Teaching the Alphabet to Young Children
Make Letters Relevant
Parents of young children know the value of learning the alphabet in the early years, recognizing that exposure to letters is an important step toward reading; but many parents have questions about how to best introduce the ABCs to their little ones.
When introducing letters to your child, remember that young children learn best when they have opportunities to construct meaning from the information. One way to begin is with things that are familiar to your child, such as her name. Once she is able to recognize her name in print, encourage her to see the similarity between letters in her name and letters in names or other words around her. Point out other words that start with the same letter as her name, such as Sharon and Stop.
Create a Context
Create a context in which your child can understand how the alphabet works and how it relates to reading and writing. Alphabet books introduce the concept that the alphabet comprises a group of letters all with their own names and shapes. Your child can see the letters together and can hear that the letters have different names.
Using magazine or catalog pictures, help your child make an alphabet book in which the contents are related to plants and seeds (the A page features apples, the B page shows beans, etc.). This fun activity shows children the connections between concepts and letters, leading to understanding of the connections between ideas and words.
Show Writing Is Essential
One crucial aspect of teaching the alphabet is providing opportunities for your child to express himself through writing. For a young child, writing can be as simple as scribble marks, a drawing, or some approximation of a letter. It does not mean penmanship or copying letters from text.
Through writing, a child makes connections between print and the spoken word. Writing allows your child to recreate what he experienced in a story or other print. By using print to communicate his thoughts and ideas, your child will see the purpose of writing and learn how print, thus letters and reading, are related.
Give your child many opportunities to write or trace letters in various media. One good way to show your child the shapes of each letter is to point them out in alphabet books. Alphabet puzzles in which each letter is a puzzle piece allow her to feel the curves and lines of the letters. Finger painting gives a child a different sensory experience in forming letters.
Incorporate Letters into Daily Activities
Storybook reading, alphabet books, and playing with letters all help expose your child to print, and talking about the meanings of words can create a context for presenting the alphabet. By taking a playful approach grounded in your child’s interest, you can help him or her learn about the alphabet and take an important step toward reading and writing.
Fun Tips to Teach the Alphabet
Here are a few ways to introduce your child to learning the alphabet:
- Make your own alphabet book using pictures clipped from magazines.
- Talk about the letters in your child’s name.
- Make a name sign for his room.
- Place alphabet magnets on the refrigerator.
- Make a game of identifying letters around you.
Excerpted from “Teaching the Alphabet to Young Children,” by Barbara Wasik—an article in the NAEYC journal, Young Children.
Early Years Are Learning Years is a regular series from NAEYC, providing tips for giving young children a great start on learning.
The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) is the nation’s largest and most influential organization of early childhood educators and others dedicated to improving the quality of programs for children from birth through third grade. For more information about NAEYC, call 202-232-8777 or 800-424-2460, or visit www.naeyc.org.
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