You wonder whether you're doing enough to prepare your toddler for reading and writing. If you're teaching him to recognize letters of the alphabet and their sounds, you're on the right track.
The National Early Literacy Panel assessed the most rigorous scientific research available on the development of early literacy skills in children from birth to age 5. They concluded that a grasp of the alphabet and phonics awareness were two of the "strongest and most consistent predictors" of future literacy development.
Because toddlers have a natural curiosity about the world around them, you can spark your little one's interest in the alphabet by engaging him in entertaining, yet educational, activities. He'll have so much fun, he won't suspect that you're grooming him for future kindergarten star-status.
Buy a bag of refrigerator magnets and use them to begin teaching letter recognition. "The most important word to a toddler is his name, so that's where you should begin alphabet knowledge," says Marilyn Duncan, former teacher and author of The Kindergarten Book: A Guide to Literacy Instruction." Place only the letters of your child's name on the refrigerator. If his name is Timothy, for example, he might only pay attention to the "T" for a long time. Eventually, he'll gain interest in the other letters. When he knows his name, move on to other important words in his world, such as "mommy," "daddy" and the names of siblings.
Songs and rhymes are another way to build understanding of alphabet knowledge. Parents often begin by singing the "ABC" song. This is a good start.
"My 2-year-old daughter sings her ABCs every time she washes her hands," says Alison Deisher, an elementary school teacher in Vandalia, Ohio.
Once your child can sing the alphabet song, follow through with meaningful connections to the letters. She can put together an alphabet puzzle or play with foam letters in the tub as she sings the song. Use music and rhyme throughout the day. Sing "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" with your child and challenge her to pick up her toys before you're finished singing.
"Nursery rhymes, familiar songs and poetry are wonderful ways for young children to develop phonemic awareness—the ability to hear the sounds in words before they are able to recognize letters or record those letters," says Duncan.
Designate a corner of your child's room as his "book nook." Stock it with colorful, sturdy books that he can easily reach.
"Reading books to children is the best way for them to begin to understand that print contains a message," Duncan says.
Toddlers particularly enjoy stories such as Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? that have repeating word patterns. Your job as a parent is to foster enjoyment, and providing your child with books that delight with sound will make that job easier. Your child's interest in the printed word will come when he is developmentally ready to recognize letters and words.
Entertain your little one with alphabet games. Use wood or foam letters—choose letters your child knows. She can close her eyes as you hide the letters around the room. Ask her to find an "A" and a "B" and return them to you. For toddlers who make letter-sound connections, hide objects—such as a ball—and ask your child to find something that begins with "B."
Play a matching game, suggests Deisher. Make two cards—upper case and lower case—for each letter of the alphabet that your child knows. Use only four or five different letter pairs. Set down the upper case letters and ask her to find their matches. A variation is to match the letter and a picture of word that has that beginning sound, such as "D" with dog.
Toddlers love to use their senses to discover the world around them. Make large, cut-out letters from cardboard. Cover them in sandpaper or a furry material and let your child handle and play with them, recommends Deisher. Talk about the letters as she runs her fingers along them. You might say, for example, "Stella, let's find something that begins with an 'F.'"
Spread flour or shaving cream on a table and help her draw letters in it with her finger. Take her hand and guide her as she writes the letters in the flour with her index finger. Next, help her write her name or other simple words.
What child doesn't like an occasional cookie? Your little one can learn while he eats. Bake a batch of alphabet cookies using alphabet cookie cutters and your favorite recipe. He can help mix ingredients and spread icing on the ABC treats. Talk about the alphabet as you bake: "We're putting butter in the cookies, Sam. What letter does butter begin with?"
Make a "D" cookie for daddy, an "M" for mommy, and one for each sibling's name. Don't forget your little baker's initial!