Children enthusiastically sing the alphabet song and begin recognizing letters in their environment at a very young age – often between the ages of 2 and 3. Many children between the ages of 4 and 6 can name most of the letters. This is an age when letter name and sound activities can boost pre-reading skills, helping children discover the joy of reading once they are ready.
Young children quickly discover that print contains a message, both in books and in their community. Parents are often surprised at how quickly children learn to recognize print within a visual or artistic context. For example, children “read” signs in their environment, such as red “STOP” signs. Very young children recognize many predictable and colorful signs outside favorite stores or restaurants.
Children recognize and learn the letters in their first name easily because they see it often and it is a very meaningful word. Once children understand that print in favorite picture books has meaning, they begin the exciting journey of learning to decode the words their parents and teachers know how to read.
Try these alphabet activities with children who are beginning to name letters and understand that letters are in the words they see all around them.
- Alphabet Matching Game: Write all of the upper and lower case alphabet letters on small pieces of paper or index cards. Help the child match each upper and lower case set.
- Letter Sound Matching Game: Use the letter cards you made for the alphabet matching game. Gather a collection of small toys and objects. Then, match each object with the letter card that identifies the first sound in each object's name.
- Sensory Alphabet Game: Fill a tray with a couple of inches of sand, rice, or dried beans. Show or tell the child a letter. Then, ask them to form letters in the tray with their finger. You can also ask a child to write simple words if they are ready.
- Rainbow alphabet: Give the child a container of 3-D letters, such as plastic magnetic letters. Help them place the letters in alphabetical order in the shape of a rainbow (semicircle). Once the rainbow alphabet has been formed, ask questions such as: Show me the letter R, show me the letter that comes after R, show me the letter that comes before R, show me a letter in your name.
- Mystery Letters: Place a 3-D letter in a bag. Ask the child to stick their hand into the bag, feel the letter, and guess which letter it is.
- Simon Says the Alphabet: Use the same rules as the game “Simon Says”. Say, Simon says, point to R. Continue with a few letters. Children are tricked when you fail to say “Simon says”. (For example, Point to A.)
- Read and Make Alphabet Books: The public library has a wide variety of colorful and creative alphabet books. Many are educational or based on holiday themes. Once you have read some alphabet books together, children can make their own alphabet book. Create a book by making a cover, then one page for each letter. Write or type one letter on the top of each page. Cut and glue pictures from magazines, or color your own pictures. You can also print photographs or pictures from your computer and glue them onto each alphabet page.
- Take advantage of free printables online. If you type free alphabet printables into your search engine, you will find some wonderful - and free! - resources.