Learning the ABCs is, in my opinion, pretty much the most important academic thing you can teach a young child. Learning the alphabet is like unlocking a code. When young children learn it, you can see this little light bulb going off when they start to recognize letters and words made out of these letters in their environment. It’s a way for them to connect to their world and to be fully engaged in it.
By using these flashcards often and from a young age, your child will learn the ABCs with ease. (Read about why learning the ABCs is so important here.) Knowing the ABCs is basically one of the key pieces in teaching your child how to read, and will help him or her to unlock a world of possibilities through books. (Check out my collection of videos that show our children learning how to read over the years.)
When I was ready to start exposing Ophelia (our third child) to the ABCs, I couldn’t find a set of flashcards that I really liked, so I decided to make my own! My first set was a crude rendition of what I was looking for, but it still worked nonetheless. But being the perfectionist that I am, I wanted to make it even better! I don’t proclaim to be any sort of artist, but I am good at paying attention to detail and trying new things, so I set to work hand drawing the best set of flashcards that I could. (Scroll to the end of this article to print out both a color and black and white version of my flashcards…for FREE! Or, just go to my Embracing Motherhood Shop and buy some!)
My Flashcard Criteria:
This is what makes my flashcards stand out from most other flashcards:
- They have both the upper and lower case letters on each card. (This is so children learn that they mean the same thing.)
- Letters are shaped how we print them. (For example, notice the letter “a” in this font versus the lowercase letter “a” on my flashcard.)
- Each card has an easily identifiable picture. (For example, I wouldn’t use an ape for the letter ‘a’ when a child might think it looks like a monkey.)
- There is a printed word below each picture. (Like “apple” for A.)
- The illustrations are simple and interesting. (There is something about the homemade nature of these cards that has been engaging for every child who has seen them.)
- The letter and sound combination makes sense. (It really bugs me when I see flashcards using the word “eye” to teach the letter “e” or the word “shoe” to teach s. It’s like they’re trying to confuse kids!)
- Short vowels and the hard g and c are used. (When children are just starting to learn their letters, these are the easiest versions to begin with, and it’s best to keep things as simple as possible at first. *I tried using a version where I included the long vowels and the soft c and g, and it was just too much going on…better to keep it simple!)
Preparing the Flashcards
- Print: Open each file (Color ABC Flashcards or Black and White ABC Flashcards) and print on card stock (like this).
- Cut: Cut the flashcards right in the middle horizontally and vertically. I like using this paper cutter. (If you want the construction paper backing to provide more of a boarder, you could trim all of the white edges off from each flashcard. *Warning: Each flashcard does NOT have the same interior margins, so don’t trim a big stack at once!)
- Construction Paper Backing: I like using a rainbow pattern for just about everything, this being no exception, but you could use some other pattern of colors, all black, or skip this step altogether and they’ll still turn out fine. I like to trim my construction paper so that four pieces at a time will fit into my laminating pouch. So after trimming my construction paper to 8.5″ x 11″ and cutting the whole stack into quarters, I apply just a light coating with my glue stick (the laminator is going to really “seal the deal”), and give each flashcard a construction paper backing.
- Laminate: First, I open up my laminating pouch all the way, and then carefully arrange all four cards so that they’re as close to the edges as possible while still leaving a small strip of laminate. (In the end, I want to be able to cut down the middle and leave a little laminate boarder around each card so that they don’t peel apart.) Then, I swipe the glue stick lightly on the construction paper side of the top two cards to help hold them into place, gently close the laminating pouch, and laminate using this handy little laminator.
- Cut: Cut the laminated sheets right down the middle horizontally and vertically leaving a little laminate boarder on all sides.
- Add Rings: Using a 3-hole puncher like this, make one hole in the top left and one hole in the top right corner of every flashcard. I like stacking them up four at time and positioning the cards directly into the corner using one hole punch in the 3-hole punch at a time. Then, I stack up all of the cards in order and put my rings through. (I like using these .5″ rings. I’ve tried the 1″ rings, and they’re just too big.) *Note: I have tried using loose flashcards, and they make a HUGE mess. Not only that, but if you lose one or two (which you will), the entire set becomes obsolete. I have also tried using just one ring, and it’s just not as easy for children to flip through.
How to Use the Flashcards
- Start Young: I like to start using these flashcards when my kids are about 8 months old, but if you haven’t started yet, just give it a go no matter what your child’s age! It’s never too late to start!
- Silent Period: There will be a period of about 6 months where you are doing all the work and they are just silent, soaking it in and observing.
- A Little Bit Goes a Long Way: It’s not about designing some intricate lesson or keeping kids engaged for hours at a time, it’s about building neural pathways. This means that if you do the flashcards for a few minutes every day, it will build layer upon layer upon layer of understanding (which is thickening up the myelin sheath coating each axon connecting neurons thus making synapses occur more quickly) that will finally culminate over time with a deep and thorough conceptual understanding.
- Wait Until Interested: I like to sit baby Julian (currently 14 months) on my lap and flip through the flashcards together. At times, he has lost interest before I could even finish going through them one time, but the more we have gone through them, the more he loves it. (Whenever my children lose interest, I let them get down, and we move on. I don’t ever push it.) Nowadays, we go through the flashcards about 3 or 4 times in a sitting, and he still wants more! When this happens, I grab one of his favorite ABC books (like this one) and just keep on reading book after book until he wants to get down. The older he gets, the more we go through this ritual throughout the day.
- ABC Chant: I like to say a little chant for each letter where I incorporate the letter name, sound, and object as in, “A is for apple, /ah/, /ah/, apple, B is for ball, /buh/, /buh/, ball…” (Here’s a video of me using this chant with Ophelia when she was 14 months old using my original set of flashcards and another video of me using this chant with 14 month old Julian using my new and improved flashcards!)
- Wait Time: Once we’ve gone through the flashcards enough for them to know a few of the letter names, sounds, or object names, I will say, “What’s that?” and pause. Right now, Julian likes saying, “Buh, ball, b, c, d, /guh/ for g, p, and z. (When I change his diaper, I like to sing the ABC song and pause at the same letters. This helps him to stay still, and he loves it!)
- Praise Right Answers: When my children are first learning their letters, I praise them for saying the letter name, sound, or word associated with the letter. Keep in mind that as children are just starting to form sounds and words, they may only say the beginning sound of a word or letter. Listen for these sounds and words so that you can model the correct way of saying it. If they are interested, really slow down and exaggerate your mouth movements so that they can study how you form the word.
- Keep Flashcards Accessible: I like to prop up the flashcards and leave them laying around. Because they are so familiar, Julian loves finding them and flipping through them on his own. (I also have other ABC toys and activities stashed just about everywhere throughout the house so that my children are completely immersed in it.)
Flashcard Extension Ideas
The older kids are, the more creative and novel you’ll have to be to make the concept of learning the ABCs exciting. Here are some things I have enjoyed doing with my older children to reinforce their knowledge of the ABCs using these flashcards. *Pretty much all of these ideas involve taking the cards off from the rings.
- Loose Cards: With the child sitting on your lap or nearby, hand him or her one card at a time. You can say, “What’s this?” or say the letter and ask him for the name of the object. He can either collect the cards in a stack in his hand, he can pile them up on the floor, your you can suggest that he makes a pile of his favorite letters.
- Spread Out the Cards: Spread all of the cards out on the floor and ask your child to either retrieve a certain letter or say, “Can you bring me a letter? What letters do you see?” You can also place them upside down so that only the colored side is facing up, sort them by color, or try to guess what letter it is before flipping it over.
- Make a Path: You can spread out the letters alphabetically or just spread them out in a long line in any order. Then pretend that the floor is lava and tell your child that the letters are stones that will save her from the lava. As she hops from letter to letter ask her, “What letter are you on now? or What sound does the __ make?”
- Pocket Chart: Get a pocket chart like this, give your child one letter at a time and have him put them into the pocket chart. You can arrange them in alphabetical or random order. You can also reverse this activity by starting with the letters in the chart and then having your child retrieve them one at a time.
- Sticky Letters: Put a piece of masking tape on the back of each letter. You can then give your child one letter at a time to put on the wall or herself, or you can start with them on the wall and have your child retrieve them and put them on your body, her body, the wall, around the house, where ever!
- Get Creative: If you’re being silly and having fun with it, you can do a lot of creative things that will really engage your child. Use your imagination and have some fun!
Click on the text below each image to open the flashcard files. *If you don’t have a PDF reader, download one here.
Color Flashcards: I wrote about the above activities with these color flashcards below in mind. I used a free program called Gimp (which is like a really simple version of Photoshop) to color in each flashcard. *Unfortunately, when I saved my publisher file as a PDF file, it slightly changed the dimensions of every image and the margins. So when you go to cut out the cards, it will be best to cut them out individually and mount them on to construction paper.
Click Below for the PDF:
Black and White Flashcards: You and your children can have fun coloring in this black and white set of flashcards to make them personalized and special for you! When I was making mine, my kids liked watching me color my copy while coloring in one of their own as well.
Click Below for the PDF:
Using flashcards to teach the ABCs is just one strategy for teaching your little ones one of the foundational skills of reading, check out my blog How Children Really Learn to Read to see how teaching the ABCs is just one of the pieces of the puzzle in teaching your child how to read.
If you don’t have the materials to put together your own set of flashcards (or if it just looks like too much work), you can buy them on my Embracing Motherhood Shop!
You also might like to check out the following blogs:
- How Children Really Learn to Read
- How to Raise Children Who WANT to Read
- How to Engage Your Baby with Reading