Why I Built This Kit
What parent doesn’t want their kid to be top of their class in the reading and writing department? I’d be lying if I said I didn’t occasionally fantasize about picking up my three-year-old from daycare only to be told that all the teachers agreed that she exhibited writing and spelling skills far beyond her years. As it stands, my kiddo isn’t a preternatural genius but she does know her letters backwards, forwards, and upside down. Those 26 letters mark the start of all knowledge, really. All the more reason to ingrain them in her head. Here then are some books, apps, activities, crafts, and other ideas for turning your children into abecedarian pros.
Books Discussing This Theme
Books to Help You Learn the Alphabet in the First Place:
You can sing the alphabet song all day until you’re blue in the face, but that doesn’t mean your child is necessarily going to connect the letters you sing to the ones on the page. Help them put A and B together with high contrast, vibrant art and clever writing. The following titles should do the trick:
Learn the Alphabet with Northwest Coast Native Art by Native Northwest (Ages 0-3)
A visual stunner, this book is as beautiful to the eye as it is informative and integral towards establishing an early awareness of other cultures. Trace the letters with your finger as you guide your kiddos through the book.
Alphabet City by Stephen T. Johnson (Ages 3-7)
Even country kids will get a real kick out of Johnson’s near photo-realistic look at common everyday city objects that just happen to resemble the letters of the alphabet. There’s a reason this book won a prestigious Caldecott Honor. After reading it, go outside and see what letters YOU can find in everyday objects and architecture.
Creature ABC by Andrew Zuckerman (Ages 2-6)
Zuckerman may well be the king of animal photography. With its clean white backgrounds and remarkable creatures, this book strives to give each letter a worthy companion. Which animal will be YOUR child’s favorite? Make a list of the other animals they love. Then write down all the letters and put them into columns. Where do your kids’ favorite animals appear? Can they think of any animals that could fit in the empty columns?
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault, ill. Lois Ehlert (Ages 2-5)
Thanks to its catchy song, strong bold visuals, and funny story, there’s a reason this book has become a modern picture book classic in our time. And there are as many ways to read it aloud as there are stars in the sky. For extra fun, make a cardboard palm tree and cut out some letters. Have those letters “climb” the tree one by one. A great way for teaching the different between capital and lowercase letters as well!
Stories Involving the Alphabet that Drill It Home:
Once they’ve gotten the alphabet memorized the next step is learning when to apply it. What words begin with that letter? Can you spot the objects that begin with that letter? Books that take the already established alphabet and start using it in humorous way, relying on child readers’ preexisting knowledge of their ABCs, extend kids’ understanding of how to apply letters in everyday life.
Just In Case: A Trickster Tale and Spanish Alphabet Book by Yuyi Morales (Ages 4-7)
Infused with Mexican culture and vitality, this story follows Senor Calavera (the cutest little representation of Death you’ll ever see) as he attempts to gather an array of alphabetical gifts for his friend Grandma Beetle’s birthday. Have the kids then think up a different birthday gift for each letter of the alphabet on their own. Do the same yourself. Then, as in the game Scattergories, see if any of your answers were the same.
Animalia by Graeme Base (Ages 4-7)
A veritable plethora of visual delights. Base crams so many details and hidden elements into his pictures that even your older kids will find themselves poring over these pages for hours on end. By the way - author Graeme Base hid a picture of himself as a child with every letter. Can you find all of them?
Z is for Moose by Kelly Bingham, ill. Paul O. Zelinsky (Ages 3-5)
When a straightforward zebra’s attempts to display the alphabet are repeatedly interrupted by an overly enthusiastic moose, his choice of whom should represent the letter “M” meets with some pretty hilarious results. A meta delight. With the kids, think about all the other ways Moose could crash each letter of the alphabet. What could he do?
Once Upon an Alphabet: Short Stories for All the Letters by Oliver Jeffers (Ages 5 and up)
A remarkably clever premise. Jefferson takes each letter of the alphabet and turns it into its own little short story. Unique and witty all at once, this may well be the funniest alphabet book you ever have the pleasure to read. When you’re done, try coming up with some original alphabet-related stories of your own.
Creative Concepts Exploring the Alphabet In New Ways:
The logical next step. You know the alphabet. You can sound out which words begin with which letters. Now we take it to the next level. How does the alphabet play into full words and what happens when those letters are removed or rearranged?
Take Away the A by Michael Escoffier, ill. Kris Di Giacomo (Ages 5 and up)
Not just an alphabet book this remarkable little title illustrates with delightful alphabetical clarity what happens when you take a single letter from a word and that turns it into a new word entirely.
Apps for Exploring This Theme
Learning the Basics:
Numerous studies have shown that screen time should be given to children from the age of two and up. By that point the alphabet learning starts hitting its stride. Best that parents use apps’ natural advantages to help them ingrain the alphabet into the heads of their kids. Whether its music and sound or the visible repetition of letter after letter, these apps bring the alphabet truly to life.
Dr. Seuss ABC (Ages 2-5)
If anyone can bring the alphabet to ribald wonderful life, Dr. Seuss can! This inventive adaptation of his ABC book stresses repetition alongside the original book’s text. A lively classic in an all new form.
Wee Sing and Learn ABC (Ages 2-4)
The “Wee Sing” series has been around for decades, so it’s only natural that they’d extend their brand into the app realm. With different songs for each letter of the alphabet as well as the real sounds of animals and instruments, this is one to remember!
The Interactive Alphabet:
With the basics covered the next step is to turn the alphabet into a highly desirable game. The best learning games are the ones that teach and inform even as they provide hours of original entertainment. And while parents must limit their children’s screen time to something reasonable, if the kids are going to get addicted to an app, best that it be an educational one.
Endless Alphabet (Ages 3-5)
Without a doubt, this is the best app I own. My daughter adores it, and why not? Not only does it give an array of complex words, but it allows the children to manipulate the letters, hear the individual sounds, listen to a definition, and even watch a video demonstration of the word in context. Best of all? When they’ve graduated from words they can continue the fun with the app’s sequel Endless Reader, which is a sentence building app.
ABC Phonics Animals (Ages 4-6)
The alphabet is one thing but how do you transition into reading itself? Phonics to the rescue! Combining flash cards, letter tracing, and a whole host of interactive games, this little app will get your little guys one step closer to independent reading and writing on their own.
Hairy Letters (Ages 3-6)
A whole host of goofy little hairy guys guide you through several alphabet related games. Unlock letters as you successfully create words and trace letters. Surprisingly fun from start to finish.
Trying to pick one Sesame Street alphabet sequence is like pulling teeth. Why set yourself up for such pain and misery? Yet if I had to absolutely pick only one sequence it would have to be this adorable classic. Who knew Cookie Monster was a letter of the alphabet?
Aw, but why bother choosing just one anyway? Big Bird’s classic song where he mistakes the alphabet for a single word is worthy in its own right. Take it away, big guy!
Care to listen to an alphabet that isn’t in English? Hearing the alphabet sung in different languages can make a huge difference in your child’s development. Here then is a catchy and rather adorable video that breaks it all down for you.
The quirky rockers took on the alphabet in their album “Here Come the ABCs”. There are loads of good songs on there, but my favorite may have to be this little classic. Just see if you don’t find yourself singing “but E eats everything” to yourself for hours on end after you watch it.
As I mentioned before in the recommended books section, this story is a modern classic. Ever wondered how you might go about singing it, though? Here’s a video that’ll give you a very catchy tune to try out on your own.
Whether you’re making a bunch of spoons to spell out words, or spoons with the first initial of each child attending your own kid’s birthday party, there are a lot of uses for spoons with letter on them. Consider this yet another way of inundating your child with learning. Some parents even match the letter to the food their child will eat that day (the “O” spoon for oatmeal or the “C” for cereal).
You Will Need:
- Clear spoons
- Colored spoons (white is best)
- Several sheets of single color vinyl
- Cut out letters into the vinyl using one color for upper case letter and another for lower. Make sure the letters are just under an inch.
- Place the letters on the colored spoons. Then glue the clear spoon to the colored one.
Source: From Kindergarten with Love
A very involved, very complicated thing to attempt. Still, if you’ve any interest in trying to bake something that’s a bit out of the ordinary, this recipe is loads of fun and tasty to boot.
Suggested Family Experiences (Ages 4-7)
25 Ways to Practice Letters Without a Pencil
Who says practicing drawing letters has to be done one way? There are a million different methods out there! These are just to get you started:
- Sidewalk chalk
- Finger paints
- "Painting" with a paintbrush and bucket of water on the sidewalk
- Wikki Stix
- A salt tray
- Shaving cream!
- Dry erase board
- Scented crayons
- Glitter glue
- Sticker "dots"
- A rice tray (and you can color the rice with food coloring!)
- Window markers
- "Write" with a stick in the dirt
- Bathtub crayons
- AquaDoodle or Magna Doodle
- Popsicle sticks
- Tear pieces of paper and glue on letter models
- Fruitloops or Cheerios
- Make some homemade play-doh (loads of recipes online) and roll into letters
- Ziploc bag filled with hair gel and sealed with tape
- Paint on an easel
- A small chalkboard
- Letter lacing cards
Source: Jensot for Kids
Practicing Letters Phonetically
Learning the sound of a letter can prove to be just as important as recognizing its shape. Most kids learn to write before they learn to read, but it’s important to build a love of writing AND reading equally. Lest we forget, not every kid even enjoys writing, so consider the following activities that drill home that it’s not all about recognition but also understanding and sounds.
- I SpyThere are any number of ways to use this game to teach sounds. You can print out coloring pages and ask the kids to color all the objects that begin with a certain letter. You can walk the city streets and ask the kids to spot all the objects beginning with one letter or another. You can even arrange a variety of different objects on a table, one for each letter and see if the kids spot them all.
- The Alphabet GameThis is a bit similar to “I Spy” but with a twist. In this game each player attempts to find the letters of the alphabet, in order, on road signs or nearby buildings. Younger players can spot the letters at any point on the signs. Older players can only count letters that appear at the beginnings of words.
Teaching with Favorite Alphabet Books by Kama Einhorn
Get the most out of teaching with favorite alphabet books and give kids lots of letter-learning fun! This idea-packed book features fresh ideas for teaching alphabet recognition, letter formation, sound-symbol correspondence, and more. Discussion tips enhance children’s experience with the books?building background knowledge about each book’s theme, making predictions, and relating the themes to their own lives. Interactive reproducibles, cross-curricular activities, and literature suggestions that relate to each book’s theme extend learning. For use with Grades PreK-1.
About Betsy B.
Betsy is currently New York Public Library’s Youth Materials Collections Specialist. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, reviewed for Kirkus and The New York Times and has also written the picture book Giant Dance Party, illustrated by Brandon Dorman. In 2014, Candlewick will publish Wild Things: Acts of Mischief in Children's Literature which she co-wrote with Jules Danielson and Peter Sieruta. You can follow Betsy on Twitter @FuseEight or at her blog A Fuse #8 Production hosted by School Library Journal.