Raising Readers: 3 Ways to Learn the Alphabet

Sep 1, 2014

Bradley will turn three later this month, so we have been working very hard this summer on learning all the capital letters of the alphabet.

Sometimes I laugh when I think about how different it is to parent the third child versus the first child. Aaron knew the entire alphabet many months before he turned two, but I also had a lot more time to devote to teaching and reviewing. In those days, we were looking for ways to fill up our days, and learning the alphabet was one of them.

I'm definitely not the type of mom to try to make things entirely equal for all my kids. Just because I sat down with Aaron at 18-months-old and cheered for him when he knew the letter S doesn't mean I'm being unfair if I don't do that with Bradley until he's almost three.

Last spring, he began expressing interest in learning the alphabet. He would point to the fridge magnets or the title of a book and ask, "What letter is this?" so I added letter recognition to his list of summer goals.

There are hundreds of ways to teach young children the letters of the alphabet, but you know I err on the simple side. If it's too complicated or takes too much preparation, it's unlikely I'll ever do it. So here are three super-simple ways to explore the alphabet:

1. Use a Paper Bag

I found this idea on Reading Confetti. You'll need some magnetic letters, a paper bag, and a cookie sheet.

I usually put about ten letters in the paper bag, shake it up (for effect), and give it to Bradley. He reaches in, pulls out a letter, names it, and puts in on the cookie sheet. When he's all done, he likes to lift up the tray and see all the letters sticking to it.

2. Use Sidewalk Chalk and a Spray Bottle

For this activity you'll need a spray bottle (the ones for $1 are perfect), some sidewalk chalk, and a hot day.

I write out five or six letters with the chalk and try to make it a mix of letters I'm sure he knows and ones he's just learning.

Then I say, "Bradley, spray the W!" and he gives it a good squirt. Then I say, "Now spray the H!" and he finds that one too. We do it for as long as he wants to, sometimes adding in more letters, but it always ends with him spraying himself in the face.

3. Use Small Objects

For this activity you'll need some letters (we just use our fridge magnets) and some small objects (glass stones, coins, beads, candy, etc.).

We gather up 6-8 letters (he chooses a few and I choose a few), and we lay them out on the table in a straight line.

Then I give him a handful of little pieces. Our personal favorites are glass stones, like the kind you'd put in the bottom of a vase (although I'm sure if I tried it with chocolate chips, he wouldn't say no.)

Then I call out a letter, and he puts the stone on top of it. If you wanted, you could play this game in reverse: the parent puts the stone on a letter and asks the child to say the name of it. This is, by far, the game we've played the most this summer. Almost every day, Bradley asks me, "Is it time for me to learn my letters?" and we can easily set up this one while I clean the kitchen.

If you do nothing else, at least buy a set of letter magnets to go on the fridge. Some days, even these simple activities are too much work, but the letters are always there, and Bradley does a lot of learning on his own just rearranging all the letters or grouping them together or asking me questions about them.

How do you teach your child the letters of the alphabet? I'm sure you have some great ideas!

P.S. And for even more ideas, check out 8 Easy Ways to Teach Numbers and Letters and 35 Letters and Sounds Learning Games.


  1. These are fun ideas, and they'd be way easy to adapt for use with sight words!! (That's where we are now). Thanks for sharing!

  2. These are great tips. You know who helped us the most Super Why! Man I love me some PBS Kids.

  3. I used the paper bag game with Seth and Ezra all the time. I haven't even played it yet with Owen. I usually just bring up morestarfall.com because it's so easy. He must be the third child or something :)


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