Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead book cover

By Chrysta Naron

Many kids can sing the ABC song before they can speak in complete sentences. This is great—children should be exposed to the alphabet and will eventually need to know alphabetic order. 

However, singing the alphabet only teaches letter names. Unless you’re pointing out written letters one by one as you sing, the alphabet song is just a song. Kids aren’t learning anything about what the alphabet indicates in print. And the song doesn’t even teach all the letter names particularly well, since many of them blur together in singing. (Elamenopee, anyone?)

Committing the ABC song to memory is still worthwhile, but it’s important to realize it’s only one small part of what toddlers and preschoolers should be learning. When you think about helping your little one learn their ABCs, it pays to mix things up. Expose them to letters on their own, as part of the alphabet (both verbally and written), and as part of words. 

You can make sure your child learns the individual letters by bringing attention to them regularly in your daily life, in books, on signs, in names, and all around you. Below, you’ll find some tips, plus fun and easy alphabet games and activities to teach the alphabet at home.

Follow Your Child’s Interests

Many parents start by pointing out and teaching their children the letter that begins their name. This makes perfect sense. Your child will be excited and proud to know “their” letter. As for where to go from there, keep in mind your big advantage as a parent teaching your child: You can individualize your approach and respond to your specific child. So, you can follow up the letters in their name by pointing out other letters that are important in their environment or, as they know more of the alphabet, by focusing in on letters they don’t know yet.

Teach the ABCs Through Play

Keep your letter learning fun and casual, just mixing some ABC practice into daily activities, conversations, and games. You can even pick a letter to practice each day. (But don’t worry: Just keep this up as long as it works for you.) You and your child can practice writing the letter (on paper or write “tactile letters” with your finger through various substances), make the letter out of playdough and popsicle sticks, and look for the letter throughout your day. But rather than go in alphabetical order, remember the tip above.

Get Spontaneous and Mix it Up

Once your child is on their way with some key first letters, you can also let spontaneity be the way your child discovers more letters of the alphabet. For example, you can ask them to close their eyes and point to a letter. When they open them, have them name the letter they’re touching. If you’re a family that uses flashcards, simply make sure to shuffle the cards up before each use. (For a fun variation on typical flashcard study, use your flashcards to play Alphabet Game of War!)

Easy At-Home ABC Games & Activities 

Ultimately, the best way to teach the alphabet is little by little, over a long time. Point out letters, write them with your child, talk about them, and play with them. No need to wear your child (or yourself) out: Just mix in a little alphabet talk and play into the rest of your lives together. See MayaSmart.com’s literacy activities for lots of fun games and crafts that introduce and reinforce letter learning: You can go fishing for letters, make some no-bake letters, or play a game of ABC bingo. Or get moving and play alphabet hopscotch with your little one.

And when it comes to learning letters, remember it’s progress, not perfection. Your child doesn’t need to get every letter right on every single try in order for them to be doing well. Just keep practicing and playing, and soon they’ll have them all down!

What’s working for you to teach your child the alphabet? Share with us in the comments!