Learning the alphabet forms the foundation of your child’s education.
By the time a child enters kindergarten, many schools, like Medina Christian Academy, prefer a student be able to recognize capital and lower case letters and know all their beginning short vowel sounds, according to Dana Anzevino, Pre-K 4 teacher at the Medina-based school.
“We also try to teach some basic sight words before entering kindergarten and teach children to mock a rhyming word,” she adds.
Children also should know two or three nursery rhymes by heart, two or three favorite songs by heart, be able to recognize their own name in print, and know the difference between numbers and letters, according to Susan Canizares, chief academic officer at Learning Care Group, which operates Childtime Learning Centers, among other brands.
Whether you’re supplementing your child’s preschool education or teaching the beginning basics at home, following the proper methods for learning the alphabet can give your son or daughter a strong start.
When to Begin
Teaching the basics doesn’t just begin before children head off to school. They can begin learning as infants.
According to Amber Bowling, district manager for KinderCare Learning Center, “It’s never too early to read aloud and talk to your baby. It’s more about exposing them to books and reading as much as possible at a young age — that’s where it starts.”
Bowling adds that as children grow through the early childhood years, they will begin to naturally express interest in letters they see in books and in their environment.
“Teaching children their ABCs doesn’t need to be formal. It can be as simple as saying, ‘That’s the letter m,’ when you notice your baby studying the colorful letter on one side of a block.”
Parents can make up little letter rhymes or sing songs.
In fact, Anzevino says songs can play a large role in educating young children. “Enjoy and have fun singing the ABC song, as well as others, with your child at a very young age. From there, you can read books together and point out each letter. Most kids really seem to grasp the concept between the ages 3 and 5.”
When it comes to teaching the alphabet, she encourages parents to have fun with their youngsters. “Give them items that will not only entertain but also engage their learning: books, letter blocks, letter magnets, songs and dances, picture cards and so much more,” Anzevino notes.
Equally important to learning the alphabet, parents can help develop a child’s vocabulary with rich alternatives to the words they already know and are comfortable with, according to Canizares, who cites examples like, “That muffin is delicious!” and “Let’s come inside from the rain before we get drenched!”
Parents can point out different objects and identify the letter through the object. Examples include “T for truck” or “D for doll,” etc.
To ensure your child is organically exposed to written words in everyday life, Bowling recommends labeling items in your house so your child begins to recognize letters associated with familiar objects. Also, when reading to your child daily, “expand on what you read by asking your child who-what-when-where-how-why questions,” she adds.
“Learning the alphabet involves more than teaching letter identification,” Canizares says. “Children need to develop an understanding of what the alphabet represents and to grasp how letters function in written language.”
She notes there are many alphabet books available that show objects that begin with each letter.
“You can also create cards featuring simple pictures of objects, or animals, and have your child select pictures of things that begin with a particular letter,” Canizares adds. “Make a card game featuring the names of family members or friends. See which letter appears in names the most times, or which name has the most m’s, or e’s.”
There are scores of apps available, but Anzevino particularly recommends the following: Monkey Preschool Lunchbox; Handwriting Without Tears; TeachMe: Toddler; “Bug” games including Bug and Bubbles, as well as Bug and Buttons; Bob Books; Starfall; and The Joy of Reading.
There are many letter-related tv shows and DVDs. Parents can help their children choose programming that is educational and fun.
Taking the Next Steps
Once your child is able to recognize and name letters, it’s time to “crack the code,” Bowling says. “Once your child recognizes their letters, the next step is to help them learn the sounds associated with each letter.
“As your child commits letter-sound associations to memory, he or she can begin to use that knowledge to sound out consonant-vowel-consonant words such as ‘cat’ and ‘mop.’”
These are the stepping stones to reading.
To help your child progress, Canizares recommends continuing to read aloud together, re-reading their favorite books.
“When children have memorized the words of a favorite book, start pointing to the words as you read so that kids can begin associating print to text,” she says. “Encourage your child to draw, scribble and write. The more you write, the better you read. When your child makes a birthday card for a relative, or draws and writes a story, these activities help develop the ability to learn to read.”