When Greysen spends 45 minutes or so playing with cornmeal, cups, and spoons, I revel in her play. Without suggestion, interruption, or lesson, I know she’s learning.
Open-ended play and materials allow for the creativity and engagement that I know provide children with an ideal context for learning. As children age, it’s common for them to become interested in specific ideas and concepts. Greysen has become interested in just such ideas, namely symbols and the cycle of life. How can I encourage this type of open-ended play with more factual information, such as the alphabet?
Setting up the environment to draw her into play is key to her self-engagement. If the room is littered and it is difficult to locate her things, ideas are prematurely cut short by distractions as she looks for just the right tool/toy to make her idea really come alive.
Useful Availability of the Alphabet
So, I debated for a bit how to include literacy materials into our environment without the specific agenda of learning the alphabet in a sequence. My purpose in introducing visible words and letters into her environment is for accessibility based on questions she has asked and interest she has shown.
Setting aside learning the uppercase or lowercase debate for now, my first concern was, how can Greysen have access to letters that can be held in-hand and therefore used in play? I’ve included the alphabet in our block play, and you can see how we started with just two letters here.
Rockin’ Alphabet Set
I like the idea of this alphabet set because Greysen is familiar with rocks and has developed ideas for how they can be used. In this way, the alphabet just comes along for the ride. I painted ours with acrylic paint, and I prefer the black rocks with a light color as the other letters disappear when the rocks are wet. I’d still like to paint a few more letters so she can spell things out when the time comes.
Felt Alphabet Set
This felt set made by MiChiMa is quite beautiful. I cannot, however, project how Greysen would involve them in her play. Then again, when I do think I have an idea of how she may use something, she often surprises me by doing something completely differently.
Wooden Alphabet Blocks
These wooden blocks are available through a seller on Etsy. I think their simplicity is beautiful and their dual purpose as actual blocks make them inviting to play with in more than one way. We also have letters in our block play as I talked about here.
Foam Alphabet Set
These are advertised as bathtub toys. The varied colors throw me off a bit, but I could see these potentially being of use outdoors in a mud pie kitchen or near a water table/pretend play area. I’m still undecided on these.
Peg Doll Alphabet Set
This idea from No Time For Flashcards is so exemplary of materials that promote learning through play. Acutely aware of every difference and detail, I can imagine that Greysen will immediately spot the letters on these dolls. Greysen predominately spends her time engaged in pretend play, so adding some simple symbols to play that she already does may be another useful emergent step to connecting her interest to facts.
In what ways do your children have access to the alphabet? Is it something that was in your environment when they were very young, or was it something that was added with purpose or at their interest?