. These are in the labels and sinage all around you. Finding the “H” on the Home Depot sign, the “X” on the box of Chex in the morning, and the “P” on the stop sign across the street. Point them out, cut them out, or snap a picture. Collecting and comparing these letters in discussions, on a wall, or in a book increases meaning while also building letter recognition across fonts.
Another is to do a letter sort. In a cloth bag I put letters printed in a variety of fonts as well as some picture cards (to increase phonetic connections as well). Across the top of the two sorting areas I place the standard type for the letter (I use Print Clearly from dafont, an online warehouse for free fonts), crossing the letters out to indicate the area for letters that “are not ____”. As you go through this first as a guided activity, you can talk about basic shape of the letter, tracing over it with your finger, drawing it in the air, or writing it in salt. Comment on the similar structure in the other fonts, and identify the rogue letters as you sort them to the “other” pile.
Once a child is familiar with the activity, it could also be used as a center activity or other independent practice. You could also do the activity, sorting two letters in a variety of fonts (B’s and G’s, for example) rather than an is/is not model.
As a bonus, your child not only builds a firmer familiarity with each letter, but the act of sorting objects also strengthens cognition and early math skills.
So fire up your printer, create some simple letter cards, and get started!
What’s your favorite way to build alphabet awareness?
Top photo by DaraKero_F.
My girl’s favourite way to do this is to use the letters from logos on empty cardboard boxes. She has been enjoying sorting them into different letter groups (ie these are all the letter A, even though they are capital and little letters, and different fonts), and is just starting to make simple words with them. I wrote about the ‘letter box’ here: http://playtalklearn.com/2011/08/the-letter-box/
Oh, I love that! What a perfect example. Thanks for sharing!
Great ideas, Amanda! This also applies to numerals (be prepared to explain why “4s” can be written with closed OR open tops!). And I would encourage everyone to involve the kids as much as possible in finding the samples. Giving kids something to “hunt” for, even letters and numerals, is so self-motivating for them! And go ahead and let them make mistakes…as they keep collecting more samples, sorting, and displaying them, they’ll eventually spot their own errors and pull out the letters/numerals that don’t belong (or another child will point it out, if there’s a group). If you’re concerned that they won’t catch on, then add some examples with simple fonts to the mix, ask a question or two to help them focus on the similarities and differences, and have them trace the letters/numerals with their fingers. Young children’s minds naturally look for patterns and categories, so they’ll catch on quickly!
Thanks again, Amanda!
Great suggestions, Kathy! Numerals can be just as tricky! That’s part of what I like about the number collage I shared here. It shows so many different examples (including the crossed 7, which is how I write it :0) It would be fun to go on a similar photo scavanger hunt and make your own collage or book with the kiddos. Thanks for sharing your ideas!