In today’s video I am sharing tips and answering some common questions about teaching the alphabet. You can watch my video or read below.
If you’d like to learn more about this topic, click here to read about my book 101 Ways to Teach the Alphabet: A Hands-On Approach to Learning Letters and Sounds Through Play.
Thank you so much to everyone who has taken the time to comment or email me with questions about my last video, where I shared some of the research showing that letter knowledge is the pre-reading skill most closely associated with children’s reading achievement.
I am very passionate about helping parents, teachers, and caregivers find fun, creative, and multi-sensory ways to teach letters, which is why I have authored a book titled 101 Ways to Teach the Alphabet: A Hands-On Approach to Learning Letters and Sounds Through Play.
There is simply no need to bore kids to death with worksheet after worksheet when there are so many better and more developmentally appropriate ways to learn letter shapes, letter names, letter sounds, and how to write letters.
How do I teach the alphabet?
Between ages 1 and 2, children begin to develop an initial understanding of print. They begin paying attention to specific features of print, such as the first letters of their names. They learn that we read print from left to right and from top to bottom. Children may also begin to produce letter-like forms and scribbles that are early attempts at writing.
If you have a child at this stage:
- Sing songs and share rhymes that help your child develop their phonological awareness and phonemic awareness.
- Sing the alphabet song.
- Label your child’s possessions with their name.
- Provide opportunities for your child to develop their gross and fine motor skills.
Between ages 3 and 4, children begin to identify some letters and make letter-sound matches. Many children will begin to “write” using repeated wavy lines across a page with high and low points like letters. Children may also begin to write “words” with “squiggles” or with the letters they know.
If you have a child at this stage:
- Focus on doing activities that promote letter recognition and letter sounds knowledge.
- Your child may also enjoy some multi-sensory letter writing activities (e.g., writing letters in shaving cream).
- If your child can form some letters, teach your child to write their name.
- Have your child dictate stories to you that you write down and they illustrate.
- Continue to sing songs and rhymes as well as provide opportunities for fine motor skills development.
Between ages 5 and 6, most children learn to recognize all 26 letters and can identify most letter-sound matches. Children in this age range generally begin holding their pencil in the correct “three finger” or “tripod” grip.
If you have a child at this stage:
- Engage your child in activities to reinforce any letter sounds the child is still struggling with.
- Focus on perfecting letter formation.
- If needed, engage your child is letter case matching activities.
- Children at this stage are ready to begin early reading activities.
Common questions about teaching the alphabet
When I asked people what they wanted to know about teaching the alphabet, I kept hearing the same questions over and over.
How many letters should I introduce at a time?
A good rule of thumb is to introduce two to four new letters per week, but this is just a guideline. The most important thing is to follow your child’s lead as they show you what they are ready for.
Do I teach letter names or letter sounds first?
My advice, based on findings from research, is to either teach letter names first OR to teach letter names and letter sounds at the SAME TIME.
There is no evidence to suggest that children do best when they learn letter sounds in isolation, and there is good evidence that teaching letter names at the same time as letter sounds actually makes it easier for children to learn letter sounds.
How do I teach letters that make more than one sound?
We have a fairly wonky system in English because so many letters make more than one sound, and some sounds are made by more than one letter. It can be very confusing for a young learner to sort this all out!
However, as a general rule of thumb, start by teaching the short vowel sounds before the long vowel sounds. The short vowel sounds are those like /ă/ as in apple, /ĕ/ as in egg, /ĭ/ as in igloo, /ŏ/ as in otter, and /ŭ/ as in umbrella.
Children generally don’t need to know the long vowel sounds until they have started reading instruction and have mastered simple CVC (consonant-vowel-consonant) words.
As for the other letters that make more than one sound, teach the most common sound first, such as /g/ rather than /j/ for the letter ‘G’ and /s/ rather than /z/ for the letter ‘S.’
In what order should I teach the letters?
At one point, it may have seemed like a good idea to teach the letters in order starting with A and ending with Z. However, I would strongly advise against teaching letters in this order.
In my book, I share several different orders that you might choose for introducing the letters along with reasons why you might pick one order over another.
I will give you this little hint, however: If you are just introducing letters for the first time, consider starting with the first letter of the child’s name. Kids just love to learn things that are relevant to them, and teaching the first letter of their name is a great way to grab their interest.
How do I help my child write with the proper pencil grip?
It turns out that developing the proper pencil grip is actually quite a complicated developmental process. Children go through a variety of stages as they develop the proper pencil grip, and many children do not master the proper “three finger” or “tripod” grip until 5 or 6 years of age.
In my book I explain the various stages of how children develop the proper pencil grip and tell you what to look for at each stage. I also explain why it can be detrimental to your child to force him or her to use the proper pencil grip before he or she is ready.
Many more questions
In my book, I address a number of hot topics such as whether to teach uppercase or lowercase letters first, and whether to teach print, D’Nealian, or cursive writing first.
I also explain how to teach children to write with the proper letter strokes, and why this even matters.
I further discuss the very common issue of letter reversals, in addition to providing some resources to help children learn to keep their b’s and d’s straight.
Making letter learning multi-sensory and fun!
As you can see, I am super excited about sharing knowledge and tools for making letter learning fun in my book, 101 Ways to Teach the Alphabet. I know this book is going to help so many parents, teachers, and caregivers make letter learning a fun and successful process for children.
Chapter 1 is where I address all of your most burning questions about the alphabet.
Chapter 2 includes more than 20 fun activities to help children learn letter shapes and letter names, including play dough letter stamping, which is great for kids who enjoy using play dough, and creating an alphabet parking lot, which will be a hit with all the toy car enthusiasts.
When your child is ready to move into learning letter sounds, Chapter 3 includes more than 30 active and creative ways to help kids learn letter sounds through activities such as cooking up their own “alphabet soup” and playing a life-sized alphabet board game.
In Chapter 4, I provide ideas for more than 30 activities to help children learn letter formation, with the goal of eventually having children write letters correctly on paper. Children will enjoy using “magic paint” to form big letters on the sidewalk, and kids who love outer space will get a thrill out of writing letters in “moon sand.”
Finally, Chapter 5 includes a number of activities to help children match uppercase and lowercase letters in fun and creative ways.
I hope this overview has addressed some of your questions about teaching the alphabet, and helps you see just how playful letter learning can be.
To your success!