My son had just turned 16 months old and we were sitting in his room playing with his wooden alphabet magnets when I casually asked him where the letter B was. I wasn’t expecting him to know; it had only been a month since I introduced him to the alphabet. To my surprise, he looked through the jumbled box of letters and pulled out the B.
I thought to myself, “This is just a coincidence. He must like that letter.” Testing this theory, I asked him for the O. Sure enough, after a few seconds of searching the box, he pulled out the O. We did this over and over, me trying to prove it was all coincidence. But, it wasn’t. He had actually recognized all the letters!
Because he acquired this skill astoundingly quickly, I decided to share with you some of my tricks I used to teach the alphabet. If you use them with your child, maybe he/she will surprise you, too!
Teaching Your Toddler the ABCs
1.) Draw the Alphabet
My son’s first introduction to the alphabet was this drawing I made for him a month before he astounded me with his new skill. The first step to teaching the alphabet is introducing your child to it. Draw the alphabet, or print the free printable below, and show it to her. Point to each letter as you sing the alphabet song, making sure to e·nun·ci·ate each sound.
Then, and this is critical, display the alphabet drawing in a high-traffic area of the house. I put mine at toddler-level on the refrigerator. Any and every time your child brings you the picture, sing the alphabet as you point. You’ll be surprised how often she brings it to you. She’s not trying to annoy you; she wants to learn!
2.) Use Manipulatives
If your child hasn’t yet mastered drawing with a crayon, the best way for her to get hands-on with the alphabet, feel it, change the letters around, and explore it is through manipulatives: foam, wooden, magnetic, or any three dimensional letters. My son loves his magnetic wooden letter set from Melissa&Doug. He also has some foam letters, at least what’s left after the cat ate them, that he loves. Even the plastic magnetic ones found in the kitchen aisle at Walmart will do.
3.) Educational Shows and Closed Captioning
Expose your child to the written word at any chance you get. PBS has a great show called Super Why that teaches about reading, spelling, and letter recognition. Parents across the country rave about it, and I do as well. It’s amazing to see my child, at less than 1.5 years old shouting out the letters as they appear on screen.
Something else my husband and I started doing to reinforce the alphabet was turning on the closed captioning any chance we get. My son delights in shouting out the letters as they pop up on screen. It also helps him make the connection that the sounds being spoken can also be written–that letters make sounds.
4.) Alphabet Books
READING IS ESSENTIAL TO LEARNING! I have several posts on that subject (find a list of them here or at the bottom of this post) but I thought it needed said again! Reading to your child is critical to language development!
For the purposes of learning the alphabet, I can’t recommend A is for Apple by Georgie Birkett enough! My son received it as a gift for his first birthday, and in a month’s time we’ve had to sure up every page with packaging tape because he’s read it so many times! Each page introduces your child to the capital and lowercase version of each letter with lift-the-flaps that show two objects that start with that letter. Your child can run his finger along the letter’s tracks (which are essentially engraved in the page) to learn how to write them.
There are plenty of other alphabet books out there, but this is the one I recommend.
5.) iPad Apps
It’s amazing how children today are so in-tune with technology. My son figured out how to swipe through pictures on his grandmother’s iPhone before he could crawl. While it’s best to limit screen-time for young children, it doesn’t hurt to harness their aptitude for technology and present them with educational, but FUN, programs. I recently had my son try this alphabet app on the iPad:
Search “alphabet” in the App Store and the app’s icon should be one of the first.
The object of the app is to identify the correct letter. The app will say “Find the letter M”. When the child touches the correct letter, the app will show a green check-mark and praise the child, saying variations of “Good job” or “Great work”! If the child gets the answer incorrect, the app makes a “bonk” sound. If your child can point, she can play this app!
6.) Find Letters EVERYWHERE AND IN EVERYTHING
My son’s favorite thing to do at the grocery store is read the letters on the handle of the shopping cart and the product packaging. We encourage finding letters everywhere we go, especially when we see signs with big letters! Ask your child the next time you see a McDonald’s sign to find the M. Spell out the letters on the cereal box as you pour your daughter some Cheerios. Serve alphabet soup and say each letter as your child eats it. This can be a fun activity, especially on road trips, if you get creative!
When your child incorrectly identifies a letter, such as calling an X a K, correct him. Say, “No, that is an X. Can you find the K?” You don’t have to praise your child every time he gets the letter correct, but well-placed and appropriate praise, as well as corrections, goes a long way in encouraging and exciting your child to keep practicing this skill. When your child feels accomplished, he’ll want to learn more! How can you do better than raising a child who loves learning?
50 Fantastic Alphabet Books For Kids by Allison McDonald
Book Recommendations for:
Here I answer your language development questions such as: How do babies acquire language? Can I read anything I want to baby? Why can’t I just talk to baby? When should I read to baby? … and much, much more.
Top 10 Tips to Help Children Love Reading by Free Little Words