Friday, June 1, 2012


Every child needs a good set of letters to play with. These are wooden ones from the Melissa and Doug See & Spell set. (I've mentioned them before in a previous post.) Big L likes taking out his letters and just playing by himself. Sometimes he makes words, or matches the letters. On this day, I noticed that he put the letters in alphabetical order, something we haven't done in quite a while. It got me thinking...

Just about every parent teaches her child the ABC song. Why? Why is it important that they know how to put the letters in order? Sure, it's obvious why they need to know how to identify the letters and sounds in order to learn how to read, but why is order important? The letters of the alphabet seem to be be arranged arbitrarily anyways. 
  1. Memorization - It is easier to memorize a bunch of things if there is a particular order to them. That's why pneumonic devices are so common. Our brains need to make order of things in order to commit them to memory. If you chunk up the ABC song by phrases, there are seven (abcdefG hiJK lmnoP qrS tuV wX YandZ), consistent with the magic number of things that our brains can remember. (Well, the number that most people can remember. Big L has memorized the names and numbers of all 173 cars that he owns. I believe there is something wrong with his brain.)
  2. Life Skills - If you were born before 1930, you may still use a phonebook, which is arranged in alphabetical order. Or, if you are technologically savvy (which I am assuming you are since you are reading this blog), you use your knowledge of alphabetical order to locate files on your computer. Your contacts on your iPhone and music on iTunes are also organized in ABC order. We use alphabetical order every day, and since it is so ingrained in our minds, we don't even realize that we are using it. 
  3. Work & Study Skills - Folders, files on the computer, the glossary and index of a book, and the dictionary are all organized in abc order. Not knowing the order of the alphabet can certainly interfere with one's ability to function in the workplace or locate needed information. 
With this said, why do we teach children the order of the alphabet at such a young age? (My son knew it at 18 months old, for goodness sake!) Are children asked to recite their ABC's on the first day of kindergarten? No. (Though, they will be asked to identify upper and lower case letters out of order.) The only reason I can think of is that children under the age of 5 have minds like sponges. So, let's fill their heads up with as much information as possible BEFORE they start grade-school. Everything becomes harder to learn after the age of 5, and infinitely harder after bearing children and developing "mommy brain." (Can I hear an AMEN?) 

Take out those letters (buy or make some if you don't have any) and get your child to practice putting them in order. If they already know how to do that, then make it more difficult by asking them to put them in order backwards, or by giving them words to put in order. Most importantly, teach them WHY this skill is important. Children learn better if they know why they are learning a skill. 

Side note: L was just reading over my shoulder, ran into the other room, and brought back an ABC book to read. Kids pay attention to EVERYTHING that you do, even if you don't think they notice!

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