Government studies confirm that children who are read to and and who recognize the letters of the alphabet have an easier time learning how to read and thus do better in school, so maximize your children’s exposure to the letters of the alphabet. Give them alphabet books, alphabet blocks, alphabet magnets and clothing decorated with the alphabet. Here are some ideas for using such objects in simple alphabet and spelling games that you can play with your young children, to help them get off on the right foot, and do it all while making it an enjoyable part of everyday life.
Make a game of naming the letters of the alphabet and pronouncing the sounds that they make. Practice them in alphabetical order and, later, in random order. Sing the alphabet song, while pointing to the letters of the alphabet. Go around the room and hang signs on common objects with simple one and two-syllable names: “table,” “bed,” “lamp,” and such. Help your children name the letters in them and spell and pronounce the words. Later, once the spellings are known, remove the signs, but continue to have the children spell the words for you. Look at pictures of everyday objects and use movable letters, such as alphabet magnets or blocks or flash cards, to form the words and practice their spellings.
Always try to reinforce that magical connection between the names of letters, the sounds that letters make, and how the letters come together to form pronounceable words that represent real objects, but always keep it within the confines of fun and games. Create no pressure and don’t criticize for wrong answers, but give plenty of praise for correct ones. Be imaginative and light-hearted in your approach.
Don’t force rote learning on young children, and never forget that individual children learn at different rates. Let them absorb what they can, as their cognitive skills develop, and reinforce progress made by practicing it in as many different settings and contexts as possible. For example, one day it might be pictures in books, another day it may be alphabet blocks or magnets spelling out words, another day hang signs on objects, another day wear an alphabet T-shirt and point to the letters on it. Indoors and outdoors, you might sometimes look at objects and name them, then write out the words and spell them. At other times, with a child who’s already mastered the basics, you could make simple rebusses to demonstrate the connections between pictures and written words.
Create artwork with your children. While fingerpainting a flower, you might help the child fingerpaint the letter “F” for flower. Guide your child’s hand in forming letter shapes to imitate those seen on alphabet blocks and such, or paint a letter and work it into a design. Create letters in paint and in clay, carve them into bars of soap, draw them in crayon, scratch them in the sand at the beach, form letters in shaving cream on the bathroom mirror – use whatever is at hand to create spontaneous moments of joyful sharing with your child.
Variety of media, times of day, and places will keep it all fresh and fun and reduce the risk of boredom. Learning should not be dull or tedious. It’s a key part of life and there should be no arbitrary boundaries between daily life, learning and play. (Also, beyond the immediate goal of promoting alphabet skills, positive learning experiences at an early age can make learning, itself, an exciting opportunity for discovery and feelings of accomplishment. Self-affirming early learning experiences help children start school with more positive attitudes that can affect their success in school… and in life.)
As time goes on, show your child how to print his or her name and, as alphabet learning progresses, don’t forget that both capital letters AND small letters are equally important. Help your child sign his or her first name on any pictures that are drawn, and on any birthday cards to grandma and grandpa, etc. The stronger the connection grows between alphabet letters, sounds and written words, the more reading-ready your child becomes.
Muster up all of your creativity. Pose your body in the shape of a simple letter that’s familiar to your child and have him or her guess what letter you are. Outstretched arms and you have the letter “T,” arms and legs out at angles, and you’ve created an “X”. At Christmas time, lay a string of twinkly Christmas lights on the floor and form letter shapes with them. Lay building blocks or dominoes end-to-end to create giant letters. Perhaps try alphabet magnets, with one animal picture for each letter of the alphabet. You might line them up on your refrigerator to make a complete alphabet. Then at unexpected moments, like while you’re preparing breakfast, choose an object in the room, such as a cup and spell it out on the fridge. Spell family members’ names, play a simple scrabble game, or leave secret messages.
You may decide to give your child an alphabet t-shirt, and you could wear one yourself. That way, every time your child looks up at you, the shapes of the letters of the alphabet will be subtly reinforced. Such tender moments of sharing, with your young child cuddled in your lap, can turn into fun, unforgettable learning milestones.
It’s impossible to stress strongly enough the importance of working some of these alphabet learning games into your child’s life. U.S. National Institute of Health studies have shown that “…