Teaching letter names and letter sounds is a crucial component of reading. When children learn the alphabet at a young age, it lays a strong foundation for learning how to read. I have four children five and under, and I have been blown away by their capabilities and desire to learn. As a former elementary school teacher with a Master’s degree in Language Acquisition, I have always been fascinated with teaching and learning, but it wasn’t until I became a parent that I realized the true potential of a child’s brain.
If I could recommend one thing for anyone with small children, it would be to focus on teaching the ABCs. In my blog, Tips, Tricks, and Resources for Teaching the ABCs, I have outlined everything that I have done that has worked for me and my children (who are all very different). My oldest daughter Ruby is five and in kindergarten; she reads fluently at a 3rd grade level. My son Elliot is four, knows all of his letter names and sounds, and is reading basic words, phrases, and repetitive text. My daughter Ophelia is 21 months old and knows all of her letter names and sounds, can read memorized words and phrases, and is starting to sound out words. For more details on how children really learn to read (hint: it’s not about starting with phonics), check out my blog: How Children Really Learn to Read.
Using Letter Magnets to Teach the ABCs
We have had these LeapFrog Letter Magnets on our fridge for just about as long as we have had children. The style has changed a bit since our original purchase, but the concept is the same. Basically, each capital letter fits into the player and when pushed with say a little chant with the letter name and letter sound(s). There is also a little music button that will either play, “The Wheels on the Bus” or “The Alphabet Song”. There is also a volume control for loud or quiet play and an off switch (for when you just need a little peace and quiet).
The other magnet letters that I really like are these Melissa and Doug Wooden Magnet Alphabet letters. The bold colors and simple design are fun for kids and easy to use as a teaching tool.
Here is a 3:28 video compilation of our 21 month old daughter Ophelia using letter magnets. Notice how I do very little direct teaching. I like to let my children explore and use these types of learning toys however they want, and then I find ways to gently guide them along the way.
LeapFrog Letter Magnets
There are many different ways to use these LeapFrog Letter Magnets. Sometimes I like to line all of the letters neatly up on the fridge in alphabetical order for my children to discover, but they never stay that way for long! My daughter Ophelia, who loves order and neatness, will play with each letter one at a time in a patient and intricate way. My son Elliot, on the other hand, who loves movement and chaos, will smush all of the letters together, build towers out of them, or personify them in some imaginative play.
Each method has merit and is a reflection of the inner workings of their minds. As their mother, I love being a quiet observer as I take note of their different methods of play and think about how I can support their different learning styles. Just having educational toys available and allowing children to play with them however they choose is a huge benefit. The next step is to reinforce their learning along the way by verbalizing what they are doing and repeating what they are saying. Then the real icing on the cake is figuring out how to challenge them to just go slightly above where they are with guidance. This is known in the educational world as working within their zone of proximal development and scaffolding them as they work towards the next level.
Wooden Magnet Letters and Tins
One activity I love doing with the kids involves using the magnet letters and tins. This is a great way to stretch their knowledge of letter names and letter sounds to the next level. By turning these muffin tins upside down, they make great templates for sounding out CVC words (consonant-vowel-consonant) or four letter words as with Elliot’s tin on the left.
What I do is pick a simple word like cat, sun, or dog, and then show them how to sound out each letter /c/ /a/ /t/ by touching each letter and saying the sound. Then I show how I say all of the sounds together quickly to make the word cat. They’re not ready to practice this skill independently yet, but it’s good to keep introducing things to kids that are just barely out of their reach so that they can get used to it through lots and lots and lots of repetition and as much time as they need.
Independent Learning Station
Once we have played with something like these wooden magnet letters and tins together, I like setting it up at an independent learning station. While here, the kids can practice what we’ve done together at their own pace.
There is No “Right” or “Wrong” Way to Play
I love it when the kids using these learning manipulatives as toys in a fun and creative way that works for them. I spend time setting up these learning stations and enjoy watching the kids use them however they like. When Ophelia takes the letters out of one box and says their names as she puts them in another box, this is an excellent way for her to practice her letter naming fluency.
Lakeshore Learning Alphabet Letters
If you really want to take things to the next level, these Lakeshore Learning Magnetic Letters are a wonderful teaching tool. If you have a child with a lot of patience, you can sit down side by side and build words together on magnetic white boards. This is something I used to love doing with my oldest daughter Ruby when she was younger.
Magnetic letters can be a wonderful educational toy and teaching tool. By spending a little bit of time working on letters when your child is young, he or she will be much better prepared for preschool, kindergarten, reading, learning, and more. By making playtime fun and educational, children thrive as their brains are given permission to learn and grow at their own pace.
You might also like the following blogs:
- Tips, Tricks, and Resources for Teaching the ABCs
- How Children Really Learn to Read
- How to Raise Children Who WANT to Read
- How to Engage Your Baby with Reading
- How to Create an Environment That Encourages Creativity, Imagination, and Learning