Rose Mary, an Occupational Therapist since 1987, is experienced with pre-term infants, early intervention, school therapy, and home health.
Importance of Recognizing the Alphabet
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
- Electronic toys
- Memory games
- 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.
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 assembling, say the word if the child does not recognize it from the picture.
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.
7. Flash Cards
There are multiple variations of letter flash cards. A common presentation is with an 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.