Early Learning Digest

Ask Waterford: How to Teach Capital and Lowercase Letter Recognition

Does Waterford curriculum teach young learners to write capital letters first? If so, doesn’t teaching a student to write their name only in capital letters lead to incorrect writing habits for the future?

After we received this question from a kindergarten teacher, we asked Waterford Institute’s curriculum director to explain why and how Waterford teaches early learners capital letter recognition.

boy holding up hand written lettersTeaching capital letters first

Waterford’s sequence begins with children learning to recognize capital letters, not writing capital letters. Research has established that children learn to recognize capital letters first, because they are more distinctive. They also recognize the capital letters in their names first, so we begin the process by teaching them to recognize the letters in their names.

We do teach letter formation as part of letter recognition, because it helps children solidify their recognition of the letters. It would be up to the teacher to decide if they want the children to begin writing their names in all caps at this point. That is not part of our sequence. We do believe it is important, however, to help children move easily back-and-forth between capital and lowercase letters, and learning to do it with their names is a very effective way to begin that process.

When should children learn lowercase letters?

Lowercase letters are more difficult for early learners to identify. Children see letters as three-dimensional objects. An early learner perceives p, b, and q to be the same thing, just in different spatial orientation. These letters are also more difficult for children to write because of the complexity of size and spatial orientation.

For example, writing the lowercase letter “p” begins at the middle and goes “underground,” while the lowercase “i” starts at the top and goes down, and the lowercase “a” starts in the middle and ends on the ground.

As a research-based best practice, we teach lowercase letter recognition once a child has learned their capital letters “partners” to help anchor their understanding.

While our sequence focuses first on capital letter mastery, this is taught before a child would typically start writing their name. Teaching capital letter recognition first offers a solid foundation for children to more easily recognize and write lowercase letters as the next step in their development.