Frequently asked questions on teaching alphabet letters are:
- What is the ideal age to introduce the alphabet?
- What letters to teach first?
- Do I teach letter names or letter sounds?
- Should I teach capital or lower case first?
- Is it a good idea to teach the alphabet in alphabetic order?
- How do I actually teach alphabet letters?
So let’s look at these individually, because the odds are there is at least one question above that you would like to know the answer to!
What is the ideal age to introduce alphabet letters?
This really does depend on your child. I would love to give you a definite answer, like – ‘when your child is 3yrs and 45 days you may begin.’ You know as well as I do that life just isn’t like that! Some children will be ready at 2yrs while others are happy to wait until 5 or 6yrs. What I can say, is that if you follow the advice in step 1 about what to teach BEFORE the alphabet, then it will happen naturally – you will instinctively know when you have ‘reached the ideal’ time to begin the formal introduction of alphabet letters. The decision ultimately lies with your child and not you! Just immerse your child in books, rhymes and phonemic awareness activities and the progression will be a seamless one. Most typically, a child is able to begin learning the alphabet around the age of 3 or 4yrs.
Do I teach capital or lower case first?
I have met teachers who swear by teaching capital letters first and yet others who insist on teaching lower case and then another group who insist on teaching both at the same time! Personally – I advise on teaching lower case first. Why? Because capital letters only account for about 5% of all letters in the written word and so it seams to make sense to pay more attention to the teaching of the lower case letters as these are the ones children will be introduced to first in their environment. After you have taught your child to recognize lower case letters, I would put up an alphabet frieze with both capital and lower case letters and talk about them. Let the child see them and compare them, play games of matching up lower case with their capital letters. Notice the importance of fun here – always make learning fun! While teaching my own children – I would use games to discreetly assess if they had grasped a phonics principle – there was no pressure of ‘tests’ so it was a win win situation. My children particulary enjoyed looking at the Letterland books.
Do I teach letters sounds or letter names?
I teach both at the same time. I would remind my children that animals are called by different names, such as a ‘pig’ or ‘cow’ but that they all make different sounds eg, ‘oink’ and ‘moo’. So it is with alphabet letters, each has a name but also a sound. I would say “this is the letter ‘S’ it says the /sssssss/ sound as in sssun.” Model the sound to copy and use words that are meaningful to your child. If you need a quick reminder of letter sounds here is a quick check list in the box to your right – some words end in the sound to help you isolate the sound you will be modeling for your child. Some letters have more than one sound, but at this stage we just introduce the first sound of a letter.
What letters do you teach first?
Here are some examples of how others teach letter order:
Alphabetical Order: Although knowing letters ‘in’ and ‘out’ of order is important, the main disadvantage of this method, is that a child is waiting a long time before they can start to read words with the letters they have learnt. You really can’t read or write many words with the letter a,b,c,d,e
Random Order: For example, choosing letters of a child’s name or family members can help give meaning to letters
Vowels: These are the letters, ‘a,e,i,o,u and sometimes y’. Vowels are considered important because every word contains a vowel
Mixture of vowels and consonants: Consonants are all the letters which are not vowels. This way is often taught by phonic reading programs, such as Jolly Phonics. For example they start with the letters ‘s, a, t, i, n, p’. One of the benefits of this method is that a child is quickly able to ‘read’ and spell three letter words. These 6 alphabete letters make the following words:
Sat, tin, pin, pat, tap, tip, pit, sit, nit, nip, nap, pan
I personally choose to introduce a mixture of vowels and consonants, alongside teaching the alphabet song, so that they can see ‘where in the alphabet’ the letter they are learning fits into.
How to teach alphabet letters
– and I am working on heaps more to inspire you!
You are reading ‘step 2’ on how to teach your child to read:
- Step 1: What your child needs to know before the alphabet?
- Step 2: Teaching the alphabet – which letters to teach first?
- Step 3: The best phonics resources – and you already own them!
Alphabet Letter Sounds Check List
Some of the words end in the letter to help you isolate the sound you will be modeling for your child
B as in bulb
C as in Kite
D as in dad
E as in egg
F as in wolf
G as in wig
H as in horse
I as in igloo
J as in jam
K same as the letter C
L as in girl
M as in mum
N as in nun
O as in octopus
P as in pump
Q as in queen
R as in war
S as in kiss
T as in pet
U as in umbrella
V as in valve
W as in wig
X as in fox (like ‘ks’)
Z as in buzz