Once upon a time, every typewriter produced the exact same font and all printed books looked pretty much the same. Once upon a time, everyone learned handwriting in the exact same format, and (when done with care) nearly everyone’s handwriting looked the same as anyone else’s. I remember being fascinated that each of my teachers could write on the chalkboard exactly like each of the other teachers. (My own handwriting never quite measured up.) Now we live in a computer-driven world, with no limit to the designs of fonts available. This can present real difficulty for some children in recognizing the similarities and learning their letters. The same problem exists with numbers, sometimes posing an even greater stumbling block.
We overcame this obstacle with a simple, inexpensive, and fun activity. We made a notebook containing samples of each letter (one letter per page), and another notebook for numbers. We scrounged through newspapers, old magazines, and junk mail for examples to be included in our books. The children soon became great detectives, learning to decide for themselves if a certain letter was an “m” or an “n,” or a “P” or an “R,” and “Mom, is this right?” was heard less and less. Children are always attracted by scissors and glue, so the motivation was simple.
Many alphabet books will display numerous objects beginning with each chosen sound, but few will bother to show each letter in different fonts. I remember being stumped as a very young student when my older sister showed me the author’s name on her latest Nancy Drew book and asked me if I could read it. The name, CAROLYN KEENE, was printed in all upper case letters. I was learning to print my name with only a capital “C” and the rest in lower case letters. There seemed to be something very familiar about the author’s name, but it still did not look quite right to me. A generation later, I shared this story with my own children and explained my early confusion with the use of upper and lower case letters. As we assembled our letter notebook, we included both upper and lower case examples, making the variety of letter appearances much less confusing to them.
Our number notebook had individual pages for 0-19, and then grouped pages for the 20’s, 30’s and so on. Once the children had understood the concept from the letter notebook, the number differences were more easily grasped. The 0-9 pages were the most important, since they showed the variations in fonts and all the other pages built upon that principle. We did include a few pictures, usually clipped from grocery ads, showing groups of 3 apples or 5 bananas or a six-pack of soda cans.
The notebooks themselves were scrounged from whatever we had already lying around the house: old 3-ring binders and loose-leaf filler paper, or leftover spiral notebooks with just enough pages remaining. Making the notebooks was the primary exercise in learning the lesson; once the notebooks were completed, we rarely returned to look at them again, unless it was to add another unique example.
Children, from those just beginning to learn their letters to those beginning to read, will benefit from a lesson in the varieties of font designs. A few pieces of paper bound together in some form of booklet, scissors, and a glue stick will be the basis for your simple lesson. All you have to add is junk mail.