Upper Case Letters are NOT Easier

Whenever there is a discussion on upper case and lower case letters, I hear the
statement: “Upper case are easier”. Yet, when you compare the two sets, it is evident
that this is definitely not the case. Let’s do the comparison:
The first set of 8 letters are exactly the same for both lower case and upper case.

Cc  Oo  Pp   Ss   Vv  Ww   Xx   Zz

If they are the same, one can’t be easier than the other.
The second set of 8 letters are very similar in appearance and the majority of these are
easier to form in lower case than upper (b, i, j, l, t, y).

Bb  Ii   Jj   Kk   Ll  Tt   Uu   Yy
The remaining 10 letters simply show different combinations of straight lines and curved
lines – not easier or harder, just different.

Aa  Dd  Ee  Ff  Gg  Hh  Mm  Nn  Qq  Rr
If we examine the upper case letters further, we find:

  • there are more slant lines (11 upper/7 lower) – slant lines are the most difficult for children to make
  • they require children to lift and relocate their pencil more frequently (17 upper/6 lower) – lifting and relocating the pencil is a challenging task for young children, especially if they have any fine motor or visual motor concerns. Most lower case letters can be made with a ‘continuous stroke’ and children tend to be more successful with this.
  • they are all the same size – I believe this may be part of the rationale for thinking that upper case are easier, but, in fact, this creates more problems. If children learn upper case letters first, they develop a mindset that all letters are the same size and when they come to learn lower case, many tend to apply that rule to those as well and they don’t differentiate between the small letters, tall letters and hang down letters. This develops very poor printing habits.
  • they are infrequently used in print – if we open any book, we typically see one upper case letter followed by a string of lower case letters. It is estimated that 95% of print is in lower case! We need to be teaching children what they MOST need to learn first.

It appears that the practice of initially introducing upper case letters because they are considered ‘easier’ is more of a ‘societal tradition’ than a sound educational practice – it is just something that has always been done! Upper case letters are used in very specific situations – mainly the beginning of a sentence, proper nouns, emphasis, forms and environmental signs. These are what I refer to as ‘down the road skills’ – not things our little 4 and 5 year olds need to be focused on as they are in the beginning stages of reading and writing.

To support our young learners, we need to begin to make this shift. If you are a teacher, talk to you parents. More often than not, parents introduce upper case letters because they are influenced by this ‘societal tradition’. Share the information with your pre-school teachers as well as nearby teacher training programs. We also need to talk to those who are developing and producing children’s learning materials – alphabet books, reading programs, printing programs, apps, phonics games. So often, these appear in upper case letters. Let these people know you like their programs, but want to see them in lower case to most benefit students.

Even if upper case letters were easier (which they aren’t), we accomplish nothing by introducing them first since they have no connection to early literacy skills. Children still
have to learn the lower case formations and are then faced with sorting through 52 different formations rather than the 26 they most need for early reading success.