Shapes and Letters
Shapes are everywhere, and we learn to make visual sense of the world by noticing the shapes and patterns around us. This visual skill is important in learning to read because young children will begin to identify shapes and lines that make letters.
Infants don’t see well at first, but within six months they will begin to notice things like shape and color differences. Human faces are the primary focus for early shape learning, so enjoy a rhyme like “Two little eyes to look around, two little ears to hear a sound, one little nose to smell what’s sweet, and one little mouth that likes to eat” with your baby. Infants love faces, and will respond with gleeful smiles and coos.
When reading with infants (or watching them eat the books), look for board books that have clear contrasting picture silhouettes to point out shapes. Authors such as Tana Hoban, Byron Barton, Eric Carle, Lucy Cousins, Rachel Isadora, Annie Kubler, Todd Parr and Leslie Petrocelli all illustrate bold and beautiful books to look for in the board book area. Each of their styles incorporates black outlines with colorful pictures that are easy for baby’s eyes to focus upon.
Toddlers often discover how shapes work by playing with blocks, balls and toys. Eventually, while scribbling, they learn that a line is different from a circle, or a triangle is not a square, and they begin to try to draw shapes on their own. It is better not to get worried, or tense, about teaching shapes or trying to draw the perfect line…just point out shapes you find in their scribbles.
You may enjoy playing “I spy” with your child and finding shapes in your environment. Don’t forget to explore the wonderful world of books! Cuddle up and enjoy playful board books by Herve Tullet which allow toddlers to look through holes, match shapes and find patterns.
For the three to five crowd, you can look at books such as: Shapes that Roll by Karen Nagel, Lines that Wiggle by Candace Whitman, The Squiggle by Carol Lexa Schaefer, or Brown Rabbit’s Shape Book by Alan Baker. There are books that compare shapes and letters: Alphabatics by Suse MacDonald, On Market Street by Anita Lobel, The City ABC Book by Zoran Milich, The Turn-Around Upside-Down Alphabet Book by Lisa Campbell Ernst, or Gone Wild by David McLimons.
Great illustrators of children’s books who use primary shapes in their illustrations or collages are Gerald McDermott, Ed and Rebecca Emberley and Lois Ehlert. Their picture books are perfect for noticing how different shapes can be used in picture book design. You can also introduce your preschooler to visual puzzle books like I Spy Shapes in Art by Lucy Micklethwait, the I Spy series by Walter Wick or Look Alikes by Joan Steiner.
When you pay attention to shapes and point out a variety of objects in your environment, it’s the first step toward learning letter shapes. Before a child begins Kindergarten, she should to be able to identify the shapes of letters, especially the letters in her own name. Your job is to always make it a lovely game. Enjoying your time together while you are learning is the real key to creating a reader.
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Bringing Books to Life
Bringing Books to Life helps educators and parents find fun and innovative ways to inspire children to read.
Elizabeth Atack, Program Coordinator