Capitals for clarity

I’ve racked my brains and I think the only book I have read in full since my first baby was born (over 2 and 1/2 years ago) is Máire Mullarney’s Anything School Can Do. I have started a few other books but it’s the only one I finished. That’s pretty indicative of how busy life has been, from someone who wouldn’t put a book down while walking to school and back. However, this particular book so fascinated me that soon after finishing it, I started over. I still dip into it on a regular basis as my Beiruti grows up, even though it is neither long nor complicated. In fact, writing this post, I googled the book and came up with a partial script (including some errors), and have not yet been able to close the tab for reading snatches.

I wrote about how this book influenced my choice to introduce letters early on here. It also influenced my choice of which letters to use first, that is, upper case rather than lower case. The two factors go hand in hand as it happens. The thing is, three-dimensional shapes are much more interesting to toddlers for obvious reasons, so they are much more likely to enjoy cut-out letters, for example, than letters penned on paper. However, 3D letters can be twisted and turned – that’s the fun after all – and that can lead to confusion for quite a few lower-case letters. Capitals are, overall, easier to distinguish from one another than lower case. There is still scope for confusion, for example W and M. But you don’t have n vs u, or worse p vs d vs b (and even vs q if you don’t add a ‘swash‘ or extra tail). When I see how often my daughter hesitates between 6 and 9 I am convinced that reducing such confusion is important.

Fridge magnets work particularly well, as apart from the fun of getting them to stick on things and forming words, they also have a clearly established back, so the child learns quickly not to get them backwards at least, though upside down is still an option!

Some would argue that stories are written in lower case, so these are a better choice to start with. While I agree that whole pages of writing are much easier to read in lower case, when it comes to single letters, single words and short sentences, I am drawn to the clarity offered by capitals. Even we adults still write in capital print when clarity is an issue. My feeling is that capitals form a good foundation, a strong starting point. Just as the original Roman letters naturally evolved into cursive lower case, I feel that the same process can work well in literacy as a child moves from the basics to something which flows more with experience.

Once kids have the coordination required to line letters up carefully on a line with tall letters acceptably erect and tails hanging meekly below, lower case will be a more obvious choice, but for now I’m happy to forego the restraints of neat handwriting and let the fridge magnets roam free.

Another choice to be made when it comes to reading is whether to teach letter names or sounds first, which I’ll come to next.

4 Responses to “Capitals for clarity”

  1. Lea says:

    I really enjoy reading this posts. It will be also very interesting when Paris Baby grows up and how he will deal with letters and words, esp that he will have Beirut Baby to teach him too.

    • Ha I think it will be quite different as I might not be able to follow a system at all! I mean Beirut baby didn’t know what ice cream was until age 2 let alone Haribo sweets. I can’t see that happening for the little one unfortunately. You can see from the way he looks at her that he’ll learn more from her than he ever will from me :)

  2. nad says:

    Thank you SO much for this suggestion!
    Today we got the first capital letters magnet set. What you say about capital letters makes so much sense (no confusion between b, p, d, q nor n and u). My kid loves to play around with them. He calls them “numbers” but I think ‘letters’ will come eventually…
    We also bought letter cookie cutters and we enjoyed making cookies with them! So far he can only handle one letter per name, usually the first one. But it is a start. I guess he didn’t have the advantage of having a linguist as a parent! I wonder what type of influence our career choices are having on him. So I just wanted to say that we are both happy to have a linguist friend from whose wisdom we can benefit.
    Thanks again!

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