Alphabet knowledge is the single best predictor of later reading and writing success
Knowing this, we then need to ask how do we teach the alphabet?
Is there an “ideal” order of teaching the alphabet? Click here to learn more.
Should we be teaching Upper Case (capital letters) first OR Lower Case letters first OR BOTH at the same time?
I’ve always taught lower case letters of the alphabet first (and upper case/capitals as they cropped up….in proper nouns/names). Once a child knew the lower case letters then I’d target upper case, to ensure they knew both. My reasoning behind this was/is that its far more important that kids know lower case letters when learning to read.But, what does the research say? And, therefore what is best practice?
There is actually very little evidence that one method should be prioritised over the other. So, Ive put together a list of interesting facts to keep in mind. The two best published articles Ive found are listed at the end of this post.
11 facts about upper case and lower case letters of the alphabet.
Younger children (preschool age) know more upper case letters than lower case
Lower case knowledge tends to lag behind the acquisition of upper case letters
Younger kids (4-5yrs) show a distinct preference for writing in upper case
The advantage of upper case over lower case diminishes as kids get older, certainly by the age of 6 or 7yrs
Upper case letters have a more simple visual structure and are easier to recognise and write
Upper case letters tend to be common in environmental print, so younger kids are exposed to plenty of upper case letters eg titles, signs, advertising, alphabet books, toys, its the first letter letter in people’s names
The 8 easiest (most common) upper case letters for 4yr old kids to recognise/name are O, X, T, S, M, A, B & I (Worder & Boetcher,1990)
The 7 easiest lower case letters for 6yr olds kids to recognise/name are o, k, c, t, x, y, r (Worder & Boetcher, 1990)
There is absolutely NIL research saying that boys or girls have an advantage or strength over the opposite sex when it comes to letter recognition
Children’s alphabet knowledge, from the same preschool, can differ by an average of 25 letters (14 uppercase and 13 lowercase) (Piasta, 2014)
Children’s alphabet knowledge, from the same kindergarten class, can vary on average by 11 letters (5 uppercase and 6 lowercase) (Piasta, 2014)
I’ve attached the list of the order in which most kids learn the upper case and lower case letters below.
When you start looking, you might be surprised by just how often Upper case lettering is used. Check out these examples…
What does all this mean?
If your children are in preschool, generally its easier for them to recognise and write upper case letters but, I’d be teaching both and associating the upper case letter with its lower case counterpart at the same time.
There are loads of posters, placemats, jigsaws and games that show both upper and lower case letters, or require kids to match the upper case with the corresponding lower case letter.
We have lots of alphabet products in store and online.
The bean bags and the bean bag flipper are heaps of fun for example.
Explain that the “big”/”capital”/”upper case” letters are for important things like headings, signs, the first letter in someone’s name etc.
I love the Educational Bricks as they clearly separate the Upper case letters (on yellow bricks) from the lower case (white bricks). Perfect for kids making their name and learning to use upper case for the first letter.
If your children are older then it becomes far more critical that they know all the lower case letters of the alphabet
We also have some fabulous products that help children learn how to write both upper case and lower case letters….
Many phonics programs use lower case letters for this age group, such as Ants in the Apple.
When school age children come to our centre for tutoring we FOCUS on knowledge of lower case letter sounds. You can read and see how we do this here.
If children have poor fine motor, there is quite a sound argument though for focusing on practicing upper case letters to improve handwriting
Hope you have picked up a few useful tips.
From Worder and Boetcher (1990) Worder, P & Boetcher, W (1990) Young Children’s Acquisition of Alphabet Knowledge, Journal of Reading Behaviour: 277-295 Piasta, S (2014)
Moving to Assessment Guided Differentiated Instruction to Support Young Children’s Alphabet Knowledge. The Reading Teacher, May 202-211