by HEIKE LARSON | photos by Richard Unten

Don’t Teach the ABCs

Early Literacy Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Can you read this: teeaichee seeaytee esaytee?

If you can’t, you’ll want to reconsider how your child is introduced to reading and writing in preschool. Most preschool reading programs start by teaching letter names: learning the ABCs, singing the alphabet song, and coloring in pages with letters. Most intro-to-reading toys that parents buy also teach by letter names – from fridge magnets to videos and talking alphabet caterpillars.

mp_leport2Unfortunately this approach actually slows down the learning process. This is supported by scientific research. Cognitive neuroscientist and author of Reading in the Brain Stanislas Dehaene cautions against teaching letter names, “Sometimes the child knows the names of the letters (ay, bee, see, dee…). Unfortunately this knowledge, far from being helpful, may even delay the acquisition of reading. To know that ‘s’ is pronounced ‘ess,’ ‘k’ is pronounced ‘kay,’ and ‘i’ is pronounced ‘eye’ is useless when we try to read the word ‘ski.’ Letter names cannot be assembled during reading – the hookup only concerns phonemes.”

That first sentence you struggled with? It’s “the cat sat” written with letter names – which makes it rather challenging to read, right? Teaching letter names is one of the five key mistakes made in early literacy instruction. ANOTHER MISTAKE IS TEACHING CAPITAL LETTERS FIRST, DESPITE THE FACT THAT MOST OF WHAT WE READ IS WRITTEN IN SMALL LETTERS. The other three are teaching reading before writing, expecting children to handwrite and “word-build” simultaneously, and using the whole word approach instead of systematic phonics.

mp_leport3So how should we start the reading process? To read, a child first needs to discover that speech is made out of “phonemes (sounds), which are combined to create words,” and those sounds can be represented with letter symbols.

This is exactly how we introduce literacy in Montessori preschool. It’s called phonemic awareness, and our toddlers and preschoolers learn it by playing sound games. In these games, children isolate the beginning sounds of a word. For example, a teacher may hold up a few miniature objects in her hand, and say quietly, “I spy something in my hand that starts with ‘mmm’” – to which a child may respond by picking out the mop. It’s a fun game which you can also play at home!

We then follow a carefully crafted sequence of activities, which enables a typical child to read quite fluently by the end of kindergarten, at a level that is far ahead of most other programs including the expectations set by Common Core.

Want to learn more about this highly effective approach to early literacy? Join us for a free parenting talk:

LePort Montessori Encinitas
520 Balour Dr., Encinitas, CA 92024
For more information and to RSVP visit


Name of Institution: LePort Montessori Encinitas
Head of School: Claudia Mann
Year of Establishment: 2014
Address: 520 Balour Dr., Encinitas, CA 92024
Phone: 760-545-4430
Description of School: The first LePort School opened in 2000 in Orange County. LePort now has three locations in North San Diego: Carlsbad, Encinitas, and Solana Beach. Our Encinitas school opened in Spring 2014 and now serves infants through kindergarten. The school is an authentic, high-quality Montessori school for infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and kindergarteners. They foster creativity, strong academic skills, and personal confidence and independence so children enjoy coming to school every day.