In our earlier blog article on Learning the A to Zs, we focused on learning the letter shapes without the need for writing drills *yet*. Now, we want to share more about learning the letter shapes using 3D (yes, 3-dimensional!) teaching materials. We call these “concrete” teaching materials – concrete in that these are solid objects that the child can touch, handle and move around in 3D spaces, in contrast to 2-dimensional letters written or printed on paper.
Such tools help children to learn the shapes of the letters much better because they can hold and feel the shapes with their hands, which provides tactile input. They can be guided to orientate the letters correctly, which is especially needful for lowercase English letters as many of them are very similar, just orientated differently.
Tips: When choosing letters to buy, look out for:
Clear letter shapes (no squiggly “a”s and “g”s or verticals that are too short (eg. b and h)
A differentiation between the front and back of the letter to help your child orientate the letters correctly.
Magnetic letters are more versatile as you can use them on surfaces like whiteboards or your fridge.
Letter shapes are squiggly (eg. 'a', 'g')
Differentiation between the front and back of a letter
Different types of letters you can purchase:
1) Plastic letters – these plastic letters were what many of us parents grew up with. They usually come in rainbow colours and have little pieces of magnets attached at the back. However, we don’t like these as much as the little magnets can fall out and accidentally get swallowed by children (but they are rather affordable)! Alternatively, you can find non-magnetic ones which are safer for younger children. Children aged 4 and up will probably love these plastic letter beads for lacing, but do remind them that these are not candy.
2) EVA (Ethylene-vinyl acetate) foam letters – these have become increasingly common and can come magnetized on one side. They are light but durable, and although one downside is that they can get stained with ink or food, the foam is washable! They can come in an assortment of colours, though we use blue (consonant) and red (vowel) magnetized letters in our Early Learning Programme.
3) Wooden letters – Letters made of thick wood are usually the hardiest and heaviest IF you buy the ones for children’s use and not for craft use. The latter tend to be thinner and have poorer finishing – read “splinters”. Such letters are also more costly, on a per letter basis, than plastic or EVA foam letters. They can come painted or unpainted. Letters painted on one side are better as you can then tell which is the front of the letter, and which is the back. However, do look out for flaking paint! Most wooden letters are not magnetized, though we found a magnetized set here.
We will be sharing an idea in the coming weeks to DIY your own 3D letters – keep your eyes peeled on our social media updates!