When the laundry is piling up and your to-do list seems to be growing by the minute, the last thing you are thinking about is how you can support your child’s growth in literacy and how to help them learn the alphabet. Sometimes you just need quick and easy activities and games that can support this important milestone in your little one’s life. That’s why after reading this, you will be able to:

  • Know why teaching the alphabet is important
  • Know when your child is ready to learn the alphabet
  • Understand the approach to you should take
  • Get 7 simple, yet effective ways to help your child learn the alphabet
  • Learn why printables aren’t the best way to support alphabet learning
  • Explore some teacher-approved learning apps and games
  • Learn what your child should be able to accomplish before Kindergarten
Mother helping child learn the alphabet with wooden letters on a desk.

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Why Should You Be Teaching Your Child the Alphabet?

Learning the alphabet is not an easy task. Your child is basically learning a whole new language: the language of reading. Although some children are able to quickly pick up the alphabetic code (letters and their sounds), it is still important to explicitly teach your child the alphabet.

All children learn at different rates so it is important to follow your child’s lead when they are trying to learn the alphabet.

Explicit teaching helps all children learn directly and research has shown that it is far superior to just guiding on the side.

That’s not to say that your child shouldn’t be exploring and constructing their own learning whenever possible. Having letters out to play with is a great way to provide a literacy rich environment that your little one can learn from.

However, if you want your child to specifically learn anything, peppering in some explicit instruction by modeling and showing them what to do will definitely increase their learning.

When Should You Teach Your Child the Alphabet?

There isn’t a strict point in time during your child’s development that you should help your little one learn the alphabet. Children can learn the alphabet any time between the ages of 2 and 6 (source)! If you are looking for some signs of readiness, check out the following:

They Can Speak in Phrases or Sentences

When your child can speak in phrases or sentences, they are not only able to understand the language being used around them, but they are also able to communicate their own needs.

This helps your little one be able to demonstrate what they know about letters in more than one way. For example, an emerging communicator’s receptive language, or the language that they understand, is much higher than their expressive language, the language they can speak.

When working with the alphabet, an emerging communicator may be able to point to letters when you ask them or hold them up for you if you prompt them. A more advanced communicator should be able to orally express letters when prompted and talk about the alphabet. Both types of communicators can learn about the alphabet of course, but the latter will be able to show you what they know in multiple forms of communication.

They Show an Interest in Books and Letters

It would be extremely difficult to teach your child the alphabet if they are not showing any interest in it. Once again, I am emphasizing how critical it is to not force a child into learning something they are not ready to learn. It will only cause frustration and impact your child’s print motivation.

Your child should show an interest in books and letters before you try to formally teach them. Even if they are playing with books by stacking them or organizing them on shelves, that is an interest in books! Don’t worry if your child is not interested yet. Tons of exposure will support their learning. This post contains some other ideas that can support your child’s interest.

Mother and little girl reading a book together.

They are Labeling Their Environment

Children want to naturally label the world around them. This will apply to the alphabet too. If you have immersed your child in the alphabet using magnetic letters or bathtub letters, your child is probably familiar with the different shapes of each symbol. If they aren’t already, they will probably be tugging on your pant leg holding each letter up one at a time saying, “What’s this? What’s this?” This is an excellent sign that they are ready to start learning more about the alphabet.

How Should You Teach the Alphabet?

There are many different theories regarding what approach you should take when teaching the alphabet. As a proactive parent, you can’t really go wrong as long as you are following your child’s lead. Here are some research-based ideas that will help you along your journey.

Name First

Young children are fascinated by their names so it makes sense to work with letters that are associated with them. Research has shown that working with the letters in your little one’s name can be highly motivating and help to promote their self-identity.

Focus on Lowercase Letters

Think about it…when you open up any book, what are the majority of the letters on that page, uppercase or lowercase?

In a simple program that surveyed the ratio of uppercase letters to lowercase letters in a sample of over 31,000 ebooks, the average percentage of uppercase letters was 3.68%. That means over 96% of the print your child sees is lowercase. So if you want your child diving into books sooner, your focus should be on the lowercase letters, sprinkling in the uppercase when your child has gotten a few letters under their belt.

felt lowercase letters

Out of Order

Not all letters are created equally. In fact, there are letters that are occur so much more frequently in print that they are necessary to learn first in order for a beginner reading to start processing texts. According to this article from the Early Childhood Education Journal, the top three most frequent letters are r, t, and n. Notice how a, b, and c aren’t on that list!

The sooner you start to introduce these more frequent letters, the sooner you can have your child start trying to learn those sounds and practice identifying and decoding simple words that contain those letters.

7 Simple Yet Effective Activities that Teach the Alphabet

So now on to the simple activities that you can do with your little one that will have them jumping for joy about finding letters wherever they go.

Sorting

sorting magnetic letters to learn the alphabet

Sorting is a simple and playful introduction to letter learning. The point of this activity is to explore the subtle differences between the shapes and sizes of letters.

I recommend using magnetic letters that are in the shape of the actual letter, not letter tiles or cards. The reason for this is that your child can visually and physically manipulate the letter itself when they are trying to distinguish the differences between the letters.

Some ways that you can sort letters with your little one is to sort letters that have sticks, tails, and curves. You can also sort by colors if you have colorful letters. Or you can let your child explore and create their own categories for their letters. Their groupings may surprise you!

Any way you practice sorting is a positive experience with letters. Even though this activity doesn’t teach the letter names, that doesn’t mean that you can’t incorporate that into your play. You can hand your child the letter and say, “Here’s an e. Where would you put the letter e?”

Matching

matching magnetic letters to learn the alphabet

Matching is another playful activity that allows your child to learn the alphabet. This is another more introductory activity that you can do to help your child identify different letters.

You can use any type of letters for this activity: magnetic letters, letter tiles, letter cards, or anything else you can think of. The point of this activity is to have your child identify a matching letter. There are many different ways to match: lowercase to lowercase, uppercase to uppercase, lowercase to uppercase, and letters to sounds.

Again, the key to making this activity effective is your talk and guidance during play. You could say, “Here’s a lowercase t. Let’s try to find the uppercase t.”

Learn a really engaging way to match (with some free materials!) along with some other literacy boosting activities in my Read to Lead FREE email course.

ABC Books

There are so many ABC books available to you and they are a great way to get some serious alphabet time in with your little one.

ABC books often introduce letter names and objects that start with that letter. After reading a book, you can do some activities within the book. Ask your child to find you the letter d like in the word dog (or whatever examples your letter book has for a specific letter).

This is also a springboard to explore more about letter names and sounds in your child’s environment. You can ask your child what their favorite page or letter was in the book and then take your child around the house finding other things that begin with that letter.

Through ABC books, your child is learning to identify letters and even associate a sound that goes with that letter.

Letter Book Hunt

Whatever letters you are teaching your child at the moment, doing a letter book hunt is a perfect way to reinforce the identification of those letters in the context of a book. A lot of helping your child learn the alphabet is done in isolation. While this is good for when you are introducing a letter, one way for you continue to strengthen your child’s letter recognition is to have them find the letters inside of a book.

Little boy sitting on mother's lap reading a book

You can use any book to do this activity, but I recommend using children’s literature because of the bigger font size. Open up to any page or your child’s favorite page in that book. Then have your child see how many times they can find the focus letter on that page. If your child can count, that is great! If not, keep a tally with toys as markers or have your child draw tallies on a board or paper.

Since children love competitions, you can make this more engaging by counting how many times the letter is found on multiple pages and seeing which page “wins”.

Songs

Children learn a lot through song so it makes sense to use music to help your child learn the alphabet.

I recommend exploring Jack Hartmann’s YouTube channel for some great alphabet songs. Get involved and sing along!

Creating Letters

One of the best ways for your child to commit those letters to memory is to get them physically involved in their learning. Creating letters with different mediums not only is a perfect sensory experience, but research has shown that this multisensory approach to learning is the best method for maximum retention.

There are a multitude of sensory objects you can use to help your child create different letters. Playdoh, wikki stix, and pipe cleaners are useful tools that are perfect when you want your child to create a model of the letters.

You can use shaving cream, kinetic sand or regular sand, or hair gel on a flat surface to create a reusable blank slate and have your child trace the letters.

Using an Alphabet Chart

Alphabet charts are a great tool to use for a variety of purposes. Based off of research from Fountas and Pinnell and Jan Richardson, these charts are a way to help children link letters to sounds because they utilize a key picture that goes with every sound. This allows your child to have a concrete object that relates back to the letter symbol, helping them to remember a letter or sound when they are having difficulty.

To get your hands on an Alphabet Chart and lots of other activities to implement into your daily literacy routine, be sure to sign up for my Read to Lead FREE email course.

Learn the alphabet; magnetic letters and alphabet chart

Find the Letter

One way to use the Alphabet Chart is to simply ask your child to find the letter you name. This forces them to scan all of the letters and identify the correct one, demonstrating to you that they know what that letter looks like.

Cover the Letter

Cover one of the letters with a card or toy so your child can’t see. Ask them what letter is missing? You can have them try to guess. If they have trouble, sing the ABC song with them and try to guide them to figure out which letter is missing. You can also give them hints such as “These words begin with our missing letter…”

Find the Letter that Makes this Sound

Another twist on the find the letter is to use the sounds the letters make to identify the letters. The Alphabet Chart is perfect when learning letter sounds because it does have those key pictures for each letter, helping your child think about what sound each picture starts with in order to identify the letters.

Think of Another Word that Starts With…

This is a more challenging request as it involves having your child recall a word that is not listed on the chart. If they are easily able to produce one word, challenge them to list a couple of words.

Apps and Online Resources

There are many apps and websites that can be a supportive tool in helping your child learn the alphabet. While I highly recommend that your instruction be engaging, play-based, and active, I understand the role that technology plays in society today.

Here are some of my favorite, teacher-approved websites/apps for your child to explore.

Websites

Apps

What Your Child Should be Able to Do before Kindergarten

It’s so easy to fall into the pressure that your child should know all of their letters and sounds before they enter Kindergarten. And while a Kindergarten teacher may admit that it is a nice perk for them, that is not their expectations!

Mom helping little girl learn the alphabet drawing letters with markers on a piece of paper.

The average age range for children to learn the alphabet is from ages 2 through 6. And while the alphabet is very important for learning to read, there are other literacy skills that are also developmentally appropriate for your child to learn before Kindergarten that will boost their success.

Here are some of the literacy-related skills your child should have before they enter Kindergarten:

  • Identify some letters and sounds
  • Write their name (can be a combination of upper- or lowercase letters)
  • Speak in complete sentences
  • Identify some common sight words
  • Listen to a story without interruption
  • Tell stories about their own lives in sequence

Practicing the activities above will give your child the head start they need to be ready for Kindergarten.

What are some of your favorite alphabet activities? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below! And don’t forget to share=)