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Visual, Concrete Learners and Auditory, Abstract Skills
– Bridging that Gap with Itchy’s Alphabet!

By Brenda Larson

Learning styles advocates indicate that upwards of 80% of our population are visual learners. It has been my experience that young children, especially, rely heavily on their visual skills for learning. These same young children are also very concrete, hands-on learners.

However, some of the first academic skills children are faced with learning are their letter sounds and formations – skills that are both auditory and abstract. Is it any wonder our visual, concrete learners struggle so much with these essential foundation skills? Current statistics show that over 30% of children at the Kindergarten level will most likely struggle to learn their letter sounds and may, as a result, face challenges with reading throughout their lives. How can we help?

As a Learning Assistance Teacher, the at-risk Kindergarten children were referred to me when they were unsuccessful with the letter sounds program taught in the classroom. I needed to do something different and prepare those children for Grade 1! Very early in my career, I noticed that if I had a picture cue in the shape of the letter, the children learned and retained the skills; if I didn’t have such a picture cue, I had to work harder and they had to work harder for learning to take place. Over the years, I eventually created all 26 picture cues in the shape of the lower case letters and developed the Itchy’s Alphabet program.

Research conducted in 1984 by Linnea Ehri, Nancy Deffner, and Lee Wilce confirms the effectiveness of this approach. Their findings state, “The superiority of the integrated-picture group over the disassociated-picture group indicates that only one type of picture works, namely, one that links the shape of the letter to its sound.”1 (p.891) To explain further, instead of having to make sense of a ‘b’, children use the picture of the ‘bat and ball’ to bring meaning to that abstract character.

Marilyn Jager Adams perhaps captured this idea the best when stating: “Babies, by the way, have to actively and deliberately attend to phonemes. They sit around going bah, bah, bah, bah, bah, right? But after not too much time, they don’t need to attend to the phonemes any more. They hear them effortlessly. From that point forward, the normal, natural thing for people to do is to focus their attention on the meaning, not sound. . . . and now we’re asking them, please, to release their attention from meaning and put it back on the sound of the word.  There isn’t really a good way to explain that to children. So you have to devise educational activities that will engage them in doing that, and where you can see if that’s in fact what they’re doing, because until the can do that, the alphabetic game just doesn’t make sense because they’re trying to pay attention to meaning, and it’s not the way this particular game works.”2 (bold added by author)

Itchy’s Alphabet is one of the best educational activities to help children make sense of the ‘alphabetic game’.   Through literature, song and active, fun-filled learning, children connect each letter to a picture in their mind which identifies both the letter sound and the formation. By practicing both simultaneously, learning and retention are enhanced. With our systematic order of presentation based on formations, printing is acquired with ease and letter reversal problems are significantly reduced.

Our Teaching Guide includes specific teaching instructions, phonological awareness activities and art activities for each letter sound. The Game Cards and Interactive Games CD provide the necessary drill and practice to ensure mastery. Reproducible Readers introduce children to basic sight words through patterned sentences.  Accuracy and Automaticity Drills develop automatic recognition for sight words and words containing short vowels, long vowels, irregular vowels and r-controlled vowels. 

Itchy and his Hands-On-Vowels friends make learning the vowel sounds easy and fun. Children see themselves learning as they collect Itchy Stickers and put them on their chart. They love to sing along with the Itchy’s Alphabet Songs. For children who struggle with letter reversals, the b – d – p Reversal Package and g – p  - q Reversal Package correct these confusions. Reproducible Blackline Masters teach proper letter formations and identification of initial sounds and initial blends. Itchy’s Alphabet Book has a clear plastic overlay of the letter to emphasize the connection between the picture cue and the letter.

Letter sounds and formations are the essential foundation skills for successful reading and writing. Itchy’s Alphabet provides children with the visual/concrete – auditory/abstract connection to ensure successful learning and a positive start on their road to reading.

1Ehri, L.C., N. Deffner and L. Wilce.  Pictorial Mnemonics for Phonics.  As printed in Journal of Educational Psychology, 1984, Vol. 76, No. 5, P. 880 – 893
2Adams, M.J. Thinking About Beginning to Read. An interview on Children of the Code


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