There is debate among early childhood educators about what parents should focus on. The truth is learning the alphabet is important.
With all things parenting, there seems to be a lot of noise about the best ways to educate our children. I actually think it’s good to have a lot of different approaches – different people learn in different ways.
One thing I never expected to be controversial was whether learning the alphabet is important. Doesn’t everyone just teach their children the letter names?
Nursery decor is filled with colorful letters. You can’t walk two steps in the Target kids’ section or Pottery Barn Kids without finding alphabet-themed merchandise.
Preschool classrooms and baby storytime at the library incorporate the alphabet. It just seemed common sense to me that everyone understood children need to learn it in order to read.
But apparently, there is disagreement among the “experts,” but early literacy research is clear. So here is why learning the alphabet is important.
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Is Learning the Alphabet Really Important?
I’m going to get on my soapbox. Knowing the alphabet is important.
I’ve been pretty troubled to hear early childhood influencers proclaim we need to quit focusing on the alphabet. They say it is just memorization and not a sophisticated skill.
Sure, saying letters is “just recall,” but that recall is foundational for all reading.
There’s another problem with the statement that the alphabet not that important.
Naming letters is predictive of future reading success.
The National Early Literacy Panel did a meta-analysis of over 50 studies and found that fluency with naming letters (i.e. knowing the alphabet) was correlated with later reading success.
Now they also found there was not a substantial difference in outcomes based on when young children developed this fluency. So kids who learned in kindergarten were often as successful as children who learned in preschool.
When I taught, our kindergarten and first-grade teachers administered a norm-referenced, evidenced-based, University-developed assessment on letter naming. And they found the students who could rapidly name the letters had fewer difficulties with learning to read.
Some Children Need a lot of Help with the Alphabet
I really hate the expression, “Don’t worry – they’ll learn when they are ready.”
Early childhood educators need to stop saying to concerned parents. It is potentially harmful, definitely dismissive, and ableist.
I am a mom to one child with developmental disabilities. When I taught, I had dozens and dozens of students on IEPs and learning disabilities. They didn’t just “learn when they were ready.”
6% of children have a developmental disability and 14-20% have a learning disability. Their education matters.
This is a big skill and many, many preschoolers are going to need lots and lots of practice.
So if you have a concern about your child’s academic skills, it is valid! And if you want to work on the alphabet, that’s valid.
Now don’t get me wrong: I do not want you doing flashcards with your toddler! I don’t want 3-year-olds tracing letters before they can even hold a pencil properly!
- Related: How to Improve Pencil Grasp
There is no reason for drill and kill. But there is a good reason to teach your child letter names and letter sounds in a playful way.
How Can Parents Teach the Alphabet
There are countless ways to teach the alphabet, and that actually requires another post. But here are the basic requirements:
Start Teaching the Alphabet Early
You’re not going to know if your child is going to need extra support with learning to read until much later.
So follow your instincts to teach their children the alphabet.
Teach the Alphabet with a lot of Repetition
Like most things parenting, learning the alphabet is not a one-and-done proposition. Plan to introduce it early and often.
If you can tolerate it, listen to an alphabet CD in your car or play it through a Bluetooth device.
Talk about the letters you see in the environment – McDonalds starts with the letter M.
Read the alphabet books over and over and over.
Make the Alphabet Fun
There is no need for drill and kill with flashcards. Please don’t sit down with your toddler and quiz them.
That’s not necessary. Pay attention to how your child plays; then incorporate the alphabet into that.
Does your preschooler love arts and crafts? Buy some alphabet rubber stamps and washable ink.
Follow their interests.
Use Screen-time Wisely
Instead of watching Paw Patrol for the hundredth time, consider shows like Sesame Street. Seriously.
My daughter Molly is autistic and was just diagnosed with dyslexia and dysgraphia. She learned the alphabet from the DVD Sesame Street Alphabet Songs at 2 years old.
Thank goodness. If I’d listened to influencers on Instagram, she’d be much farther behind academically right now.
Instead of watching Ryan’s World (groan – why do they like watching other kids play with toys!), try ABC Kids TV on YouTube.
Before we knew Molly was autistic, it was our natural strategy to get her to brush her teeth.
When Your Preschooler Needs to Learn the Alphabet
But what do you do when you casually introduce the alphabet in all the ways above and your preschooler just isn’t learning it easily?
First, don’t panic. There is a developmental range of 2 to 5 years old. If your four-year-old is able to recall other things and is meeting all the other developmental milestones, give it a little more time.
If your preschooler is showing other delays, talk to your pediatrician or contact your state’s early intervention department for a free screening. If your gut tells you something is going on, FOLLOW IT! I have been there.
Second, start setting aside 5-10 minutes a day for intentional practice. There are countless materials out there, but of course, I love printables.
I created the Everything Alphabet Printable Pack for this very reason. It gives you everything you need to teach the alphabet in an intentional way.
While my four-year-old already knows all the letters (thanks again to Sesame Street Alphabet Songs), when his 3-year-old preschool was canceled for COVID, I could tell he was going to need some systematic and sequential practice at home.
Everything Alphabet Printable Pack is the tool busy parents need. It’s the RIGHT resource that’s the perfect amount engaging and developmentally-appropriate.
With this printable pack, you will:
- save time searching Pinterest for activities.
- get started practicing letters and sounds today.
- see your child become a confident reader.
All you need to do is print and then set aside 10 minutes on weekdays to work with your child. This pack makes it predictable AND fun for your child
Everything Alphabet Printable Pack includes 3 printable units:
- Cut & Paste Alphabet
- Color & Trace Alphabet
- Dot & Paint Alphabet
Each unit focuses on a specific set of fine motor skills in addition to the alphabet. So if you have a kiddo like my four-year-old who knows his alphabet, but doesn’t like coloring, drawing circles or lines, and cutting and pasting, this pack is also perfect.
Recapping Learning the Alphabet is Important
Here’s the summary for you busy parents:
- Learning the alphabet is important.
- Research shows it’s predictive of future reading success.
- A lot of children will need systematic practice to learn it.
- It’s important for parents to practice it with their children as we don’t always know in preschool who will have later learning issues.
- Learning the alphabet can be fun: sing songs, play games, read alphabet books, and watch Sesame Street,
- The Everything Alphabet Printable Pack makes it easy for parents to teach the alphabet to preschoolers in a systematic yet fun way.
If you value academics, it’s great to work on them with your preschooler. Learning the alphabet is important and Everything Alphabet Printable Packhelps you teach your child.