Ever since writing my post about Charlotte Mason and kindergarten, I’ve been trying to get more familiar with Froebel’s ideas. Friedrich Froebel lived in the late 18th century and early 19th century, and his principles on early education deemed him the affectionate title “the father of the Kindergarten.” Unfortunately, Froebel did not have an outstanding way with words, as pointed out in an introduction to his collection of letters explaining his Kindergarten principles, Froebel’s Letters. His works are a little cumbersome to read. There are a lot of ideas that Charlotte Mason accepted as valuable for young children, and some of them that she dismissed with sharp allusions in her her volumes. In another pamphlet Froebel wrote, called “How Lina Learned to Write and Read,” my shoulders, which were slightly slumping after poring through his bulky letters, perked up a bit. He recommended building the alphabet with sticks outside, which to me, sounded like a fun, Charlotte Mason style way to learn the ABC’s outdoors.
Froebel’s Alphabet Sticks
In “How Lina Learned to Write and Write,” Froebel described a reading instruction method that is pretty different than what Charlotte Mason described. Lina, at the age of six, showed an interest in reading a letter that her father had received. So, her mother took her outside and taught her how to make letters with sticks. Mother taught her each sound in her name at first, and then she made the letter with thin, small sticks. The rest of the process is somewhat similar: she learned an interesting word, like “father” or “mother”, by learning each sound and its symbol, and then writing it with sticks.
While Charlotte Mason thought that reading and writing were a bit more separate than this, I think the process of writing letters with sticks is engaging, low-maintenance (which I always look for!) and can be done nearly anywhere.
Froebel recommended using thin sticks for this process. We have a pretty silver maple tree, and the smaller branches are perfect for this. We’ve also collected willow boughs before, and their flexible branches would work well for alphabet sticks, too.
Letters with straight lines (like H and T) are the obvious choices when building letters with sticks, but Froebel recommended using a thumbnail to pierce a thin stick to make it bend easily to build letters with curved lines, like R and P. You could even get creative and add in little pebbles or the flexible stems of ubiquitous dandelions. Instead of introducing an entire word and its letters all at once as Froebel recommended, choose a letter that represents the beginning of a familiar word, and introduce it. Teaching an entire word’s worth of letters is a little more ambitious than Charlotte Mason’s approach!
Miss H and I built some letters on the ground, as Froebel mentioned, but we also tied some of the letters together with twine. She had fun playing with the letters for a few days!
When to Start
You can introduce this activity when your child shows interest in letters, although it is probably best with children at least three years and older. Your littlest children can join in too, like mine did! He loved rearranging the sticks for me 🙂
Why I Love This
I’m always on the search for ideas that fit with Charlotte Mason’s methods. This stood out to me for a few reasons. 1) H and I have done something very similar to this before. She had a ton of fun with it, and it was a natural, by the way learning experience. 2) It’s outside! Anything that we can do outside always has the added benefit of appealing to all the senses.
Other Ideas for Learning the ABC’s Outdoors
- Shadow letters: Why not get creative, and make letters with stick shadows? See if your little ones can experiment with holding up multiple sticks to make shadow letters.
- Mud drawing: When it’s muddy outside, use sticks to write letters in the mud.
- Stick hunt: Sometimes sticks just naturally look like letters. What kind of stick shapes can you find? (We’ve found Y, L, etc.)
- Twine sticks: Wrap your alphabet sticks in twine so they keep their shape. Connect the two sticks by wrapping the twine around them several times, and then tying a knot.