How to Teach Toddlers the Alphabet

By Erica Loop
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There's no need to get stressed out if your tot can't tell her "A" from her "Z." Though your toddler might be able to sing along to the ABC song, she is not yet able to understand which letters make the corresponding sounds. There is no need to push your child to memorize letters at this age. As you interact with her during story time and bring letters into her play, she will begin to identify a few letters by sight, according to the article "Literacy: 2 to 3" on the PBS parents website. As she moves toward preschool, she’ll recognize more letters.

Step 1

Read to your toddler every day, several times a day. Knowing the alphabet requires repeated exposure to the letters in print and by listening to them. As your child rounds the 18-month mark, he'll have more interest and a greater ability to recognize letters, notes the Center for Early Literacy Learning. Choose a few toddler-friendly titles that feature prominent pictures of the letters. For example, try "Dr. Seuss's ABC," "Eric Carle's ABC," "Chicka Chicka Boom Boom" by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault or "Alphabeep" by Deborah Pearson and Edward Miller.

Step 2

Repeat the words on the page and point to the letters as you say each one, such as "B" in "Dr. Seuss's ABC." Say the name of the letter. Have your toddler say the name, too. Read the name of a word on the page that starts with that letter, such as bubbles. Ask your toddler to copy you. "Eric Carle's ABC" provides the opportunity to connect letter names with animals. Put your finger on the letter, and then say the name. Then, point to the animal name and say it asking your child to once again copy you. Return to the page later and ask, "Letter "D" is for what animal?" If you are reading "Chicka Chicka Boom Boom" say, “A told B and B told C” and point to “A” as you say “A." Do the same with B and C. As your child grows you can even ask him to point out the letter.

Step 3

Re-read the books frequently because your child learns through repetition. Those same books might get old to you but your child needs more practice. The familiarity with his favorites will help him learn faster. Of course variety is also important so feel free to add new books that your child will love to explore. Literacy depends on your child enjoying books.

Step 4

Make letters personal for your child. As she starts connecting letter names with what they look and sound like, help her learn how to spell her name. Even if she can only master the first letter of her name, point to it in print or ask questions when you see it in a book. Ask her, "Can you point to the "S" for Sam?" Follow this with a connection to the sound. For example, this "S" letter makes the "Ess" sound." Ask your child if she can think of other words that start with ''S'' such as "sun" or "sing." Point to the letters as she says them and ask her to do the same.

Step 5

Create an alphabet book with your child. This can help him connect specific letters with the words that start with that sound. Look through child-friendly magazines for pictures that start with each letter. For example, apple starts with "A." Cut out the pictures and have your toddler paste them to card stock. Write the matching letter on the same page above it. Go back through the book, point to each letter and say the word. Doing this with toddlers under 2 years can help familiarize them with the letters and the sounds. As your child grows, he will learn to recognize the letters and match them to the corresponding words.

Step 6

Sing a song. The alphabet song provides your toddler with the chance to repeat every letter, many times over. Ask your child to sing his ABCs as you point to the letters in a book. For example, write out the alphabet in large, bold letters or look through an alphabet book as you sing. Point to each letter as your child sings, "A,B,C,D,E,F,G" and so on." Find other fun "ABC" songs that your child enjoys and repeat frequently.

Step 7

Draw or paint the letters. Even though your child is still in the scribbling stage when it comes to drawing, you can introduce letter writing through a tracing activity. By 18-months your child may have the ability to make circle shapes and lines or almost-real looking letter forms, according to the early childhood guide "Little Texans Big Future." from the Texas Early Learning Council. Your toddler may struggle to write her own letters but you can write a few uppercase letters then have her trace over them with a crayon. She could even place stickers or glue paper to the lines in order to become familiar with the way the letters look. Toddlers 12 months and older enjoy exploring with crayons, paint brushes, finger paints and all sorts of crafts.

About the Author

Based in Pittsburgh, Erica Loop has been writing education, child development and parenting articles since 2009. Her articles have appeared in "Pittsburgh Parent Magazine" and the website PBS Parents. She has a Master of Science in applied developmental psychology from the University of Pittsburgh's School of Education.