When Eastridge Preschool teachers Celia Horowitz and Sam Winkler want their young students to get ready for their literacy lesson, they sing.
“A little jingle to start – it makes them so excited!” Horowitz said.
Their three-, four- and five-year-old students eagerly get their Alphabet Workout letter books and prepare to make letter sounds and motions. For example, they know the word “sock” starts with the “s” sound and they make a “ssssssssss” sound with a snake-like movement. They also trace letter shapes with their fingers.
Music and motion are two key elements of “Alphabet Workout,” an early literacy program now being used in all preschools in the Cherry Creek School District.
“Cherry Creek is focused on excellence for all,” said Stacey Peoples, director of Early Childhood Education for Cherry Creek Schools. “This program builds the foundation for excellence starting with our youngest students.”
Alphabet Workout teaches pre-reading skills. The program focuses on phonemic awareness – learning the 44 phonemes or sounds the 26 letters in the English language can make – and phonics – which is connecting the shape of a letter to the sound or sounds it makes.
“Phonemic awareness is a greater predictor of reading success than any other measure including IQ,” said Darcie Frohardt, a retired Cherry Creek Schools kindergarten and preschool teacher. She developed Alphabet Workout in 2003 with her sister, Mary Forhan, a former preschool teacher and director.
“I could not find materials that I felt were appropriate for the little guys to learn letter sounds,” Forhan said. So the siblings created their own materials, starting with letter cards and stories. “We added music because we know kids learn through music. We wrote a song for every letter.”
They made sure the program emphasized phonemic awareness through a variety of multisensory methods.
“We use the puppets, the props, the stories, the letters, the movement, the drama and the songs to hook the kids and to bring the sounds into muscle memory,” said Frohardt. “That’s how we can move our kids forward so quickly.”
Horowitz and Winkler agree that the multisensory approach is effective.
“It actually sticks,” said Horowitz, who admits she was skeptical about the program at first. “But the kids have caught on so quickly.”
“Everyone is getting something out of the lesson,” Winkler added. “Some might get pre-language skills, some might benefit from the fine motor skills of tracing the letters.”
The program has been especially beneficial to preschool students who don’t speak English and are not yet familiar with the English alphabet.
“Our English language learners are really excited,” Horowitz said. “They can participate. They don’t have to know the names of the letters to join in.”
Though they use Alphabet Workout for just 10 to 15 minutes each day, the program has a lasting impact.
“It’s so important in every aspect of their school career,” Horowitz said.
“We know kids need to enter kindergarten with that letter-sound relationship, the ability to identify the sound that goes with the symbol of the letter,” Stacey Peoples said. “Research shows that if they are successful with phonemic awareness and phonics, they are going to be successful with reading and vocabulary.”