Learning the ABCs: does my toddler need to master them before preschool?
Society pressures us into believing that our littlest children need to be learning their ABCs before they ever set foot in preschool. But is it necessary or even developmentally appropriate?
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Let’s talk learning the ABCS
There is so much pressure for toddlers to know their letters before they enter preschool. But (𝘢) 𝘪𝘴 𝘪𝘵 𝘵𝘩𝘢𝘵 𝘪𝘮𝘱𝘰𝘳𝘵𝘢𝘯𝘵 𝘢𝘯𝘥 (𝙗) 𝙝𝙤𝙬 𝙙𝙤 𝙮𝙤𝙪 𝙝𝙚𝙡𝙥 𝙮𝙤𝙪𝙧 𝙩𝙤𝙙𝙙𝙡𝙚𝙧 𝙡𝙚𝙖𝙧𝙣 𝙩𝙝𝙚𝙢?
Let this sink in: 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗔𝗕𝗖𝘀 𝗮𝗿𝗲 𝗿𝗲𝗮𝗹𝗹𝘆 𝗷𝘂𝘀𝘁 𝗮 𝘮𝘦𝘮𝘰𝘳𝘪𝘻𝘦𝘥 𝘴𝘬𝘪𝘭𝘭 𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝗻𝗼𝘁 𝘁𝗵𝗮𝘁 𝗶𝗺𝗽𝗼𝗿𝘁𝗮𝗻𝘁. G҉A҉S҉P҉!҉!
Read that again and really rest in that thought: recognizing the alphabet is a skill in memorizing symbols and are NOT A MAKE OR BREAK PRESCHOOL SKILL.
Your toddler is learning to memorize symbols – symbols that he probably isn’t developmentally ready to create (most of them). Developmentally, it is normal for your child not to be able to form slanted lines (like in A or K) until they are four years old. That doesn’t mean many kids don’t do it earlier – it is just not developmentally ‘behind’ until after 4 years old.
Before a toddler needs to start memorizing letters, make sure they recognize general shapes. After that, we can start to approach letter learning, with no pressure. No pressure on you and no pressure on your child – easy, take-it-as-it-comes, and make it fun!
And guess what? If they turn three, head to preschool, and still don’t know their letters, that’s okay. Children are ready to learn different skills at different times, and there is still so much time. Don’t let society and mom guilt force you into believing otherwise.
So how should we approach the alphabet and learning the ABCs with our toddlers?
𝘍𝘳𝘰𝘮 𝘢 𝘮𝘰𝘵𝘰𝘳 𝘴𝘬𝘪𝘭𝘭𝘴 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘴𝘰𝘤𝘪𝘢𝘭 𝘴𝘬𝘪𝘭𝘭𝘴 𝘴𝘵𝘢𝘯𝘥𝘱𝘰𝘪𝘯𝘵. Embed the alphabet in fun, simple motor/social activities and you’ll find your child will naturally take on letter knowledge.
Need some ideas? (𝘰𝘣𝘷𝘪𝘰𝘶𝘴𝘭𝘺, 𝘵𝘩a𝘵’𝘴 𝘸𝘩𝘺 𝘺𝘰𝘶’𝘳𝘦 𝘩𝘦𝘳𝘦!)
✨Read. Read. Read.
This will always be my no. 1 recommendation. You can point out letters and sounds as you read, especially in alphabet books. One of my favorite alphabet books is Pop! An Eye-Spy Alphabet. This book has the sensory and tactile feel from popping the bubble for each letter. And there are lots of things on each page for each sound, so you can pop it, say A” says ‘aaa’ like apple and alligator,” or have them look for items as they get more knowledgeable.
You can even talk alphabet while you’re reading any book at all. Let’s say you’re reading one of Mo Willems’ Pigeon books. As you read, you can just casually say, “Hey! Pigeon’s name starts with P -ppp!” and move on. It doesn’t have to be a discussion; just a brief exposure.
Write a big letter on a full size piece of paper with a marker or pencil. Let your toddler trace it over and over with every color of the rainbow.
✨Play with a tactile alphabet board like this one.
The metal balls provide a fabulous tactile experience and it is so much fun. Cam’s 6 and 8 year old cousins even love it!
✨Sing the alphabet song while your toddler does an active skill:
For example, jumping or walking on a line of painters tape. See how far in the alphabet they can make it. Say ‘𝘎𝘳𝘦𝘢𝘵 𝘫𝘰𝘣! 𝘠𝘰𝘶 𝘮𝘢𝘥𝘦 𝘪𝘵 𝘵𝘰 𝘎! 𝘎 𝘭𝘪𝘬𝘦 𝘨𝘰𝘰𝘴𝘦!’ If you want, you can write the letter with sidewalk chalk or on a whiteboard. Then do it again with another skill. Some ideas: jumping, walking, hopping, hopping on one foot, doing the crab walk, bear walk, etc.
Write each letter of the alphabet (start with the letters in their name and add more when they recognize those) on a different piece of paper. Lay them on the ground. Say ‘C’ and invite them to stomp on the C. Repeat with all the letters for as long as your toddler acts interested. You can pick up each letter after they stomp on it, or leave it on the ground for extra practice.
Whatever you do, make it fun. Research proves that kids learn much faster through play than through just listening or rote memorization. Get them involved and you’ll be amazed at what they can do! What are your favorite ways to encourage alphabet recognition?
*A shorter version of this post was originally posted on my Instagram first. If you want more toddler activities, tips, and just fun mom life stuff, come join me over at my Biscuits and Grading IG!*