alphabet, Art, Montessori, Reggio Emilia

How I help my toddlers learn the alphabet



Don’t click out. I know what you’re thinking—Waldorf-inspired homeschoolers do NOT teach their toddlers the alphabet. Uh uh. No way. No how. No chance.

Let me back track for a second.

One of the things I love most about being a homeschooler is that I can be as eclectic as I want to be. Waldorf is my first love. It speaks to my heart like no other method. But I like to borrow from other approaches as well. I love the methodical organization of Montessori. I love the cycles and rhythms of the Classical Curriculum. And thanks to a series of posts over at Fairy Dust Teaching, I’ve been falling back in love with the beauty and project-based approach favored by the Reggio Emilia method.

Reggio Emilia is not as well known as some of the other educational methods, which is really a shame. Some aspects would be rather difficult to interpret in a homeschool setting, although if you’ve heard of Project Based Homeschooling, you’re looking at something that has been inspired by Reggio Emilia.  There are 4 main pillars of Reggio Emila:

  • Children must have some measure of control over the direction of their learning. This is often known as child-led learning or emergent curriculum. In homeschool-speak, we might call it delight directed learning.
  • Children learn best through interactive experiences of touching, moving, listening, hearing, and singing.
  • Learning happens when children have a relationship with other children and with materials that they are given free-range to explore. Teachers are co-learners and the environment is also considered a teacher of sorts.
  • Children must have endless ways and opportunities to express themselves. This is known as the “hundred languages of children.”
The Hundred Languages of Childhood

The child
is made of one hundred.
The child has
A hundred languages
A hundred hands
A hundred thoughts
A hundred ways of thinking
Of playing, of speaking.
A hundred always a hundred
Ways of listening of marveling of loving
A hundred joys
For singing and understanding
A hundred worlds
To discover
A hundred worlds
To invent
A hundred worlds
To dream
The child has
A hundred languages
(and a hundred hundred hundred more)
But they steal ninety-nine.
The school and the culture
Separate the head from the body.
They tell the child;
To think without hands
To do without head
To listen and not to speak
To understand without joy
To love and to marvel
Only at Easter and Christmas
They tell the child:
To discover the world already there
And of the hundred
They steal ninety-nine.
They tell the child:
That work and play
Reality and fantasy
Science and imagination
Sky and earth
Reason and dream
Are things
That do not belong together
And thus they tell the child
That the hundred is not there
The child says: NO WAY the hundred is there–

Loris Malaguzzi
Founder of the Reggio Approach

One of the most noteworthy aspects of Reggio Emilia is the Atelier, or studio. It is, according to founder Loris Malaguzzi, “… a space rich in materials, tools, and people with professional competencies… a place for child’s research.” It’s more than an art studio. It’s a beautiful space filled with all sorts of materials that are arranged in such a way that they call to a child to explore and create.

And it’s here that I introduce my toddlers to the alphabet.

Just as we have a language, materials too have a language all their own. But before children can hope to understand the language of a material, they must first interact with the material and discover its alphabet. Only when the child interacts with and explores the material can they discover its alphabet, and as they continue to work with a material and learn its secrets, a grammar develops. Working together with the material, each interaction creates its own language.

And so, when I place in my children’s hands modeling beeswax or homemade playdough, block crayons or chunky crayons we’ve made together from broken old Crayolas, watercolors or tempera paint, I am giving them an opportunity to interact with the materials and discover its language. I’m setting the foundation for future interactions when they’ll continue to construct learning and express themselves using the language of the materials they have access to.

The Universe speaks its own language, and there’s so much more to discovering it than just the ABCs and 123s.

So don’t worry. I’m not teaching my toddlers The Alphabet. But by giving them access to materials to explore and discover, I am helping them create alphabets of their own.



2 thoughts on “How I help my toddlers learn the alphabet”

  1. YES, YES. YES. This speaks directly to my heart (maybe because they are Italian? lol). I was trying to articulate something similar to my husband last night about Waldorf and “unschooling” (even though I am uncomfortable with that term and overall concept) and what the heck we are doing here at our house. The Waldorf curriculum is so rich and I love it, but . . . I know Vincent needs more in the way of experiential learning and creative expression – he is too much of a heady kid and probably always will be, and I feel like it is my job to balance all of that.

    Well, I’m reserving the right to comment again, bc I want to re-read this post after I’ve had some coffee, but I also wanted to just shout out loud “YES!” Those Frontz children are lucky, lucky, lucky to have you for a mama.

    Love to you Annette!

  2. Ok, I’ve had some coffee and see how this is a preschool/early years concept. I didn’t do that much research into it, but it did make me realize I am looking for something to help me flesh out/complement the Waldorf curriculum. I had a great discussion with my husband about all this. It’s a process and a journey, yes? Thanks for being the catalyst.

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