Teaching the ABCs to my Highly Sensitive Child

Aha moment: I noticed that  Sisi (my sensitive 6 yo) and Matteo (my less sensitive 2 yo)  each responded to their favorite ABC book, ABC T-Rex,  differently.  Matteo noticed and repeated the letters, memorizing all the alliterations.  Sisi studied the pictures, especially the facial expressions, intently.  She had many queries. “Is the T-Rex so excited about all that ice cream? Is he worried about burning his food on the grill?”  To Sisi, this was a book about a character that she wanted to know deeply- his joys, his fears, all of it.  These weird symbols on the page called ABCs?  Barely noticed them. That’s not how her brain works. She is incredibly empathic, and characters are primarily what grab her attention in ALL books.  HSPs tend to be super emotionally aware.  They are also creative and look for subtleties in pictures.  Matteo seems to be more interested in the actual letters and numbers than in faces at this point, which is why he’s learning them so quickly on his own.

I’m glad that we kept homeschooling so non-academic for the first 6 years of Sisi’s life, despite peer and cultural pressure to introduce academics at a young age.  She had time and space to develop her creativity and emotional intelligence.  I definitely see the fruits! I hoped that the ABCs, and even writing her own name, would come to her naturally, as spoken language, colors, and social skills did.  But the ABCs didn’t. They haven’t.  Six years of ABC songs, puzzles and books, and she still wasn’t grasping them.

The unschooling philosophy says that Sisi she’ll learn her ABCs when she wants to learn them.  Once the intrinsic motivation is there, she’ll learn them in a snap. The Waldorf method doesn’t introduce any academics until 7 years old, when the child leaves the “dream state” and enters reality.  I respect and incorporate ideas from both unschooling and the Waldorf method, but I’m finding it really hard to be a “purist”.   I guess I couldn’t wait until 7 or 8 or 9 to see if she’d grasp the ABCs on her own.   I do respect the parents who do! It takes so much faith and confidence to just wait (and wait and wait).

There are still many things I choose not to teach. As Jean Piaget said, Every time we teach a child something, we keep him from inventing it himself.” However, I’m not opposed to bringing in a few programs, workbooks, and classes that I think would fill in a gap or spur my  kids on.   Why not tap into some of the great resources out there, even if my kid is not asking for them specifically?

So here’s what we chose: Handwriting Without Tears was recommended  by an Occupational Therapist friend who used it in her job as well as her own homeschooling. We’re taking it slowly, about 3 letters per week, just 10 minutes a day.  She’s now learned to neatly write and recognize all her capital letters, and is starting on her numbers.   Everything about HWT makes sense to me- the order of the letters they teach (not in ABC order!), the learning manipulatives, the workbooks, even the teeny tiny pencils to encourage correct positioning of the fingers.  She enjoys it.  Maybe not as much as she enjoys costumes and play dough, but she enjoys it nonetheless. She also knows that after she learns her lower case letters, we can move on to reading, which she’s pretty stoked about!  I was humbled and relieved when I decided that I CAN utilize an expert’s method to teach something I have no idea how to teach.  In fact, it was freeing to decide that I’m allowed to teach at all.

How did your kids learn their ABCs?  On their own?  With a program?  Would love to hear what worked for you!


  1. says

    Before I start a more organized approach to teaching the alphabet to my daughter, she learns to recognize the letters of her name. One important thing to remember is kids need a variety of activities to stimulate their brains and to reach them the way that they learn best. So try to keep learning process so fun and flexible

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