Toddlers naturally progress from singing the alphabet to recognizing letters in the world around them. Pushing your toddler beyond noticing letters to connecting them to a specific sound helps her expand her literacy skills at a young age. Entertaining activities and natural learning opportunities that pop up during the day allow you to reinforce letter sounds that eventually help your child learn to read.
Reading with your tot daily builds her general literacy skills, but this bonding time also gives you an opportunity to practice letter sounds. Point out letters in the text to practice identifying the letter and its sound. Start with letters she may already know, such as the first letter of her name. The pictures offer another way to practice letter sounds. Talk about what she sees in the picture, emphasizing the sound at the beginning of the word. For example, you might say, "Look at that bear! Bear starts with the b-b-b-b-b sound. What letter makes that sound?" Alphabet books are particularly useful when practicing sounds, because these books discuss each letter of the alphabet.
Letter sounds lend themselves well to a variety of simple games you can play with your tot. A letter scavenger hunt is one idea. Write each letter on a separate index card or square of paper. Spread the letter cards out around the room. Let your child search through the house to find an object that starts with that letter. For example, she might grab her favorite hat and place it next to the H card. Another option is to make your own matching game using index cards. You will need a set of letter cards and a set of picture cards that correspond with the letters. A picture of a lamp would match with the L card, for example. For an impromptu game, gather several of her toys or objects around the house. Have her sort the items into piles based on the beginning sound. Her S pile might include her slippers, shirt and sippy cup.
Crafts help tots develop fine motor skills and encourage creativity, but the artsy activities also allow you to work in learning opportunities. Letter-themed crafts reinforce the corresponding sounds. For a simple craft, print out or draw a large bubble letter for your toddler to decorate. Talk about the sound the letter makes. For more emphasis, cut out pictures of objects that start with that letter and glue them to the letter cutout. A homemade ABC book is another crafty option for learning letter sounds. Assemble all of the pages ahead of time. Use your child's drawings, stickers or magazine cutouts to add pictures to each page.
Everyday life presents many natural learning opportunities to encourage your child's cognitive development. Focus on the letters you see as you go about daily activities. Point out the letters on the grocery store sign when you go shopping with your toddler. Let her trace the letters with her finger on the sign at the park. Talk about how those letters sound. Connecting the letters to something she already knows is also helpful. Say, "That sign says City Park. Do you see the P on the sign? That's just like the P in your name, Peyton. How does the P sound?"