Upper Case Vs. Lower Case


I understand using upper case to emphasize a specific word or phrase in a piece of text. Of course, abbreviations and acronyms should also be written in upper case.

What I don’t understand is how in children’s programs complete words are often written in upper case letters.

Almost all of the letters in a text, no matter whether it be online or in printed text will be lower case letters. These are the letters that children should be learning.

I appreciate that children’s programming tries to teach about letters, words, phonics, spelling, and vocabulary. Maybe I shouldn’t be so quick to judge the seemingly predominate use of uppercase letters. Either way the children are learning, right?

But consider this

One great show that I have seen about building words is an animated program called “Word World.” It has likable characters that often play with letters to build objects they need for the story. It is very well done and I understand why upper case letters are used here. It is much easier to use capital letters because most of them have a flat top and bottom to them. As such, they lend themselves well to creating depictions of the words using their letters. Good enough.

But other shows often spell complete words in UPPER CASE when it is REALLY NOT NEEDED. PERHAPS IT IS EVEN DETRIMENTAL TO DO SO. Most letters are round and of different sizes and positions. Kids need to learn this. They need to be exposed to more and more words to learn.

Shows like Sesame Street and The Electric Company just seem to get it. This image is from an older episode of The Electric Company but the new shows are following on this tradition.

Notice how the word “steal” is all in lower case. This prepares kids better for their reading in the real world. This word will most likely look like this in a chapter or picture book.

The other great thing about the presentation of this word on the screen is that the vowel sound is in a different colour. It is easy to understand and teaches kids phonics.

What do you think? Do you see this as a problem or do you think I am nit-picking? Do you write in upper case letters when you print? Join the discussion and drop a comment below. Thanks!

11 responses to “Upper Case Vs. Lower Case”

  1. I'd be curious to have a Kindergarten or Pre-School teacher weigh in on this one. I see what you're saying, Chase, but I wonder if there's a reason why these kiddie programs start with upper case. I know Sesame Street introduces both, and Jolly Phonics begins with lower case.

    Personally, I agree with you. They need to be able to read real material in the real world. Children's books normally are not exclusively one or the other. A great example is Dr. Seuss. He is arguably one of the most famous children's authors and always uses upper and lower. His book "Dr. Seuss' ABC" is the best example: "Big U, little u, what begins with u?". I am fairly sure that Dr. Seuss is solely responsible for my learning to read, and I like to think he was pretty successful with his lower and upper case method!

    – Elle

  2. Hi Elle,

    We write sentences that use upper case letters in very specific situations; starting a sentence, proper nouns, acronyms. We don't spell entire words in uppercase EVER. Well, maybe not ever but I'm sure you see my point.

    Maybe I am just reading too much into this. Believe it or not, I have been wanting to write this post for months now. I just wasn't sure how to go about it, so it sat on my computer incomplete for weeks and weeks.

    I wish more people would've weighed in here to get some kind of consensus.

    Thanks for your comment. It's always good to see you here!

  3. i write in lower case on the web and a lot of times even on paper, i just like it better.

    i think for kids lower case is better.

  4. You cannot believe how important it is to teach kids lower case letter recognition – this is not something they will intuit via osmosis, given the over-abundance of written stimulation that is in upper case only. Proportion and understanding the relationship of shapes are all key indicators to a child learning to read and attending to this detail is essential to their cognitive development and good reading/writing skills.

  5. I am a pediatric occupational therapist and am often asked to consult on fine motor and printing skills. It is a big debate in the school districts in my area and controversial whether to teach upper or lower case or both! Popular printing programs like Handwriting Without Tears start with upper case and claim its superiority, developmentally. However, this is not the case! There are MORE diagonal strokes in upper case. My conclusion is that upper case makes sense only if using those program materials. Other programs like Jolly Phonics and Itchy's Alphabet are great, use a kinesthetic approach and are very successful. This is much better for the hundreds of kids with fine motor or motor planning difficulties that makes it virtually impossible to switch later, and handicaps them considering 95% of print is lower case. And yes, most television shows use both upper and lower case – including Word World and Super Why.

  6. Hi Anonymous,

    Thanks a lot for that professional insight. I was sort of leaning the same way. I actually use Jolly Grammar since I teach Grade 3.

    I've never used Jolly Phonics but I would if I taught Kindergarten, Grade 1 or 2.

    Thanks for the great comment!

  7. I also agree that children should be taught how to write both cases properly. It is hard enough now when they are old enough to use text and email but at least start out as we mean to go on! One question, does anyone know why some people switch from all lower or all upper case in letters? Does it depend on emotional state of mind I wonder?

  8. Hi Anonymous,

    When you write in all upper case letters it seems as if you are SHOUTING or YELLING.

    Some people use it to call extra ATTENTION to the text as well.

    For the most part though, you can achieve this effect with more literate means.

    Thanks for your comment! I hope that helps!

  9. I have taught preschool for 30 years, and have always taught the “proper” way to write children’s names, with the first letter capitalized. I also focus on lower case letters of the alphabet, because these are what a child needs to know to read, and in my experience most kids already know many if their capital letters when they come to me. The current place I’m working uses handwriting without years, and I am NOT a fan!

  10. Hi Preschool Teacher,

    Thanks for the comment. Are you talking about cursive writing? It is my experience that that has fallen by the wayside in most schools.