Interacting with the Alphabet

By: MaryAnn Demchak

Regardless of the severity of the disability, young children of all ages should have the opportunity to interact with and learn about the alphabet. Unfortunately, children with significant disabilities have often had limited exposure to the alphabet. Exposure to the alphabet helps children to learn that letters are part of reading and writing. Initially, it is not necessary for children to learn letter names and sounds, rather it is important to provide children with many opportunities to interact with the alphabet. There are a number of activities that can be used to encourage such interaction.

ABC Books

ABC books can be introduced to children from a young age. There are a large number of ABC books that can be bought at bookstores, discount stores, etc. ABC books are written on a variety of topics that are appropriate for children of various ages. As the books are being read aloud, talk about the letter on the page, "'A' is for apple." Not only do ABC books allow children to interact with the alphabet, they facilitate learning concepts of books (e.g., front to back, top to bottom, left to right, turning pages).

Pages of the book can be adapted so that the letters are presented in a textured format (e.g., using puffy paint, glitter glue, textured wallpaper).

An important consideration when you are buying ABC books is to think about how the letters within the book appear. That is, you want to be sure that the letters are easy to read, not presented in unusual font; not embedded within the pictures in some way that make it difficult to identify the letters. Consider how much easier it is to identify the letter "H" on the beetle page in comparison to the letter "L" on the page to the right. (email MaryAnn Demchak for images for this article).

Write your own ABC Books

In addition to buying ABC books, you can also make ABC books for children or involve children in making their own meaningful ABC books. In making ABC books, you can focus on only a portion of the alphabet to make it meaningful. For example, you could focus only on the letters in the child's name as in the "Bob" book shown to the right. This book was written using photos meaningful to the child (i.e., ball, Oreos, and book). 

You can also create a texture-based book as is the case for 2 pages shown from Ross' name book. Each letter of his name is represented by both a different color and texture (all his preferences).

Other ABC Activity Books

Interactive ABC books that are based around objects and have accompanying story boxes might be of interest to other children. Each page is written in a consistent manner such as “P is for….” Velcro allows you to attach a different word to the page as well as to attach an object to the page. The child can then be engaged with the items in the story box to find the matching object to place on the page. As you are reading aloud, discuss the letter, beginning sound, concepts related to books (e.g., turning pages, etc.), as well as concepts related to items on the page (e.g., pencils are used to write ). 

Alphabet Blocks and Alphabet Socks

Alphabet blocks are introduced to children at a young age. However, some children might have difficulty grasping and manipulating blocks. Alphabet socks might be an alternative.

Other Ideas

Provide children with magnetic letters with cookie sheets or magnetic whiteboards to experiment with "writing" with letters. You can also use ABC sponges and stamps within art activities. 

If you are baking, you can even buy alphabet cookie cutters. As with other ideas in this column, you can focus on only part of the alphabet such as the child’s name or on the entire alphabet.

Be creative; use the alphabet across activities!