When do you think children begin to acquire language? 12 months? 18 months? 3 years old?
Are you shocked to learn that language acquisition actually begins right at birth and even before? Babies’ first cries are their earliest verbal communication to their caregivers and they have been listening and reacting to sound for many months before inside the womb. Those early cries will faster than your tired eyes can blink turn into babbles and words. And before you know it, you have a fully conversing little one who can tell stories well beyond bedtime. The best preschooler stories come about 15 minutes after bedtime in our experience as parents of four little ones.
But back to our topic at hand, if you have landed here likely you know have curiosity about alphabet blocks, educational toys, and generally giving that little cuddle bug the very best start at learning and growing. Creating an environment where your little one is organically surrounded by words and letters is a wonderful. It creates an opportunity to maximize their natural exposure to early literacy foundations. And in turn will jumpstart a long and impactful journey of learning. A home library of books is a great place to start. A few of our very favorites can be found here, alphabet blocks are a complementary and rather powerful tool for learning and development as well.
Language Development Through Alphabet Blocks: What to Avoid
The most impactful tools for little ones should never be used for skill and drill type techniques. Better explained, it is a caregivers natural instinct to hold up a block and name the letter, moving down the alphabet and across the pile to “build the child’s knowledge”. Very few children will respond this skill and drill type teaching. Another activity we caution parents to avoid is the 21 questions game. “What is this and what is this one? And this one? You know this one, Whats this?”. This rapid recall test and showcasing the long list of things your little one knows feels so good! But there is plenty of time for tests and assessment in their life ahead, so we try to avoid it as a regular teaching technique.
Enough about the ways to avoid. Now we will discuss the incredible ways we recommend you do use alphabet blocks for play and growth with your little one!
Language Development with Alphabet Blocks: Organic ways to play
Follow your child’s lead as they play with blocks. Stacking, sorting, lining up, putting in containers and dumping are what you will see most in the early weeks of play. This play which we call “Open Ended Play” is core to development for young ones. Comment on what they are doing and narrate your own actions. For example, “I see you put the block with an H on top”. Or “The T block as a picture of a tree, that is interesting!”. There is no formal or overt teaching happening, just giving language and naming the actions that are happening around them. This form of conversation and narration is teaching more than a quiz game or name this letter game. Its authentic, in context, and modeling more complex communication skills around the simple skill building exercise.
It may take some practice for this to come naturally to you. Thats okay, I promise your baby isn’t judging you.
With young toddlers practice quick exchange turn-taking where control and power is handed back and forth quickly between players. With younger toddlers build towers together taking turns adding a block on the stack. For older children, take turns spelling out words, playing a 20-Questions Guessing Game with picture on the block (details on how to play in the next section). These “exchanges of power” support kids to develop their ability to take turns, later share materials, resources, and time and collaborate and work together. These core skills are the foundations of friendships and other social and interpersonal skills across social settings. And it can all begin with a set of 26 blocks.
Alphabet Block Play For the Big Kids
An ABC block set can be used for years beyond toddlerhood. Big kids can work on sounding out words, spelling, and with several different games and activities using ABC letter blocks. More overt and direct style teaching becomes more developmentally attune as your little one reaches the window of 3-7 years old. A few of our favorite learning and literacy games with blocks for bigger kids are outlined below.
1- Sound out the CVC word: Words like CAT, PAN, TIN, HAT, SET can be set-up and children can sound out and blend the sounds together. Teacher pro-tip is to encourage the sound without added endings. When sounding out HAT the H should be a sound like you are huffing after exercise and not “ha” (its harder than it seems!).
2- Spell the word you hear: Again with the CVC words, say a word and work together form a few options to spell out the word.
3- 20 Questions Guessing Game: Choose a block and play a game of 20-questions to figure out which picture the turn taker is holding. Great questions to model are “Is it alive?” “Do we eat it?” “Have you ever seen one?”.
4- Block picture charades: Draw a block from a basket and act out the word you drew. This can get very silly and very tricky, so depending on the ages of the kids you may need to fold in a few “free questions” a la 20-questions style game to narrow things down.
When we first opened our store we went on a quest for an alphabet block set that passed a long list of requirements. It needed to be natural wood with a non-toxic finish. Next, including all or at least most of teh follwoing: both upper and lower case letters, words and shapes from nature (it was a tall order!). This quest lead us to Ukrainian brand, Sabo Concept. We have fallen in love with their entire line of blocks, toys, and stackers. The link below will route you to purchase your own set of alphabet blocks to get the literacy learning and fun started.