How to Teach Your Child the Alphabet

At some time between two and four years of age, your child will be ready to start learning the alphabet. The most important thing to remember is to keep it fun. Your two-year-old is not ready to sit down for formal alphabet lessons. She wants life to be fun. Do not try to drill the alphabet into her. Make it a game. Remember the thing she loves more than anything else is your attention. If you make learning the alphabet a thing you do together, it will become something she enjoys.

If you find your child is still not ready to learn the alphabet, do not push her. You should not feel disappointed with her. She will be ready when she is ready. There is no rush. She does not have to start learning the alphabet when she is two. If she has learned the alphabet by the time she is four, she is already ahead of the game. If you push your child too hard, you will only turn learning into a chore the child hates. This will be much more damaging to the child's future educational development than not knowing the alphabet when she is two years old.

Alphabet Song

Start by singing the alphabet song together. It will surprise you how quickly your child knows all the letters and can sing the song on her own. When she first sings on her own, she will skip letters or sing them in the wrong order. This does not matter. She is on her way.

Look at an illustrated alphabet sheet while you sing the song together. You could get a book with a clearly illustrated ABC page. 'A' is for 'apple', 'B' is for 'boy', etc. Alternatively, stand in front of your ABC poster. Now you can point to the letters as you sing them. After you have pointed at all the letters, let your child have a go. She will inevitably point at the letters at a different speed than you are singing the song. She cannot match the letters with their sounds yet but she is beginning to understand the concept. The sounds in the song represent the letters of the alphabet.

Match the Pictures

Whilst looking at your ABC sheet, start challenging your child to find the pictures.

"Where is the apple?"

When your child points at the apple, congratulate her.

"Yes, well done, that is the apple."

Now you can point at the 'A'.

"A is for apple."

You are making it a game. Your child will enjoy searching for the pictures while subconsciously starting to associate the pictures with their letters. Next, start challenging her to find the letters.

"Where is the A?"

Your child will probably not be able to point at the 'A' yet. Give her a clue.

"A is for apple."

She will point at the apple. She probably still cannot really identify the shape of the 'A' on its own but she is associating it with the picture.

Keep it Fun

You should do this over a period of weeks or months. You should do lots of short sessions rather than a few long sessions. Your young child still has a limited attention span. Doing many five or ten minute sessions is much more effective than doing a few long sessions where your child will lose interest and switch off. It does not matter if you miss a few days here and there. You have started teaching early so there is plenty of time.

Start Writing the Letters

Next, you need to show your child an ABC sheet without illustrations. Challenge her to find the letters. Now, she has to identify the letters by their shape with no pictures to help her. This is not so much fun for your child. With no illustrations, she will quickly become bored and frustrated.

You need to add variation to your lessons and your child needs to start identifying the shapes of the letters. You should combine learning to read with learning to write. It is the best way to involve the child in the learning process. The child's reading ability does tend to lead her writing ability but writing the letters, and eventually the words, enforces the learning process.

Get a sheet of paper and a pencil. Sit down with your child and start writing letters. Invite your child to copy. Start with A, B, or C. They are nice simple letters for the child to write and they are at the start of the alphabet so the child should know them well. Her initial efforts at writing may be illegible. It does not matter. She is still learning the shapes of the letters. If she wants to add drawings for them then that is fine. You can join in and add drawings that match the letter.

You still want to keep the lessons fun but do not allow your child to lead you totally away from writing the letters. Your child will probably enjoy the drawing part of these lessons and will be happy to sit down for much longer sessions than previously. If she does a picture of a house then you can write an 'H' and say "H is for house". Get her to copy.

Little Confusions

Should you teach your child the alphabet in upper-case or lower-case? Is it better to learn the big 'A' or the little 'a'? Well unfortunately, your child will come across both upper-case and lower-case letters very early in her reading development. As if she does not have enough to learn, she needs to know both. You should quickly introduce your child to the concept of big letters and little letters.

"This is a big A, this is a little a."

She will come across plenty of other little confusions as she learns the alphabet. It is amazing how many children's books insist on printing the small 'A' using the typeface 'a' rather than the hand-written style 'a'. This is sure to confuse your child the first time she meets it.

In some print fonts, the large 'I' can look like a small 'L' or even the number '1'. These similarities are no problem for adults because we understand them from the context. They will confuse the child for months or years until her reading ability becomes good enough.

You will just have to keep explaining these oddities as you meet them until your child's reading ability reaches a level where she can deal with them.

Introduce the Concept of Phonics

As your child becomes comfortable with the alphabet, you can start introducing the concept of phonics.

"A makes an 'ah' sound like 'ah-pple'."

Do not make a big deal of it at these early stages. The child does not need to memorise all the phonic rules yet. We just want her to start understanding the concept.

Next: How to Teach your Child to Read

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