The curiosity about how to teach letters to your child is such a hot topic! Learning the alphabet unlocks so many new doors, and letter recognition is the foundation of early literacy.
“How do I teach my child the alphabet,” is one of the most commonly asked questions. What we have learned in more recent studies is that helping our children hear letter sounds and watch our mouths when we form letters is more important than memorizing. Learn why hands-on learning is important for child development and easy ways you can set up ways to practice.
Here are 10 letter recognition activities for toddlers and preschoolers. Recognizing a letter can happen in four forms; uppercase print, lowercase print, uppercase cursive, and lowercase cursive. To better understand reading development, read our article, A Parent’s Guide to Phonemic Awareness.
This article will look closely at alphabet recognition and how you can help your child learn the letters. – All through hands-on play, of course!
RELATED: Here are five ways to incorporate reading readiness into your daily routine with toddlers, preschoolers, and big kids.
What Is Letter Recognition?
Letter recognition is the ability to identify letter names, recognize what a letter looks like, recognize how a letter sounds, and how notes come together to make blended sounds.
The alphabet does not need to be taught in a specific order; however, many believe teaching should begin with the most common letters. For example, T, L, and M will be taught before X and Q.
I like to begin with the letters in my child’s name.
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Why is Letter Recognition Important?
By Kindergarten, children learning under the Common Core will be asked to recognize and remember lowercase letters of the alphabet.
Let’s remember that we have plenty of time to build solid foundations of what letters look like, what they are called, and what sound they make.
In preschool, we want to respect this time and introduce letters with lots of room for learning through play and exploration. Exploring the letter names, what a letter looks like, letter sounds, and letter relationships take time to develop!
RELATED: 101 preschool activities to use throughout the year!
Typical Stages of Letter Recognition:
- Letter Names: Understands letters have names.
- Identify 10 Letters: Can identify ten letters, including their name. This is when they also begin to recognize their name in print.
- Case Differences: Begins to identify lowercase and uppercase letters.
- Letter Sounds: Develops a more in-depth understanding that letters stand for sounds.
- Mastery: Masters all letter sounds and can identify letter names.
RELATED: Alphabet toys are a great addition to toys toddlers and preschoolers use daily!
How to Teach Letter Recognition:
- Start with the letters in your child’s name: These letters will have meaning, and your child will be invested in wanting to remember them. Begin with these 15+ Name Activities.
- Show how the letter is formed: Is it a straight line? Curve? Do you recognize a point in your letter?
- Read ABC books: Here is an excellent list of ABC books from Happily Ever Elephants.
- Use a poster: Write your child’s name on a poster and hang it in their room. Decorate posters with the letters of the alphabet. Hang them at eye level.
- Magnetic letter play: Play with magnetic letters so they can be creative and get comfortable with letter recognition.
- Songs: Sing songs about the alphabet.
- Sound and picture: Match letter sounds with pictures.
- Play games: Letter cards are great for recognition learning (and fun!)
- Make ABC books: Have your child stamp, and you write the words.
- Relate letters to people they know and love: Share and begin to recognize the names of family and friends.
- Sound it out: Talk about how the letter sounds. H, hat, /h/.
- Write it out: After much practice with fine motor skills, begin to write the letters.
10 Activities to Introduce, Improve, and Practice Letter Recognition.
Now more than ever, parents are stressed about doing too much. According to this survey that shares the impacts of the pandemic on young children and their parents, the frequency of parents reading to children and indoor play has dropped.
Parents are more likely to rely on screens because it is a way to decompress after a long work day. (No judgment, it is impossible to do all the things. I feel it too.)
This letter recognition post is intended to share low-prep activities to bring back hands-on learning through play that will feel as easy to set up as relying on digital devices.
RELATED: If you have a toddler just starting, begin with these quick and easy letter recognition activities that use two letters simultaneously.
This easy alphabet idea comes from our activity cards set one. Gather some black rocks from the dollar store and write a few letters on each one with a white permanent marker. Have your toddler or preschooler practice with the first letter of family members’ names. Next, try playing with all the letters in your child’s name.
Did you know that letters have curves, straights, slants, tunnels, and dots? I didn’t either until it was pointed out to me. Seeing and recognizing this is the first step to writing the letters. Let’s pay attention to how a letter looks before putting the pencil in their hand and asking a child to write their name.
Grab your muffin tin! This alphabet surprise game is a hoot. Put letters in the muffin tin and cover with tissue paper. Your child plays by poking through the tissue paper and recalling the letter name pulled. This is a great risk-free way to ask your child which letters they recognize without the stress of flashcards.
Beans are a hit for sensory play. Bury a few plastic lacing letters and invite your child to dig in. Grasping these small letters will help with fine motor development and stimulate the senses for more learning!
RELATED: Does your child enjoy sensory play? Check out these 40 sensory bins for kids.
Curious about which letters your child knows but also wants to tread lightly? Good call! I also don’t enjoy being interrogated. Your child drives each car to the correct parking spot as you call out letters for this letter recognition activity. If your child is new to learning letters, use less. We can add on more letters as your child develops.
Cheers to a classic name activity. (you can also find it in this 15+ name activities for kids post). Write the names of family members throughout the paper. Next, invite your child to find their name on the giant poster and circle it. This is an excellent way to prep for writing and hold a steady hand as your child circles each name.
When the weather warms up, head outside to splash the alphabet. For this idea, I like to take a back seat with a large seltzer and show my child a letter card. We talk about the letter name and the letter sound; then, he is off to splash it with colored water. This is a BIG win – especially for reluctant learners.
We made this magnetic board years ago, but never underestimate a cookie sheet! Make a large letter using tape and have your toddler or preschooler follow the lines with transportation magnets or race cars. This letter activity is a fun prewriting activity to practice the lines and curves of letters.
RELATED: Ready to write? Here are the stages of writing development.
Let’s put those lacing letters to good use with another activity. Here, your child will fish the letters out from the pond and color-sort them when finished. As I sip my hot tea, my preschooler and I chat about the letters he grabbed. Skills practiced are fine motor development, hand-eye coordination, letter recognition, and color sorting. Phew! Can you believe all that in ONE idea? Five stars.
Alphabet Bingo – with a twist!
Remember bingo? Here is how your child can play solo. Grab some letters and place them in a tissue box. Write the letters you picked on the paper. Invite your child to dig in the box and try and get five in a row to win. This makes a fantastic morning activity we like to call Breakfast Invitations.
As your child begins to put sounds together, head to this Kindergarten word family post for a list of consonant, vowel, and consonant words. We call these words CVC words or word families. Invite your child to think of words in the -at family by changing the beginning sound. If it is a word, try using it in a sentence. Toss the letter into the nonsense word dish if it makes a nonsense word.
Another great activity for Kindergartners to explore beginning sounds is this picture and sound match-up we played with my five-year-old.
More Letter Activities
Frequently Asked Questions
Start with the letters in your child’s name. These letters are familiar to children, which makes them more invested. Children who feel connected to learning are more likely to take risks. Use these 15-name activities to get started.
We can take a step back when a child struggles to memorize letter names. Begin talking about the letters you notice in your environment and invite your child to play with the letters in their name. Take learning letters slow to honor your child’s pace. Meet your child at the stage they are by identifying a few letters at a time. Add more letters as your child develops.
When children show reading readiness, we want to model what our mouth looks like when saying the letter sound. Begin talking about how our voice box vibrates (or doesn’t) when making the letter sounds. Bringing attention to these details will help your child decode words as reading becomes more complex over the years.
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