Teaching letters to preschoolers can be a slow process requiring lots of repetition.
Different children learn in different ways. We need to offer a range of activities for learning to recognise and write letters.
These are some of my favourite activities for teaching letters to preschoolers.
Tips For Teaching Letters To Preschoolers.
Whether you like to carefully plan everything you do with your preschooler, or you prefer to go with the flow, these tips should help you.
With all of these suggestions, keep in mind that learning should be fun. Especially at this age.
So much learning happens just as part of the everyday.
Slowing down your life to a pace that leaves room for your child to experience things at his own pace is one of the best things you can do for his development.
Learning to read, and to recognise letters, is no different.
Allowing Time For Learning.
Let’s imagine a scenario.
You’ve got a hospital appointment to attend with your child.
You arrive with only a couple of minutes to spare, panicking about not being able to find a parking space. By the time you get parked, you’re already running late for the appointment, so you scoop up your child and race to find the right place in the hospital.
You arrive at the appointment stressed, out of breath, and irritated at how long it’s taking your child to climb that last flight of stairs.
You plan your journey to arrive with plenty of time to spare. You park easily and ask your child to help remember the row you’ve parked in, D7, so that you can find the car easily later.
Inside the hospital, you stop to look at the big map on the wall. You’ve got time to show your little one the word on your appointment letter, “ophthalmology”, and you find it together on the map.
You can see that you need to follow the blue signs, so you enlist your child’s help in spotting them.
It takes you a while to get to where you need to be, but look at how much practice your child’s had at recognising words, following maps, noticing details.
All of those things are so important for helping preschoolers to learn to read.
I know that life doesn’t always run smoothly enough to allow for slowing down to smell the roses or read the road signs every day.
It’s worth the effort though, of slowing down where you can. Make the effort to create space in your days for your child to learn things naturally, at their own pace.
This one will always top my list of ways of teaching letters to preschoolers.
Read to your children from the day they’re born, and don’t stop until they won’t let you read to them anymore.
Read stories and nursery rhymes, read postcards and letters, read recipes and instructions.
This process isn’t about you trying to get your child to sound things out, or trying to make them read if they’re not ready.
It’s just about reading things to them. That’s how they’ll make the connection between the marks on a page and the words we speak.
Point out the words you see in the world around you. Talk about shop logos, road signs, the label on their favourite foods.
2. Use All The Senses.
We all learn more effectively if we involve all our senses in the process.
We often get stuck just looking at the reading and writing side of things. Often we assume that teaching letters is about seeing the shape of a letter and reproducing it with a pen.
Obviously that’s part of it.
Preschoolers learn more quickly, and absorb knowledge more deeply, with a multisensory approach.
Think about ways that your child can experience the letter with his whole body, in a very physical way.
Can you incorporate smell in the process of learning letters?
What about the way the letter sounds? Tastes? Feels?
3. Get Physical.
Get in some gross motor skills practice by making BIG letters on the ground outside.
Try using chalk, painting with water and big brushes, or dragging your feet to make a letter-path through fallen leaves.
Hang a big tarpaulin over the clothesline and paint huge letters on it. (Or, win the best mama of the year award and just let the kids paint right on the side of the house.)
Can they make their body into the shape of the letter?
4. Fingers Are Easier Than Pencils.
Learning to form letters can be tricky.
Learning to hold a pencil can be tricky.
Combining the two skills together might just be too much for your child at the moment.
If your object is to get your preschooler familiar with a particular letter, then why not remove the pencil from the equation altogether?
Let them use their fingers to form letters in a sand tray, or in shaving foam.
Poke holes in playdough to form a letter outline.
Write in a thick layer of paint, or mud.
(Also check out my posts on fine motor skills for more help in developing the skills needed for writing).
Teaching Letters With A Letter Hunt.
Rummage in your paper recycling for catalogues, magazines, leaflets and newspapers.
Have a focus letter and get your child to spot it in the materials you’ve provided. Bingo dabbers or highlighter pens are great for marking the letters you find.
Another variation on this is to actually cut out the letters and stick them into a scrapbook or onto paper.
Or, you could take a camera out with you and have a photographic scavenger hunt, looking for examples of your chosen letter. Then, take photos and make them into a collage either by printing them out to cut and stick onto a poster, or using a digital collaging tool.
It can be difficult for children to recognise letters in different fonts, and activities like this can help with that.
6. Learn Your Name.
Offer plenty of opportunities to see their name written down.
At preschool age, children often very much like the idea that some things belong to them and not to anyone else.
You can tap into that by helping them label things like notebooks and drawing books. Write their name on their art before you display it.
Point out things that start with the same letter as their name.
Look for that initial letter on road signs or shelves at the library. Spot it on car number plates.
7. Keep It Fun & Low-Key.
There’s no faster way to turn a child off learning anything than to make it feel too much like work.
Try lots of different things. You’ll soon get a feel for what activities are fun for your child, and those are the ones you should keep doing more of.
If something’s difficult, then back off and come back to it from a different angle another day.
Once you start learning letters with your preschooler, it can be hard to resist the temptation to just keep pushing forward until you’ve learned the whole alphabet.
Instead, let your child guide you. Let him set the pace, and he’ll learn more effectively and be happier.
Experiment To Find What Works.
Teaching letters should be fun.
Your preschoolers should be enjoying their learning.
You’ll find a LOT of worksheets aimed at helping preschoolers learn their letters. They’re often free, they’re easy to print off.
A worksheet is a quick fix activity that makes you feel like you’re doing things properly.
Real learning though, deep learning, requires a richer experience with lots of different ways of learning letters.
Try introducing one or two of my tips into your preschooler’s learning, and see what happens.
(Oh, and pin this post so you can come back and try the other tips later).