Mistake #5: Teaching ABC Song
And now onto the the biggest sacred cow of teaching children how to read-The ABC Song. It is such a cultural icon that some groundwork had to be presented on early childhood phonics before bringing up this subject. This song, though extremely popular, and fun and catchy is still a very poor tool for giving children any meaningful skills to aid them in learning to read.
This song should not be given any more prominence in preschool and kindergarten programs than other fun songs like, Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, The Itsy Bitsy Spider or The More We Get Together. The ABC Song may be a fun and playful song but it should not be mistaken for a useful reading readiness tool. It is steeped in cultural paradigms of ineffectiveness.
The power of the song is that it uses rhythm and melody in a powerful way to teach, but what is it teaching? The problem is not with the media, but with the subject mater. The problem is the flawed theory that well meaning parents and teachers keep promoting and pushing on unknowing young children who are only too happy to parrot back the phrases for praises. Thus, insuring another generation of people who “believe” in the power of the The ABC Song.
In all practicality, for purposes of conveying meaningful information, someone might as well be singing the names of rhyming fish or meaningless mumbo jumbo than singing The ABC Song. All three of these ways convey the same amount of useful phonics information. Actually, the rhyming fish would teach more phonics because it would use rhymes with different beginning sounds.
This song is an ineffective early literacy tool because it uses:
- the name of the letters before the sounds
- the names of the letters instead of the sounds
- the symbol of the letter before the sound of the letter
- most frequently uses uppercase letters
- Can teach too many things at once, if done visually
It can even give false confidence to children who believe they know something about the alphabet because they can sing this song only to get frustrated later when they realize that learning this song has not actually prepared them to read with by.
The ABC Song song does have value for older students. This song is an excellent device for neurological organization to help with alphabetizing words and lists and for looking up words in a dictionary. These skills, however, are advanced skills that come later in elementary school, not for teaching emerging readers.
Someone might as well be singing the names of rhyming fish or meaningless mumbo jumbo than singing The ABC Song.
Teaching a short phonetic alphabet is much better than teaching The ABC Song. The technique recommended by Dr. Abeyesekera* is excellent and there are many other phonetic alphabet songs where the sound of the letters and not the names of the letters are used.
At times, these songs can be harder to memorize than The ABC Song because the sounds of the letters do not rhyme like the names of the letters and they are harder to pronounce than the names of the letters. The extra work required to to do this is well worth the effort because then children learn solid skills that definitely relate to and help improve their reading skills. Even ESL for adults do not use The ABC Song but use a phonetic approach.
After the child knows the sounds of the letters and can demonstrate skill in identifying the initial sound of objects or pictures, they are ideally prepared to learn the names of the letters.
Use a phonetic alphabet instead off the ABC song.
*Hestia Abeyesekera PhD, has her doctorate in education as well as degrees in music, speech, and drama. She is Montessori certified and an accomplished pianist, teacher, author and composer, who has over 25 years of teaching experience in Montessori. She has been honored in the World's Who's Who of Women for distinguished achievement in the field of education. See her learning songs CDs!