Learning the Alphabet is the Foundation of Reading (Part 2 of a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

Learning the Alphabet Lays the Foundation for Reading (Part 2 of a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

Learning the ABCs is absolutely the foundation for learning how to read. It is where reading begins, and it is where reading can fall apart at a later age if it isn’t taught correctly. By working with children from a young age on the alphabet, they will have a solid foundation in reading skills that will make learning how to read a breeze.

Learning the ABCs means learning the letter names (both capital and lower case letters) and the letter sounds. In the first introduction to the alphabet, it’s important to keep it simple and start with the short vowels as well as the hard c and g. Later on, using my Phonemic Awareness resources, children will learn about the remaining sounds that make up the 44 sounds in the English language.

Age to Start

The ideal time to start teaching children the alphabet is between 6-8 months of age. Are you thinking, “Really? Why so young?” Well, I’ll tell you, children’s brains start EXPLODING with growth at this age (read more about the brain development of children here), and if you can add input to the framework while it’s being built, it makes learning to read SO EASY.

When I was an elementary school teacher, I thought that preschool was the time to introduce the alphabet to children. But then when I applied what I had learned as an elementary school teacher (and while getting my Master’s degree with an emphasis on Language Acquisition) with my own children, I was BLOWN AWAY when our first daughter knew all of her letter names and sounds by 15 months and was READING by the age of three.

What I learned was that if I started young, I only had to teach my daughter the ABCs for few minutes here and there. You can certainly start with children at any age, however, and learning how to read will still follow the same progression. But if you wait until the child is older, learning the ABCs can be pretty boring so you’ll need to make it more exciting with fun, hands on, kinesthetic, and engaging activities. (Think Pinterest.)  You’ll also need to do longer and more consistent lessons because instead of building neural connections, you’re rewiring them, and that’s harder to do.

How to Teach

I have found that it’s best to teach the letter names, letter sounds, word, and picture simultaneously. When I start teaching my children the ABCs, I’ll make a couple sets of my flashcards and keep them in places where we have routines, like in my rocking chair and at the breakfast table.

If you can find a few minutes to do use the flashcards a week and show the ABC video a few times per week, in addition to using the other resources I’ve made and link to later, then your child should learn their ABCs in about 6-8 months. All of my children knew their ABCs by 15 months.

When I start using the flashcards with my children for the first time, I read through them rather quickly and show the video for as long as I can hold their interest. I like to chant (you’ll hear it in my ABC video), “A is for apple, a, a, apple” and do this for each letter. (Here is a video of me doing the chant with 14 month old Ophelia. You’ll also get to see what the first draft of my flashcards looked like!) I also put up posters (especially near the diaper changing table), read ABC books, play with ABC toys, and watch other ABC videos. Immersion is the best way to learn!

Ophelia Playing with Fridge Letter Magnets

Ophelia Playing with Fridge Letter Magnets

Learning the ABC song is also a key part of learning the alphabet because it helps to teach the order of the letters and gives children a way to remember all of the letters at once. I love going to YouTube and finding ABC song videos that my children enjoy to add to my playlist. You can check out my extensive ABC collection here. At the end of my ABC video, my children sing the ABC song several times.

As my children get older and more familiar with the flashcards, I will start to ask them, “What is this?” for each card, and whether they say the letter name, letter sound, or word associated with the letter, I praise them equally because each answer is correct. If they don’t say anything after about three seconds, I’ll say it. Once my children are familiar with the letter names and sounds, and word associated with each letter, I’ll start to introduce more words that start with each letter and point out words they know while reading.

Ophelia Reading an ABC Book

Ophelia Reading an ABC Book

My Resources

I have hand drawn and digitized each of these resources to specifically fit the needs of my own children. Someday, I would like to create a “Teach Your Child to Read Kit” that will bundle everything together in one package, but for now, I want to get this information and these resources out there. Please feel free to print as many copies as you would like for your own personal use.

If you are going to be making these, I highly recommend getting the following supplies:

  • Printer – A good basic printer like this will do the job, but if you’re going to be doing a lot of printing, I would recommend something like this.
  • Card Stock – I like to make sure I always have plenty of this around for all of my flashcards, posters, and other needs.
  • Laminator – I have a basic laminator like this, and it works great for all types of paper and projects.
  • Laminating Sheets – I like buying this big pack because it’s good to have plenty of laminating sheets for flashcards, posters, art projects, and more.
  • Three Hole Punch – This hole punch is really sturdy and can handle a whole stack of paper.
  • 1/4 Inch Rings – When making flashcards, I have found it’s best to use two rings on top to keep everything organized and easy to flip through, and this size is best.
  • Long Arm Stapler – This is for making the books. You will love having a long arm stapler for a variety of reasons.
  • Premium Paper – I recommend using this paper for making the books. The paper is a little thicker and smoother.

To Make the Flashcards

  1. Print – Select “Print on Both Sides” and “Flip sheets on short edge” to print. Print on card stock.
  2. Cut – Use a paper cutter to cut in half horizontally and vertically.
  3. Laminate – Arrange four cut out pieces into the laminate pouch. Make sure there is a bigger space between the cards in the middle since it will need to be cut horizontally and vertically again. (If you don’t leave extra laminate around all sides, it will peel.)
  4. Cut Again – If you stayed pretty consistent with the positions of the cards in the laminate, you should be able to cut a big stack of them at once.
  5. Assemble – Put them together in order.
  6. Hole Punch – I like to angle each corner into the three hole punch and can do several cards at once with a heavy duty hole puncher. Put two holes on top in the corners.
  7. Rings – I like using the 1/4″ rings.

To Make the Book

  1. Print – Select “Print on Both Sides” and “Flip sheets on short edge” to print. Print on premium paper.
  2. Cut – Cut in half horizontally on the dotted line.
  3. Assemble – Put the top half that you cut on top of the bottom half.
  4. Staple – Use a long arm stapler to staple three times on top of the dark dashes.
  5. Fold – I find it’s best to fold and crease each page open so that it will stay open when you lay it flat.

To Make the Linear Poster

  1. Print – Print on card stock.
  2. Trim the Edges – Cut 1/8″ from each side…basically cut off anything that is white.
  3. Cut in Half – Cut in the middle horizontally.
  4. Tape Together – I like using packing tape and taping alternately from the back and then on the front so that it will fold up, but if you’re going to hang it up right away, it really doesn’t matter.

To Make the All Together Poster

  1. Print – Print on card stock. *You can also bring a digital version into a print store like Kinkos and they can enlarge it to a poster size. 
  2. Laminate – Laminating this will ensure that it will last for a long time, but you don’t have to.

1. ABC Flashcards

I created these ABC flashcards because I was pretty disappointed with the flashcards that are out there. First of all, many cards confuse children by using things like ape for a where children may think it’s actually a monkey, or they’ll use digraphs for words (like cheese for c). My flashcards have an easily recognizable image, feature only short vowels, the hard c and g, and have no confusing digraphs, diphthongs, or r-controlled vowels. It was also hard to find ABC flashcards that had the upper and lowercase letters, picture, and word all in one space. I also created my own font because many fonts used in flashcards on the market today use archaic old-style typefaces that don’t accurately depict how children are taught to write letters.

ABC Flashcards

ABC Flashcards

ABC Flashcards, A Page

ABC Flashcards, A Page

Get a PDF of the flashcards here: ABC Flashcards Single Set

2. ABC Video

This ABC video is designed to bring my flashcards to life! After a brief intro, this 22 minute ABC Video shows the flashcards while I say the letter chant. This is followed by images and videos of my children that bring the words to life. Not only will children be engaged while learning the letter names and sounds, but they will be building vocabulary as well.

Don’t just stick your child in front of this video and walk away! Watch it WITH your child. Say the words along with the video, and praise your child when they get a word right. Eventually, your child will become extremely familiar with the video, and then you can use it as a babysitter from time to time, just don’t do so initially.

3. ABC Book

This book has the same letters, pictures, and words as the flashcards, but in a different format. I like this book format because it’s a little easier to assemble than the flashcards and introduces children to the principles of reading a book.

ABC Book

ABC Book

Inside View of ABC Book

Inside View of ABC Book

4. ABC Picture Poster

This alphabet poster combines all of the graphics from my alphabet flashcards onto one page. I like laminating this poster and putting it on the wall in multiple locations, using it as a placement, bringing it with us in the car, and really anything that will encourage repeated exposure.

ABC Poster

ABC Poster

Get a PDF of the poster here: ABC Poster Full Page

4. Linear Poster

It’s nice for children to see a linear version of the alphabet all together as well. I really like keeping this hung up above my diaper changing station and another one at the eye level of my little ones in a high traffic area.

ABC Linear Poster

ABC Linear Poster

Get a PDF of the poster here: ABC Linear Poster

5. Android Alphabet Explorer App

My husband brought my ABC Video to life in a new format. Children can click on a menu featuring each letter of the alphabet to see its letter chant, images, and video. They can also go directly to the ABC songs. This is for Android devices only.

Alphabet Explorer App

Alphabet Explorer App

Get the Alphabet Explorer App here.

Additional Resources

In addition to my homemade resources, these are the things I have purchased that have made a HUGE impact on my children’s learning. I recommend the first three at least as MUST HAVES. If you use these resources often, your child will learn the ABCs so fast it will make your head spin!

  • *Preschool Prep – This company makes REMARKABLE videos and I HIGHLY recommend purchasing the whole pack. They have a wonderful letter name video and a letter sound video that is highly engaging for little ones and really enforces learning all of the letter names and letter sounds.
  • *ABC Bath Letters – Making the letters a toy is a great idea! During bath time you can talk to your little ones about letter names and letter sounds in a fun and silly way. (For example, “Look at my dancing A, she likes to stand on my head!”)
  • *Starfall – This amazing online resource has everything you need to teach your child pretty much everything he or she needs to learn pertaining to reading and math through grade 2. I love starting out with the interactive ABCs that are great for teaching letter names, letter sounds, and vocabulary. This part is free, the rest of the site is $35/year, and SOOOOOOOOO worth it. Here’s a video of Ophelia using Starfall. They also have numerous apps.
  • Leapfrog Fridge Magnet Set – This is great for children starting at about 12-18 months, or whenever they are walking and developing fine motor skills. Here’s a video of our 21 month old daughter, Ophelia, using them.
  • Leapfrog Tablet – I look for tablets like these at garage sales and thrift stores. They are a fun way for young children to reinforce learning the letter names and sounds in a way that makes them feel like they have their own computer. Here’s a video of Ophelia using a Leapfrog tablet.
  • Robot Letters – If you are teaching an older child the ABCs, especially one who likes robots and transformers, this is a great resource!
  • Dr. Suess’s ABC – This book has been an absolute favorite with each of our kids (probably because I love it so much). Find whatever ABC books YOU love to read, like Chica Chica Boom Boom, Elmo’s ABC Book, this textured ABC Alphabet Fun book, Sandra Boynton’s A to ZThe Alphabet Book, or anything else you can find at garage sales, thrift stores, and hand-me-downs.
  • Endless Alphabet App – I would say that this app is best for children 2 and older and is a GREAT way to reinforce letter names and sounds.
  • Storybots – My kids LOVE these videos! They are great for older children and reinforcing letter names and words that start with that letter. They have a great ABC app and tons of other great learning videos.

Usborne Books

I LOVE Usborne books! The pages are super durable, the stories are interesting, the vocabulary development is phenomenal, and the people and Usborne GET reading. They know that children should start young…I’m talking babies…and provide PLENTY of resources to get your little ones interested in reading.

  • Alfie and Bet’s ABC – Children will love this colorful ABC pop-up book.
  • Very First ABC – The cute board book is a great introduction to the ABCs.
  • Alphabet Picture Book – This is a great book to “read” together as you look for the pictures that go with each letter.
  • B is for Bedtime – This rhyming A – Z bedtime routine book is a great book for a bedtime routine.
  • Illustrated Alphabet – This cloth bound foil book with slip case is simply beautiful and features a funny zoo animal and rhyming story for each letter. This is great for a read aloud/read together.
  • ABC Sticker Book – Children affix letter picture stickers over the letters in this book.
  • Alphabet Sticker Book – This would really be for an older child reinforcing beginning sounds, but the word matching for each letter is a great review.
  • Alphabet Beginning Level – This is the type of resource you would want to use with an older child learning the ABCs to make it more fun and engaging. It is basically a system of matching and self correcting cards. It requires this base plate that can be used with several other learning packs as well. Click here to see an animated demo (you need flash player).

In Conclusion

Teaching your children the ABCs at a young age is one of the best gifts you can give to them. In doing so, they will have a solid foundation in the skill of reading which will make it that much easier to develop a love of reading. Children who love reading can access the entire world, follow their passions, and unlock the doors to their destiny.

Check out all of the blogs in my reading series:

  1. How to Introduce Your Baby to Reading
  2. Learning the Alphabet Lays the Foundation for Reading
  3. Memorizing Words is What Good Readers Do
  4. Building Vocabulary with Colors, Numbers, and Shapes
  5. Phonemic Awareness Leads to Reading Success
  6. Teaching Phonics with Three Letter Words
  7. Encouraging Children to Read Independently
  8. Reinforcing Reading with Writing