This article tends to ruffle a lot of feathers. The most popular way to introduce children to the alphabet and reading is the famous ABC Song. It’s a cultural icon that is carried from generation to generation. Although popular, fun, and catchy, it’s a poor tool for giving children any meaningful skills to assist them in learning to read. Let’s discover why.
Why the ABC Song is Not an Effective Tool for Teaching Children to Read
The power of the ABC Song lies in its rhythm and melody. Rhythm and melody are powerful and effective ways to teach. In this case, though, with the ABC song, the problem is not with the method but with the flawed subject matter.
The ABC Song makes a poor early reading tool because:
1. It uses the names of letters before their sounds.
2. It uses the names of letters instead of their sounds.
3. It uses the symbol of letters before the sound of those letters.
4. It’s taught most frequently using uppercase letters.
5. When taught using visual cues, it teaches too many things at once, which can confuse children when learning to read.
6. It teaches the child nothing about phonemic awareness.
7. It teaches the child nothing about the alphabetic principle.
Ideally, the child should first know not only the sounds of the letters but how to use them to match key pictures. Only after learning these things are they ideally prepared to learn the names of the letters.
The ABC Song Can Inhibit Learning Readiness
Well-meaning parents and teachers mistakenly promote the ABC Song to young children who are only too happy to parrot back letter names in rhythmic verse. Unfortunately, memorizing this song might inhibit the process of learning to read. Instead, children should be learning about phonemic awareness and the alphabetic principle before learning letter names. If the child’s first learning about a letter is its name instead of its sound and function, then you are doing the child a disservice.
We don’t teach children to speak by first teaching them to read; that would be confusing and go against the natural way we learn language. Follow this same logic and see that it is not ideal to teach the name (abstract symbol) of the letter before its sound (concrete function.)
The ABC Song Does Have Value
Yes, the ABC Song song is an important cultural song, like, Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, The Itsy Bitsy Spider, or The More We Get Together. It may be fun and playful, but it shouldn’t be mistaken for a useful reading readiness tool.
The ABC Song does have value for older students who have mastered phonemic awareness and the alphabetic principle and who know how to read. It’s an excellent tool to help with alphabetizing words and word lists and for looking up words in a dictionary. However, these are advanced skills that come later in elementary school and are not suitable for emerging readers.