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17 Activities to Teach Alphabet Recognition to Young Children

Author:

Rose Mary, an Occupational Therapist since 1987, is experienced with pre-term infants, early intervention, school therapy, and home health.

Fun alphabet puzzle in the shape of a snake

Fun alphabet puzzle in the shape of a snake

Alphabet recognition is one of the most important pre-reading and pre-writing activities. If a child does not recognize alphabet letters, then they have no meaning, and copying and writing them will have no meaning. A child will not be able to write at a level higher than their reading level. So if a child reads at a first-grade level, don’t expect them to copy fourth-grade material.

Imagine how long it would take you to copy sentences in Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, or those languages with unfamiliar characters. This is similar to what it would be like for a child to copy sentences if they didn't know the alphabet.

Alphabet Recognition Activities

I have done a lot of letter-recognition activities with young children as a pediatric occupational therapist. Luckily, I have found that universally children enjoy the alphabet. Even my most challenging clients with autism readily participate in alphabet recognition and other similar activities. I have provided lots of time-tested activities, with photos, from my experience.

Here are the activities included in this article:

  • Letter puzzles
  • Two-piece letter puzzles
  • Word puzzles
  • Books
  • Electronic toys
  • Memory games
  • Flashcards
  • Toys
  • Coloring and activity books featuring letters
  • Writing books
  • Wipe-Off books
  • Free resources
  • YouTube alphabet songs
  • Free online games
  • Android letter apps
  • iPad and iPhone letter activities
  • Simple word games and activities

1. Alphabet Puzzles

I have about a dozen different letter puzzles and use a different one each week. But I think the kids’ favorite would be the Melissa & Doug alphabet puzzle, starting with "alligator for A." I use lots of repetition when working with letter puzzles, which the kids are very tolerant of and seem to enjoy. Here is a typical sequence that I use:

  • Sing the ABC song while pointing to each letter.
  • Separate pieces by row and give letters for the first row.
  • Say each letter and/or word as a child places each piece.
  • Continue for each row.
  • When complete, sing the ABC song again, pointing to the letters.
  • Have the child remove the pieces one at a time.
  • Say each letter as the child places pieces back in the plastic bag.
Two-piece puzzles with upper and lowercase letters with a word starting with that letter on one piece and a picture on other piece

Two-piece puzzles with upper and lowercase letters with a word starting with that letter on one piece and a picture on other piece

2. Two and Three-Piece Letter Puzzles

The two and three-piece puzzles are a higher level of difficulty in regards to alphabet knowledge. The two-piece puzzle above has the letter and a representative word on one piece, and a picture of the word on the other piece. Three-piece letter puzzles may have the letter on one piece, a word on another, and a picture on the last piece.

I usually give the pieces for five to seven letters at a time for the child to match up. On the other hand, if you try not saying the letter or word, you may be surprised to learn your child can read, which was the case with one of my children with autism. I do not think he was merely matching the shape of the interlock nor do I think he was familiar enough with the pictorial depictions of the letters on this particular puzzle set. It is estimated that 5 to 20% of autistic children are hyperlexic or acquire reading skills spontaneously and early.

3. Word Puzzles

I particularly like the three and four-piece word puzzles with the vertical strips, with the letters at the bottom. I usually give the pieces for one puzzle at a time. I may tell the child which letter is first, second, etc. Or they may assemble the puzzle visually, and then I point to the letters and we name them.

The two-piece puzzles with the word on one side and picture on the other would be another activity that lets you know the child can read. If the child does not read, give them the puzzle pairs, and after assembled, say the word if the child does not recognize it from the picture.

In the top left is my favorite alphabet book, which I got from Ross. I'm not crazy about the Dr Seuss alphabet book upper right.

In the top left is my favorite alphabet book, which I got from Ross. I'm not crazy about the Dr Seuss alphabet book upper right.

4. Letter Books

I have about a dozen alphabet books and would rotate them each week. Most of mine came from Goodwill for 25 cents to a dollar, but that was through a lot of visits to a lot of different stores over time by my sister. Here are some ways I use these books:

  • If the front or back of the book has the complete alphabet, start with this.
  • Sing the ABC song or recite letters while pointing at them or getting the child to point.
  • Go through the book, saying each letter. If there are multiple pictures of objects for each letter, name at least one picture per letter.
  • Finish with naming all the letters or singing ABC song while pointing at the letters if the complete alphabet is in the front or back of the book.
  • You could also try pointing to the letters in the book at random and have the child point to the corresponding letter on an alphabet puzzle, letter/writing guide, or electronic toy.

Baby's First Library ABC is my absolute favorite alphabet book! It has thick cardboard pages, so it's not delicate. It's not so busy, with just two to three examples of each letter. There are plenty of used copies available for less than one dollar.

5. Electronic Toys

There are a lot of alphabet electronic toys available. My sister got all of mine for me. At the time, she worked all over San Antonio and would scope out the Goodwill stores on her lunch breaks. I know most people can’t put in that kind of effort, so I have included pictures of a few different alphabet electronic toys. It seems like V-Tech and LeapFrog have lots of options.

Most of the devices have several modes. You can set the device to start saying all of the letters, starting with "A." Usually, if you press a letter, it will then only say that one. Often there is a test mode, where it will say a letter, and you have to press the key for that letter.

6. Memory Match Game

This is the alphabet version of children’s memory match or concentration game. The version that I have requires that the child match upper and lowercase letters. However, it could be played as a simple matching game, without turning pieces face down.

If played as a memory match, the cards are mixed up and turned face down. I would start with about six matched pairs of letters. Players take turns turning two cards face up, trying to make a match of upper and lowercase letters. Use a letter/writing guide if the child does not know lowercase letters that correspond to the uppercase.

Alphabet Flash Cards

Alphabet Flash Cards

7. Flash Cards

There are multiple variations of letter flash cards. A common presentation is with uppercase and/or lowercase letter on one side of the card, and a picture of something starting with that letter on the other side of the card.

If you have cards with a full set of uppercase letters and separate cards for lowercase letters, you could have the child match upper and lowercase. I have used the cards to see if the child knows alphabet letters when presented randomly. You can set aside the letters they cannot identify, then you know your baseline.

8. Toys to Promote Learning the Alphabet

I use a lot of children’s alphabet-themed toys in therapy. I especially like Learning Resources (which I will designate as LR) toys. They are good quality, but not quite as pricey as Lakeshore Learning or Discovery Toys. I’m sharing photos above from my collection of activities that I use in therapy. I’m also listing the complete name and maker of each, in case you want to track down any of the activities. I promise I don’t make a cent from Learning Resources or any other toy or educational supply company. I purchase most of my gear from Amazon.

9. Coloring and Activity Books

There is a myriad of coloring books and other children’s activity books with alphabet activities. Some of my favorites are alphabet dot-to-dot. Instead of creating a picture by drawing lines from number to number (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, etc.), you connect the dots by drawing lines from letter to letter (A, B, C, D, E, etc.).

I have a coloring book-type children’s activity book that has color-by-number pictures featuring the alphabet. There is a worksheet for each letter and a couple objects that start with that letter. Other coloring book activities include identifying pictures starting with a designated letter from an array of pictures.

Look for Fun Pad and coloring book activity books at Family Dollar, Dollar Tree, Ross, Target, Wal-Mart, Big Lots, etc. I’ve also found great alphabet activity books at Lakeshore Learning Store and Hobby Lobby, but they are a bit pricey. I also have an alphabet dot painting book. You use special markers like Bingo stampers that create pictures through dots.

Before I Write is a book that I love and have bought a half dozen or more copies to give to kids. I usually pick it up for about three dollars on Amazon Prime.

10. Letter-Writing Books

Writing books are A-to-Z workbooks for practicing writing letters. I sometimes use these as part of the process of alphabet recognition—if the child shows progress and readiness to begin working on letter formation. I try to choose books with large letters and always begin with uppercase letters.

You can order actual “schoolhouse” writing books like Zaner-Bloser—I would buy the kindergarten book. You can also get a variety of inexpensive letter books—including books for one dollar—from Dollar Tree, Family Dollar, or Target. Just choose large letters, with an emphasis on tracing, and don’t focus too much on the precision of letter formation.

I have one book with really large uppercase letters. There is one block-style letter that could be used for gluing on macaroni, dried beans, etc.

11. Alphabet Wipe-Off Books

I really love my Ultimate Wipe-Off and Wipe Clean wipe-off books, because they have thick cardboard pages. I have several, including one with three-inch uppercase letters, one with lower case letters, and one based on animals.

I also love my Lakeshore Learning wipe-off books. I have one for uppercase and one for lowercase letters. I use the uppercase book the most. The letters are about two inches, and there is a row for tracing light blue shaded letters, a row to trace dotted line letters, and two rows for free-hand letters. I seldom use the free-hand rows with young children.

I have made my own wipe-off books by cutting apart my favorite writing books and laminating the sheets. I've also given $1 writing books, a wipe-off sleeve or page protector, and dry erase pen to kids for home practice.

12. Word Games With Letters

If the child is ready for something a little more challenging, I have an array of word games with three-to five-letter words. All are a variation of matching letter cubes or tiles, or wood or plastic letters to the word depicted. I have tried to be as complete as possible with the name of the activity, in case you want to search for one.

13. Free Alphabet Worksheets Online

There are lots of free alphabet worksheets online. These are very similar to writing books you can purchase and would be suitable for laminating as well.

You can print up worksheets for:

  • manuscript and cursive letters
  • uppercase and lowercase letters
  • Zaner Bloser and D’Nealian letters

Here are some great resources:

14. ABC Songs on YouTube

Bookmark several versions of the alphabet song from YouTube to your phone. All of my clients love the ABC song, even with me singing it! Sometimes I’ll play a version with an activity. Other times, I’ll play an ABC song from YouTube as a reward or to signal the end of our session. Below are the four that I have on my phone. The first version is Elmo. Who doesn’t like Elmo?

This second version is sung to the traditional ABC song melody. Large alphabet letters are shown on the left side of the screen. The only thing I don’t like is that they say “zed” for “Z”.

This version is sung to an alternate tune, but it’s catchy. I like it. It reminds me of cowboys.

This version of the ABC song has it all. Upper and lowercase letters are shown, the sign language symbol for each letter is demonstrated, and they give the letter sound. For example, “A sounds like…”

15. Free Alphabet Games Online

16. Android Apps for Alphabet Activities

  • Intellijoy
  • Kids ABC Letters
  • Kids ABC Phonics
  • Phonics A-H
  • Phonics J-Z
  • Wisemon
  • ABC Finger Paint for Kids Lite (free)
  • Oceanhouse Media
  • Dr. Seuss’s ABC
  • AKnght Studios
  • Kids ABC Learn and Trace Lite (free)
  • Sriram Satyavolu
  • Write ABC (Learn ABC)

17. iPhone and iPad Alphabet Apps

  • ABC Alphabets
  • A+ ABC’s Fun
  • ABA Flash Cards-Alphabet
  • ABC Alphabet Coloring Book
  • ABC Dancing Flash Cards
  • ABC Coloring Book (free)
  • ABC Animal Flash Cards (free)
  • ABC writing
  • iWrite words
  • whack-a-mole
  • Pocket phonics
  • Go fun—counting, letters, shapes
  • Word Slapps
  • Learning sounds—by Different Roads to Learning

© 2012 rmcrayne

Comments

Tim Truzy from U.S.A. on January 11, 2019:

Excellent article. The more learning senses incorporated into instruction or play enhances the child's ability to grasp a subject. I love your ideas and I enjoyed reading your article.

Much respect,

Tim

rmcrayne (author) from San Antonio Texas on February 17, 2012:

Thanks TripletsMomma. I hope you will check out my hubs on sorting by color and shape, and choosing puzzles too.

TripletsMomma from Ohio on January 21, 2012:

Great information! I have five year old triplets and have learned that they don't learn the same way. You provided so many ideas and options. I look forward to reviewing your page over and over and finding something new that will help my son.

Mama-n-Teacher on January 18, 2012:

WOW! You really included a lot of great information.

kelleyward on January 17, 2012:

Wow you really did your homework and I benefited. Kudos great hub!!!

rmcrayne (author) from San Antonio Texas on January 16, 2012:

Thanks for visiting sturgeonl and tiredmom.

tiredmom I added the link for Fisher Price. Thanks!

tiredmomoftwins from florida usa on January 13, 2012:

thank you for your very helpful Hub! also, Fisher Price has a free online ABC Zoo game that is great for babies and toddlers. my twin boys love it.

Sturgeonl on January 13, 2012:

This is a wonderful reference for important resources our early learners require. Well done.

rmcrayne (author) from San Antonio Texas on January 12, 2012:

Kathryn thanks for your support on my pre-school/K series.

Thanks Lizyoung. I hope you will write some hubs from your experience as I have. I've used my hubs for client & family handouts, as well as for continuing education/staff development. Let me know if you write on reading to children. I'd be more than happy to link to your related hubs on this one and my others as appropriate. So far I've done sorting by attributes- color and shape, and sensory processing. I hope to be doing others like fine motor, sensory motor, coloring & pre-writing, etc.

Lizyoung123ABC on January 11, 2012:

Wow, nice job as I am a preschool teacher. You are right, as learning the alphabet and letter sounds is the building block to learning to read. It is so important to engage your child in early learning activities such as these. Reading to your child from day 1 is a crucial component to early reading. I started reading to my daughter when she was in my womb and then I held and read to her throughout her infancy and every night as a young child. She loves a good book now and is an excellent reader. My husband too, took this time to bond with her. Lap time is shown in studies to increase reading fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension later on.

Thanks again!

Kathryn L Hill from LA on January 06, 2012:

Thank you for this free fire hose of Info! I have printed it up!