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Now that we, educators, face the challenge of staying at home while creatively designing ways to promote meaningful learning anytime and anywhere, new questions arise: How do we engage young children in distance learning? How can we support parents as facilitators of learning at home?


Distance learning requires conceptualizing academic tasks in ways that allow a balance of independent and guided learning. We want children to access opportunities for focused independent learning, but we also want to provide ideas for scaffolded activities so that parents, caretakers and young children continue learning together and developing language at home. One way to reinforce connections between symbols and the objects or actions they represent is by creating a family-generated alphabet. No need to purchase anything. All we need to do is ask families to identify living and non-living things that can be associated with each letter of the alphabet. What is even better…this can be created in English and any other language spoken at home. Let’s find three ideas to complete this task with or without technology!

1. Using tablets to Capture Images

If a tablet is available, one way to create a digital version of a family-generated alphabet is to use tools such as Google Photos. Click the Google Photos app and create an album. Then, give it a title such as “The García Family’s Alphabet” or “Carmen’s Alphabet Book”. Next, capture an image for each letter of the alphabet. With wildflowers popping everywhere, we can take advantage of the outdoors to learn. Once children start observing flowers, they are likely to notice other things like insects, parts of the insect’s body, etc. This is very much like creating your own flashcards. Once finished, parents can be encouraged to use the Google photo album to orally review the words represented by each image with their child. Keep in mind that for young children, repetition of new vocabulary is key to eventually gaining the confidence to use those words in their own sentences.


Figure 1. “B” is for Bluebonnets


2. Alpha boxes

If a tablet is not available or parents and child prefer a hard copy of the alphabet one way to accomplish this task is by download a pdf of an alpha box available online (Google it).

Picking up coloring pencils and tracing letters and shapes helps young child develop fine-motor skills. Ideally, this practice continues at home as children learn that words, phrases, or sentences may be written. To do so, encourage parents to guide their children as they save space within each square in the alpha box to write the word and add a drawing. When spending time in the kitchen, for example, the refrigerator can be a source of multiple images: milk, butter, tortillas, eggs, soda, and bread. Then, once you step outside, you may find objects/organisms such as a rock, a grass hopper, a flower, and tree, or house

Figure 2. “H” is for “House”


3. Alphabet Book

Younger children (4-6 years old) may prefer to use an entire page for each letter of the alphabet. This makes alphabet books an ideal format for the family generated alphabet. For example, if able to take a walk at the park, a family may capture actions such as biking, flying (birds), and eating. No need to follow an order. In other words, if only part of the alphabet book was completed at the park the task can continue at home the next day. Encourage parents to be on the lookout for opportunities to add a new word as they go about your day or dedicate 10 minutes just to work on the alphabet book as part of the daily routines. Follow the flow of learning as it happens. Perhaps on day one of this project, parents and their children find images for 5 letters and work on the drawings. Continue and it might take a period of two weeks to complete the entire alphabet.

Don’t forget to make learning fun and exciting! Parents and children can take turns identifying one object or image for one letter of the alphabet. Then, they can turn word learning into  a game-like activity by breaking the words in to syllables and clapping or spelling out each word and using fingers to practice one-to-one (letter/sound) correspondence. Children will enjoy it!


About the Author:
María G. Arreguín-Anderson, Ed.D. is an Associate Professor of Early Childhood and Elementary Education at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Her research and publications focus on cooperative learning in dyads and elementary science education in dual language environments. For several years, Dr. Arreguín-Anderson has been involved in leadership positions at local, state, and national organizations that advocate for bilingual learners.


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Maria Arreguin-Anderson

Maria Arreguin-Anderson

Associate Professor

Note: Fresh Ideas for Teaching blog contributors have been compensated for sharing personal teaching experiences on our blog. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer or company.

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