Friday, February 25, 2011

W, X, Y for Yak, Z!

The first things out of your mouth in the morning, what are they?

Mine are normally a groan, a groggy and yawning sigh. Stumbling down the hall to get Annika. Feed her once more before releasing the dragon taming bunny keeper from his big boy bed.

The first words out of his mouth? They're different every day. Sometimes a delighted "MOM!" as if he's surprised to see me again? Sometimes he immediately asks to read the fourth book I declined to read him the evening before. He didn't forget. He probably drifted to sleep staring at it the night before. Sometimes it's something truly odd, like a request to finger paint before breakfast.

This week, he woke up with snippets of ABC's floating around in his head. I was delighted to hear him repeat "ABC" and a string of letter-like imposter sounds, punctuated with a sing-song "W, X, Y for Yak, Z!"

I haven't tried to teach my little guy his ABC's. He just turned two, it didn't feel necessary, and I assumed that at some point he'd pick them up naturally - as he has with most things. I'm not big into flash cards (though I know they have merit when used appropriately), and I just want to enjoy a learning lifestyle before I pitch him head first into curricula and worksheets with big letters and tracing and all that jazz.

But his funny little alphabet got me excited. With the exception of a delightful Kiboomu alphabet app, everything Soren knows about letters he learned from alphabet books. Apparently it's sticking! I'm looking for new alphabet books to put into our permanent rotation. I feel like I'm just putting more fuel on a fire that he lit on his own.

I thought I'd share a few ideas for other parents of wee ones for how to make the most - in a sneaky "hidden veggies" way - from alphabet books.

  • Sound it out! - For example, "A to Z of Animals, a Wildlife Alphabet" famously lists every letter and an example, "Y is for Yak". I embellish with basic phonics, "B is for b-b-butterfly" and "Y is for y-y-yak."
  • Get into the details - So Soren doesn't think that the bright blue thing on the page is a "b-b-butterfly", I follow up with questions. What color is the butterfly? B is for blue butterfly!
  • Trace the letter - I read slowly enough that I know I can draw attention to the big "B" on the page, following the shape of the letter with my forefinger. I don't need him to do the same. All I need is for him to realize that the symbol on the page is connected to the word below, and that that word describes the picture, the thing. I don't need him to have the coordination to do the same, and I don't need or want him to try to write it. At some point he'll recognize the letter, and like an old friend, be excited to see it out and about.
  • Embellish - add what isn't there. Name more things that start with the letter B, like something in the bedroom? A ball? A bed? A blanket? Recall other favorite animals and add them as well. D can be for dolphin and for dog! What magic!
  • Diversify - while there are animal alphabet books in abundance, who doesn't love a change once in a while? A few of our favorites below!
  • Recap - even when you're not reading together, throw out an open-ended "Y is for..." and see what you get! Sometimes it'll be the wrong letter, and that's okay! Clarify, encourage, and praise the effort!

Firefighters make everything awesome. Especially the alphabet. This is a beautiful book that I hope will come live with us someday. For now, we just drool over it at the library on a regular basis.

"A to Z of Animals, a Wildlife Alphabet" was a budget find at a Borders books. I think it's worth its weight in gold. It's a large format book, great for several little ones to sit on laps and snuggle up next to and soak in the beautiful illustrations. It's simple, but draws in little readers and holds their attention long enough to trace letters, stripes and spots.

Food is possibly the easiest thing for toddlers to connect with, and I love this one because it gives us an opportunity to say "we haven't tried that one yet", look at it at the grocery store, and bring it home. I love Lois Ehlert's bold style!

Jerry Pallotta has an extensive collection of alphabet books. Looking forward to reading many of them - courtesy of our public library.

This one lives in our car. Any time I anticipate a hopelessly long wait somewhere, it saves the day. It's more of a picture book than a dictionary. I let Soren pick a starting place and we pore over the pictures, talk about what George is doing, and discuss colors and numbers and all sorts of wonders. My son is a Curious George addict, and this book is a real treat.

I'd highly recommend the Metropolitan Museum of Art's "Museum ABC" for a child slightly older than my two-year-old. He enjoyed it, and it passed the "twice in one day" test, but there is so much wonder and beauty in this masterpiece, he was only able to absorb so much. I'm certain we'll bring it with us someday when he's old enough to visit this famous museum and play a little game of "I spy."

Finally, I know it's another animal-themed alphabet book, but this is a book I enjoyed reading every time I was asked to do so. During the week it visited with us, I read it many, MANY times. Delightful rhyming quartets taught Soren important animal names like "narwhal" and "quetzal." It's a winner for sure.


  1. Wonderful tips. I must check out Eating the Alphabet, that book just LOOKS yummy! My nearly 2 year old also is a George addict and I'm sure Curious George's Dictionary would go over well here.

    Some other books by Stella Blackstone:

    Alligator Alphabet - Good because it includes both upper and lower case letters and bright cheery illustrations.

    African Animals ABC - Nice large format size. It has Z is for z-z-zebra's but also many animals you don't typically find in children's books.

    Zoë and her Zebra - I'm personally not a huge fan of this book. Too me it seems "scary" but maybe when my little guy gets older we will appreciate it. I know others who really love it.

  2. Thanks so much for these fantastic suggestions! I'm adding them to our library list and hope to get our hands on them! The magic of African animals certainly can't be beat for sure! Such fun!

  3. Fantastic tips! And I love all of these alphabet books, many I hadn't heard of before so I'll have to check them out.

    On a very happy note...Congratulations! You are one of the winners for the month of February. What does that mean? That means I'm sending you a brand new copy of A Sick Day with Amos McGee. All I need is for you to email me with your mailing address. Here's my email: the1stdaughter at gmail dot com

    Congrats again!

  4. Woo Hoo!!! I didn't even know I was in the running for winning something! AWESOME! Emailing you now! (Sorry it took so long. My life exploded all over and I'm just now picking up last week's pieces!) Thank you, The1stDaughter!