Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Learning through Play Is No Mystery with Alphabet Mystery

What is this hodge podge of letters you might ask?  It’s child-directed learning!

Yep, over a month ago, Luke grabbed the book Alphabet Mystery by Aubrey Wood and Bruce Wood when we were at our local library.  A quick glance through it told me I’d be returning it soon.  The book just didn’t look like it was going to pass Mommy muster for books we let hang around too long – it appeared somewhat twaddle-like with bright, bold animated alphabet letters and a silly plot.  How wrong I was!  The book ended up earning its place in our home for not one – but two – library loan periods. 

Why?  Well first and foremost, the kids loved it and, as I witnessed how they used it as a tool for learning, I learned to as well. 

Alphabet MysteryOnce the kids had read Alphabet Mystery once,  they often asked me to cuddle with them, turning to the opening illustration of the book to sing and chant the alphabet – pointing at all the corresponding letters in bunk beds and giggling, “Where’s X?” – the letter that went missing and started the mystery referred to in the book’s title.  Later, the kids also figured out that, while the entire alphabet is printed in both capital and lower case letters in the front inside cover of the book, it is printed without the “x” at the back.  So, they merrily went about flipping from front to back, pointing, naming, chanting and laughing about the missing "x".

All this a-b-c practice sure paid off, too:  The morning before we returned the book to the library, Luke sat busily putting two-part ABC puzzle pieces together in a long snake. I did not notice until he was done that he had made the snake of them in alphabetical order.  Since I had no idea he could do that, I asked him how he had learned his alphabetical order so well.  He answered by grabbing ABC Mystery book and proudly showing me its inside jacket.  Hoorah!

And, along with the alphabetical order play, there was phonics fun, too.  In the story, the letters each choose a gift from a castle treasure room for the letter owner Charley’s mother.  The gifts pictured in the illustration each begin with a different alphabet sound, providing some fun matching and phonics practice (and a potentially great connection for the Montessori-style object boxes I am still intending to make!) Plus, the kids and I noticed that the letters that spoke in the book often used words that started with each letter’s sound, such as “ ‘This is terrible!’ Little t said,” or, “ ‘Stop!’ Little s shouted.”  Such a clever, little detail the authors chose to include in the text for readers to discover.   And, how my kids love discovering things...

And, to use books as the catalyst for play... Indeed, the Alphabet Mystery wasn't in our house but a day when Luke started asking us to help him draw and cut out letters so he could put them – and some pencils – to sleep in various “beds” near his and Nina’s bunks, making up dialogue and stories as he went.  Nina jumped right into the imaginative play.  And, oh, how cute it was to find both of them eagerly checking their letters' "bunks" in the mornings to see if any of the letters had run away in the night!

And what a pleasure all the spontaneous fine motor fun was – not only with the drawing, coloring and cutting out letters, but also with playing with various puzzle and magnetic ones.  For weeks, the kids took to periodically making or finding letters to play with.  They used many to make words or act out mini-dramas.  One day, Luke even made an entire family of x's -- kiss, kiss, kiss, kiss!  Mommy felt so loved!

And, I admittedly felt a bit silly.  Why?  Well, during such industrious play, the kids got ample practice using their pincer grasps and maintaining fine motor control all inspired by a book I initially thought was "twaddle".  Silly me!

Thus it was that following our children through their Alphabet Mystery explorations proved a delightful catalyst for learning.  It also reminded me that although sometimes, we parents think we need to get the “best” books and materials or join the “right” programs and classes in order for our kids to learn, this simply isn’t true.

A random library pick, plus some paper, scissors and writing utensils, teamed up with a generous dose of imagination, cuddly reading times and ample time for play to unfold and you know what?  Learning happens naturally!

What surprisingly good books have you read with your children lately?  How have you witnessed learning in their play?  Do share in a comment.

This post is being shared at Childhood 101’s We Play, where the idea that play is the “work” of children and helps them to learn and make sense of the world they live in is celebrated each week.


Time For Play said...

My son loves these books too! They gave been wonderful learning tool for him. Any Audrey Woods book nook has amazing illustrations. Thanks for sharing.

Christie - Childhood 101 said...

What a fabulous book it turned out to be.


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