When and How Should Toddlers Start Learning the Alphabet?

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There is so much conflicting advice about children’s ‘readiness’ to learn reading, writing and numbers. Then there is the confusion about whether children should be forced into any structured learning before school starts. There’s different theories on that and each idea will push its point with evidence and research, making it even harder for a parent to decide whether to ‘teach’ their preschool children or just let them play.

I strongly believe in balance in everything. Play is extremely important. It teaches problem solving, language, creativity and so much more. It can also teach reading, writing and numbers depending on the type of play!

Children are learning the foundations long before they can sing their ABCs or count. They are learning through exposure. The more you immerse children in language and numbers, the more chance they have of picking it up early.

We have always exposed Tom to as much language as we can. And at 2 and a half years old, he is now ready to learn letter names, identifying numbers and counting.

How did we know he was ready?

I started with his name. Every day he would walk past his door and I would say “Look! T-H-O-M-A-S, Thomas!” until one day he started saying “S!”…”O!”…then he started seeing letters in other places. I would encourage him, repeating the letters and showing him other letters. It wasn’t pushed or forced. They have always been all around him in books and play and suddenly, he was starting to ‘click’. I like to call that the MAGIC MOMENT! It might happen for your child before 2 and a half or later. But once you start seeing them take an interest, I don’t see the harm in running with it and encouraging more learning! It’s easy to make fun and it is a fabulous way to prepare children for more formal learning in the future.

What Activities are suitable for a toddler?

1. BATH LETTERS

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Bath Letters are such a fantastic way to have fun with letters. When Tom is in the bath it is a really relaxing time and he can be focussed on chatting without distractions. Sometimes we make his name with letters and other times we watch him make his own game, like hiding the letters behind him and then trying to find them. “Where did A go?” he would say, and then “Ohhh there it is!” As children get older they can put the letters in order, practice spelling words and so much more!

You can buy these very cool Sponge Bob ones here

2. PAPER PLATE LETTERS

These are great and barely take any time to make. With Tom I am only starting with 5 letters at a time and making them as I go, which makes it even less strenuous! Just cut paper plates into three parts and away we go. He helped me cut and glue the pictures on but you can draw them if you like! I deliberately chose pictures of things he likes and words he can already say so we can focus on the letters.

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3. TOYS – Featuring AlphaPup from LeapFrog

Tom loved this little guy as soon as he arrived. AlphaPup sings the ABCs and you can push his letters to hear letter names, letter sounds, words that begin with each letter and more.

Anything that can be dragged or walked around is favourite toy! Because he takes it with him he can hear the alphabet song as he goes. It’s a fabulous toy to reinforce alphabet knowledge while allowing children to play independently. I’m not ready for Tom to learn through Ipads etc as I believe the less screen time, the better until he is at least 3 years old.

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4. MAKE LETTERS

It’s fun to make letters in all sorts of tactile ways – playdough, pasta, in sand trays and more. Learning letters through tactile experiences help with absorbing and remembering letter names and sounds. It makes for a fun and memorable experience!

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5. NAME PLAY

A child’s name is a great place to start when starting to learn the alphabet. As mentioned above, display your child’s name everywhere, expose them to different fonts, uppercase and lowercase. Familiarise them with it as much as possible and let them play with it too!

tom playdough

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39 thoughts on “When and How Should Toddlers Start Learning the Alphabet?

  • Reading Dear Zoo with my children. It was always their favourite and now I’m reading the same story to my 3 grandchildren.

  • I loved when our little girl collected the mail andvrecognised the letter ‘A’ she would state that she needs to open it as it is for her. So special those learning moments

  • When we set up our, now, 2 & 1/2 year olds big boy room a few months ago we bought an alphabet decal for his wall. He loved exploring it and looking at the animals hiding in the letters. Then we started looking at some of the letters on there starting with W for his name, William. Now everywhere we go he can find the W. He especially loves visits to Big W with the huge neon blue W!

  • My little boy loves to read picture books with me & there are some books that become his favourite right from the first page.Last week i was reading “we are going on a bear hunt” for him using a different voice and actions. He loved it so much that he started saying “swishy Swashy” whenever we came to the page with long grass.
    They catch and learn words much more than we think and expect from them 🙂

  • When my daughter learned the meaning of “stuck” and one day I could tell she was doing a poo in her happy, and then decided to announce that it was “stuck,” in her loudest voice!

  • My very first son’s first word was fish, not Mum or Dad…but FISH! but could I get him to say it again in front of other people…of course not!

  • My daughter suffered a stroke at birth so language development is a challenge for her. We had the most amazing moment last week when we realised she wasn’t just babbling, she was trying to speak French! She had been spending lots of time with her grandparents where she must’ve picked it up because neither my husband nor I speak it very well at all. I guess it’s time to start learning!

  • We read to all of our children since the day they were born. Our oldest girl just learned to read by listening and was fluent when she began kinder. Our two littlies are showing the same interest and always want a book. Bub is two weeks old but loves being held and hearing the rhythm of our voice.

  • I have always sung to kids as soon as they are born. The alphabet is a happy song that you can get your children to interact with by clapping hands.

  • When my daughter was very young we would look at letters & words as we went walking – shop & street signs etc. TAB and XXXX for example. Too funny & a bit of a worry.

  • Mine was just this morning! My son (who will be 3 in September) loves Spot books and as we were reading ‘Spot’s Busy Days’ he turned the page and I read out the ‘Are you hungry already, Spot?’ page and my son turned the flap on the opposite page and said ‘Just a bit’ – this was amazing as my son has delayed language and sees a speech therapist and it’s astounding to me that he remembered the bit behind the flap and was able to say it well enough for me to understand. Sorry it took me so long to explain but it made me so happy. Books rock!

  • After 2 years of saying, “I love you” to my son every time we kiss and cuddle, he finally said it back to me last week! Aaaaah… it was delicious to hear!

  • My favourite moment was actually having to explain to my daughter that not every word starting with A said Amelia. She recognised quickly that her name started with an A and then assumed everything with an A at the start was her name. Pity laundry didn’t stay with an A, otherwise I could have said the laundry had her name on it.

  • My baby is only 7 months old, but we love sharing books with her and talking. She loves books where we can make animal noises and it’s the most wonderful sound when she is giggling and enjoying the whole book experience. I also remember when she started making consonant sounds like ‘c’ and I was so daggy and excited about it. So exciting to see the building blocks of language happening before my eyes!

  • My son is 16 months we have a alphabet foam puzzle mat in our lounge room . I will often sing and point at the letters of alphabet to my son

  • One of my highlights as a parent was playing with wooden magnetic letters with my son and him showing me the letters that were in his name. It was fun and exciting to watch him learn and see that he can recognize his name! 🙂

  • When my little Master learnt to say Dad, he use to go around at the supermarket pointing to any man yelling out “DAD, DAD! Who knows what they thought 🙂

  • When she recognised her own name, she was super chuffed and ber. Her name is Amber, then whenever she saw it there after she was still just as chuffed. Amber is 4 now and can read a lot more words now, but she still gets just as chuffed as that first time.

  • When my youngest’s first word was Daddy, though a little crushed LOL it was his turn I suppose, he loved it

  • When my daughter Maleah was about 18 months old, we would drive down the hill into Nambour from our little farm in the sticks. She would say “Fopps! Fopping!!” It took me a while to work out that she was saying “Shops! Shopping!” … a lifetime love of shopping followed on…

  • When my 3 year old was going doing rhyming words and told me that a**e rhymed with grass! I didn’t know whether to be proud or horrified!

  • My boy was obsessed with car badges from when he learnt to speak. We would drive past the car yards and he would yell out each car yard name and then spell it!

  • I was being called ‘dad’ for about a year and when my then 2 year old first called me Mum my heart melted.

  • Sienna picked her brothers name, by saying Orlando crystal clear out of the blue. She totally refused to say the easier names like Liam & Luke

  • My Son was born with a cleft lip and palate so he has had speech issues..He did not say mum until he was 3 years old….in fact he only had a vocab of about 5 unclear words and few sounds. Him being the 5th child it was very hard to cope with so of course when he finally found his voice it was a huge deal for us!

  • We read boys everyday to our boys before nap times and at night. Dr Seuss Books are always a favourite, Hop on Pop, Are you My Mother, Hat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham. Hairy Maclary books are a hoot also.

  • Our oldest child is now 6 but she’s taken on the job of teaching language to our 2-yr-old son, who isn’t speaking much yet. We heard her telling him sternly, ‘Now this is a cupeycumber, say cu-pey-cumber’ – I’d completely forgotten that she has always called cucumbers that and I’m guessing our son will start calling them cupeycumbers soon too!

  • we are Multilingual, so it’s hard to find more ways to help my son that is 3 to learn the Alphabet , so i need to find attractive ways to help him to focus and get more interest and make it easier for him to learn, so this will be so great

  • Mispronunciation is funny for us,
    But he’ll be great when he gets on the school bus!
    Eating food but spelling it first,
    It slows his thirst!

  • One of seven,
    Creative language learning epitomised heaven!
    Arts and crafts until our heart was content,
    Paint! Glue! Scissors with my mum’s consent!
    Everything was reduced to the essential!
    However our mum always open-mindedly saw the potential,
    The imperfect spuds she would pile,
    We would cut out letters and shapes in our own personalised and child-like style!
    We would stamp Books! Cards! Wrapping Paper! Old Clothes! Invites!
    Transporting out imagination to great heights!
    Feeling nostalgic at the thought!
    A language book our mum NEVER bought!

  • When my Son first ever pointed to my Mum who passed away when he was 6 months old and said Nana. There was plenty of tears involved especially because when Mum was dying she would hold him and say oh darling you will never remember me and I promised her we would always make sure he knows who his Nana is.

  • As my son has Autism, words were hard to come by and even the smallest progress has been a blessing. “I love you mummy” has been the most special so far and it took many, many years to hear what alot of parents take for granted. 🙂

  • My little girl has just started making me write dipown the names of family and friends so that she can copy them. So cutr.

  • My little boy loved dinosaurs and struggled with the word “extinct”…so he made up his own word “in-death”. I was mortified when I first heard him say it, but after I thought about it, I realised he was spot on! At least he got the concept!

  • We count as we walk up and down steps. Miss almost two pulled some coins out of my pocket this evening and counted 1, 2, 3, 4. She was right and spoke very clearly. Maybe sitting in on her brother’s weekly speech therapy is benefiting her too.

  • When my daughter moved back here from overseas, she brought her hubby and baby with her until they could find a house to rent. I was the ever-doting grandma and taught my grandchild her very first word: ‘uh-oh’! I was so proud. 🙂

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