From since being a crawling baby, Keith loves visiting his Godparents’ house. Specifically, he loves their kitchen. Wide floor area, slightly secluded from the rest of the house, it has become his favorite place to play. Whenever we visit, he launches straight for the kitchen, raids the bottom corner cabinet, pulling out a tub of plastic cookie cutters. Spraying them all over the floor, he loses himself in play with the numerous shapes and their colors. If he was quiet for a long period of time, we knew exactly where to find him.
Acknowledging Keith’s fascination, their Godparents bought the boys for Christmas their own tub of cookie cutters. The fascination with them has now taken hold of Maceo. Following in his older brother’s footsteps, he too sprays the cookie cutters across the floor, selects the ones he recognizes, and begins to play. Yet in a different turn than just playing with them as his brother, Maceo repeats their names or associated letter sounds.
Maceo is at a stage of phonological awareness where he is distinguishing letter sounds and iterating them, as well as mimicking short phrases he hears in local conversation. In support, the cookie cutters have been a useful tool for both practicing and promoting pronunciation. Maceo is particularly fascinated with the letters c, f, k, o, r, w and y. Some of his favorite cookie cutters include those shaped as a baseball cap and a cowboy hat (which for now he also calls a cap). Whenever he selects the cap and hat shapes, he instantly begins making the hard “c” sound. Similarly, when he selects other shapes of interest, he instantly begins making long strings of sound.
Seizing upon his interest as entrance, I also use it to introduce similarly sounding words. I choose other shapes that share a similar sound (carrot, cookie), name them, and practice saying them with him. It’s been a great way to engage and keep his interest in practicing letter sounds without it being rote and out of context. Sometimes he brings in wooden blocks with c, k or r, and practices saying their sounds while selecting shapes with corresponding letter sounds too. My plan is to continue listening for the different sounds that interest them, and use specific cookie cutters to support his practice and expand his range of pronunciation.
Seeing Maceo’s interest and playfulness with the cookie cutters, I also use this opportunity to introduce new vocabulary. I select random shapes and say their names, both those that align with sounds that currently interest him, as well as unfamiliar ones. Rabbit, flower, dinosaur, square, circle and cow are a few examples. If Maceo is interested, he grabs that particular cookie cutter, and repeats the new word.
This means to vocabulary learning has rekindled Keith’s curiosity too. And now, extends it further. He selects cookie cutters and asks me to name them. Going further, he selects the ones shaped as letters and spells words with them. He has begun grouping shapes into different categories. The cookie cutters also serve as tools to rehearse and reinforce his current knowledge of shapes, colors and counting.
As both mother and educator, my goal is to support their emergent literacy and not extinguish it. I am trying to encourage their learning in situ, within familiar settings and familiar dynamics, before their official start of school. Cookie cutters are a great resource, helping my boys learn letter sounds and new vocabulary, and me studying the processes through which they best learn. This organic way of learning, with floors as desks, and kitchen artifacts as tools, makes the experience of learning enjoyable for us all.