Learning Letter Sounds

Knowledge of letter names and shapes is a strong predictor of children’s success in learning to read. Penelope knows all her letters except V and W. I give her a hall pass on those because they are kinda confusing. (Don’t even get me started on K and X!) Why am I so obsessed with making sure she knows all her letters? Learning the letters of the alphabet is the first step towards learning letter sounds. And learning letter sounds will eventually lead her to recognizing words.

Over the past few months we’ve started working on learning letter sounds. There’s this thing in Literacy Land known as the alphabetic principle. The alphabetic principle is the idea that letters and letter patterns represent the sounds of spoken language. In other words, there are systematic relationships between written letters and spoken sounds. Eventually applying these relationships to words is what enables a child to begin to read fluently.

So what the heck does all of that actually mean when you have a toddler and it’s hard enough to remember to brush her teeth twice a day?

Basically it means that once your little one has learned the alphabet (or in Penelope’s case, most of the alphabet), it’s time to up the ante. Being able to accurately recognize and name letters, your kiddo can now start learning letter sounds. The good news is, if you’ve been trying on some of the tactics I’ve previously shared — like reading alphabet books and playing with an alphabet wall — you’re perfectly poised for this next step.

Learning Letter Sounds

  1. The most important thing to remember is if any of this feels like work, it will not be enjoyable to you or your child. Given that this type of learning doesn’t typically happen until kindergarten, I am super chill when “teaching” Penelope. Take the pressure off yourself and your kiddo and relax, enjoying the reading moment.
  2. While reading an alphabet book, before turning the page, pause to explicitly point out the letter and the sound it makes. Say, “The letter B makes a buh sound. Say, ‘Buh buh buh.'” After your little one repeats the sound, say, “Nice job. B goes buh.” Then turn the page and move on.
  3. Letters can make more than one sound. G can be hard and soft in the word garage, for example. For the sake of simplicity, go with the easiest sound, which is gonna be the first sound that comes to mind.
  4. Reinforce the sounds you’re teaching while reading with other activities. When Penelope is playing with her alphabet magnets, I ask, “What letter is that?” After she answers, I then say, “What sound does the letter B make?” and I give her a chance to practice, following in to gently remind her if necessary.
  5. Reinforcement can also happen while you’re walking down the street or driving in the car. Just say, “Hey, what sound does the letter C make?” and then use that as an opportunity to practice. Bottom line: keep it simple because simple is still highly effective.