After writing part 2 I realised I’d left off a key part of the reason why The Alphablocks works well to teach children the alphabet, and another example of something that does the same thing.
That is CHARACTERISATION.
Each of the Alphablocks has a different character and a ‘look’, beyond just the fact that they have a different letter in their transparent bubble. The colour and the character give children a clearer and more distinctive reference point to remember than just a black squiggle. This is particularly helpful for similarly shaped letters like p,g,y, h,b,d, o,a etc.
The same is true for Letterland. It’s fallen out of favour now in schools, but back in the eighties it was really common to find it in primaries as the main way of teaching letters and sounds. But that doesn’t mean you can’t use it yourself if you feel so inclined, indeed, there are new editions and workbooks that follow modern phonics teaching and would be a perfectly suitable accompaniment to early years’ teaching. However, if you are reading this, the book you are most likely to remember is the Letterland ABC below.
Again it’s all based on characters. Letterland is populated by Annie Apple, Bouncing Ben Bunny, Clever Cat and 23 other alliterative letters, each with its own description and story. The ABC is particularly good because the descriptions use a lot of alliteration to emphasise the appropriate sounds – for example Fireman Fred, one Friday afternoon, put out fifteen fires in five minutes. In addition, key details about the letter’s behaviour is given, such as the fact that Harry the Hairy Hat Man always has bare feet and barely makes a sound. The vowel name sounds are explained via Mr A the Apron Man, Mr I the Ice-cream man, and friends, in addition to the basic letters. And unlike The Alphablocks, Letterland really tackles the issue of uppercase letters, showing how the capitals are formed with alternative pictures of the characters.
Whether it’s The Alphablocks or Letterland or a similar technique, the use of colour and picture, but particularly narrative and character, really helps to fix the letters in a child’s mind.