Letter Recognition in a Play-Based Environment...Say What?

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In my class, I set up the environment so that it allows for lots of uninterrupted play that is led by the passion and interests of my 3 year olds.  In turn, I have never had a 3 year old to ask me for a worksheet.  Nor have I seen one searching for flashcards so that we can drill and drill those letters.  What I do have is print rich environment that leads to letters and words being connected to real things that are important to a preschooler.  We have their names with photos (honestly, what preschooler does not love seeing their name?), toys labelled, words and letters around the room, and books, books and books to name a few things.  It is always fun to watch the realization when they recognize the first letter of their name, then their friends' names, then how they share some letters.  It's like watching a treasure hunt of the mind.

Does this mean I don't talk about letters at this level? No, in the constant dialogue of our class (we are all big talkers in our room), letters are often searched for, questions are asked and formation attempted and eventually accomplished.  I've seen letters painted on tabletops while making Christmas Ornaments, in shaving cream during sensory play and built out of wood in the block area.  That is no less an accomplishment than sitting down with a pencil and paper.  In fact, fine motor development requires the large muscle development use over a large space prior to sitting down in a desk.

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How do I know they are absorbing letter recognition if I don't sit down and drill them? Because I know them. I observe them. I see their development in their play.  For instance, last week I had thrown some magnetic letters out along with some cookie sheets. Did I make a big deal or give instructions? Nope.  But before I knew it, one of the children had "baked" up some alphabet cookies for the others.  They all waited patiently as the "Baker" asked them their choice of cookie, they responded with the letter they recognized, she in turned recognized the letter and passed it out.  Creativity, letter recognition, social awareness and self regulation all on the floor of the room, nowhere near a worksheet.  It was a good day.