About two months ago something really exciting happened. Well, really exciting for an educator-turned-new-parent-who-is-obsessed-with-literacy. Penelope started saying the alphabet.
Penelope and I were sitting on the sofa reading ABC’s of Hawaii, an alphabet book Kyle and I bought her as a souvenir from Kauai. (Yes, we are the kind of parents who buy books as souvenirs.) It was at least the hundredth time I’d read this book and I mustered as much enthusiasm as I could because I didn’t want to spoil Penelope’s love for this dumb book. (If you know this book, you know that it is so dumb.) And then, out of nowhere, the most magical thing happened. As I began to read the first page, Penelope pointed to the letter A and exclaimed, “A!”
I couldn’t believe it. She knew the letter A! As I continued to read through the book, she would point to each letter and either blurt it out before me or repeat after me. For me, it was the most exciting developmental milestone since she stopped throwing her dishes on the floor upon completion of a meal.
Now, before you start freaking out and thinking that my 22-month old knows the entire alphabet and is some kind of genius, let me further explain exactly what was happening here so that you can easily replicate this amazingness in your own home.
Foolproof Tactics for Teaching Your Toddler the Alphabet
- Read alphabet books with your toddler. Ideally you will find some alphabet books you love (so that it doesn’t feel torturous). The good news is your local library is guaranteed to have a plethora of alphabet books!
- When reading the alphabet books, point to each letter and say it aloud. Then prompt your little one to practice saying the letter. As you move through the book, repeat. It’s totally ok if your kiddo can’t say the letter or says it in a funny way. Penelope can’t say, “G” to save her life, but she thinks she is saying, “G” and that’s a-okay for now.
- Practice the alphabet aloud. I’ve found that saying and/or singing the alphabet is an excellent distraction when Penelope is losing her shit. For example, when we are in the car or when I’m trying to change her diaper (no pun intended). So, I will say, “Hey, let’s practice the alphabet. Say, ‘A’.” And then she will forget what she is pissed off about and will say, “A.” We work through the rest of the alphabet, often times repeating for another few rounds.
- Notice letters in real life. There are letters everywhere! They’re on street signs, they’re on labels at the grocery store, they’re on jewelry. Penelope recently noticed that I wear a necklace with the letter P on it and she acted like she’d won the lottery. “P!” she screamed. “P! P! P! Mommy P!” We were on an airplane when this happened… But the cool thing is that Poppy now knows to look for letters everywhere. We were recently on the 6 train in New York City and in between yelling hello to everyone who got on the train, she pointed to a fluorescent green circle and shouted, “O!” This is a marked improvement over her belief that everything round was a ball. She now knows the difference between a ball and the letter O.
- Provide a daily dose of Sesame Street. I work from home and have recently needed to use Sesame Street as the babysitter before my nanny shows up. I have noticed a marked improvement in Penelope’s ability to recognize and name letters since she started binge watching Sesame Street. Plus, it enables me to bang out some emails, conduct business meetings and, if I’m lucky, take a shower.
Why is this important? Because letters are the building blocks of words and words are the building blocks of books. Penelope’s ability to recognize letters is the first steps towards learning that letters have sounds and this all ultimately plays into her learning to decode text and READ.