By Sarah Tiglao
One of the best ways we can set our young children up for kindergarten and beyond is by introducing them to the alphabet and teaching letter sounds. This may sound intimidating to busy parents without training in education, but with a few tips, it can be easy and fun. Besides teaching the letters directly, one of the easiest ways to help kids learn the ABCs and understand their purpose is snuggling together while reading simple picture books and bringing the child’s attention to the writing on the pages.
Any and all reading together will help your child learn to love books and set them on the path to becoming a reader, but pointing out the text will jump start their journey and prepare your preschooler for reading (plus help them get the most out of story time). And certain books with simple drawings (or even none) and large, noticeable print are particularly good at focusing kids’ attention on letters. This kind of book is great for helping them understand the link between the letters on the page and the words they’re hearing.
Read on for tips on how to draw attention to print while reading and a list of 10 great books that are perfect for turning your child’s attention towards letters. For more on teaching your child the ABCs (including when, how, and why to do it), see our post answering six top questions about teaching your child the alphabet.
How to Get Your Preschooler Ready for Reading
“Research findings have consistently shown that when adults call attention to print, children’s development of print knowledge accelerates,” write Laura M. Justice and Amy E. Sofka in Engaging Children with Print: Building Early Literacy Skills through Quality Read-Alouds.
In other words, when parents and educators engage children with the printed words in books, we help them form a foundational understanding of written language, which will benefit them immensely going forward in their education. A key first step is to point out and explain the use of letters in books and elsewhere (for example, letters on signs and around your neighborhood).
There are quite a few easy ways to bring attention to print and help our kids develop print awareness while we read to them:
- Point to particular words, letters, or other print features in the book
- Use a finger to follow the words as we read them
- Ask questions about the print (for example, Do you know this letter? or What do you think this says? while pointing to a picture of a stop sign)
- Make comments about the print (e.g. This sign says “Keep Out!” or Look! There is an A like in Avery)
- Request that the child show you features of the print (e.g. Point to an N or Show me where I should start reading)
Great Books for Preparing Preschoolers for Reading
Note: You can start drawing your child’s attention to print and letters very early on. Then, as they grow, don’t think you have to set aside baby books or early favorites. Some of your tot’s beloved board books will be perfect for teaching them their ABCs later on, with their simple words and bold text. Your child may return to them again when they start reading on their own, too.
Vashti Harrison’s Dream Big, Little One and Follow Your Dreams, Little One are beautiful board book adaptations of Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History and Little Legends: Exceptional Men in Black History, respectively, specifically designed for very young children and early readers. These short volumes introduce a range of inspiring black women and men in history, encouraging young ones to identify with these remarkable individuals and set their sights high. The endearing illustrations are not overly intricate, giving the eyes plenty of space to focus on the letters on each page. Many pages feature names, which provide excellent opportunities for parents to link the letters to the name and then to the drawing of the person.
Whose Knees are These? is a playful rhyming book that little ones will love to hear while sitting on a parent’s lap. Through the sweet, simple illustrations and text, we follow a child’s knees while they hang from a tree, ride on a boat, and climb the stairs. Eventually, we discover the owner of the knees is right there on his mama’s lap. The text is eye-catching, large, and squiggly, making it attractive and interesting to your child’s eyes.
This is the story of a blue smudge of paint that interacts with a variety of other smudges of different colors. Most of the other colors are nice, but Red picks on Blue, and no one stands up to Red. Finally 1 comes along and stands up to Red, empowering all the other colors to stand up as well. The story ends with the smudges helping transform Red from a bully to a friend. This story is powerful for children in preschool and beyond who are learning to socialize. The illustrations are very simple and the text stands out, with varied colors and sizes, making it a great fit for drawing attention to print.
Freight Train is a fun pick for very young children who are fascinated by vehicles of all kinds. The illustrations are beautiful, colorful, and simple. The text is large and noticeable. The various train cars are painted each in their own color, and their names are printed in the same color. This will help children connect the print with the description of each train car, making the bridge between words and the objects and images they represent.
Parents will naturally find themselves engaging their children with print when they read this board book aloud. Each spread has one page with a few words of text relating to a normal part of a baby’s day, while the facing page shows a photo of a baby surrounded by doodles and many written words expanding on the theme for the spread.
Little Dumplings is a rhyming book that illustrates how many different cultures around the world incorporate dumplings as part of their cuisine. In the book, we learn the names of various dumplings and also learn that, though they look different and have different names, they also all share much in common. The story ends with the line, “Traveling the world will help you see / we are all one big dumpling family.” The cute and simple illustrations and large, bold text make this another winning volume to help teach your child about letters.
Another empowering book for little ones that also features large and varied text, Be Who You Are is an excellent choice for teaching the fundamentals of letter recognition. The book encourages children to be proud of where they’re from, the color of their skin, the language they speak, and everything that makes them unique. It has funny drawings that kids will enjoy, as well as several pages with only large block letters that provide opportunities for engaging kids in conversations around the alphabet, letter sounds, and the formation of words.
Prolific author-illustrator Mo Willems’ books have simple drawings; include large, noticeable print; and often feature words within the pictures, all of which make them great for encouraging print awareness in young children. Can I Play Too? is a laugh-out-loud story with a positive message about finding ways to play together with friends with different abilities. Readers follow along as a worm tries to find a way to play catch with his friends, Elephant and Piggie. The story is both hilarious and poignant, with a low point when the worm feels like giving up and a sweet resolution when everyone finds a way to have fun together.
The Book with No Pictures is exactly that—a picture book-style volume that actually has no pictures. But never fear, the engaging text will have your little one laughing harder and harder as you turn the pages. This is because, as the text sagely points out, the reader has to read whatever is written, even nonsense words like “Blork” and silly sentences like “I am a monkey who taught myself to read.” This is a perfect book for tracking the words with your finger as you read. It also uses changes in text size, color, and font that will bring attention to the text and open even more opportunities to engage your child’s thinking about the letters on the page.
What are your favorite books to teach little ones the ABCs? Comment below or let us know on social media!
Sarah Tiglao is a writer, designer, and mother of three energetic boys; her recent works include a children’s book called Christmas in Quarantine.