Teaching Your Toddler the ABCs


[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=43-YvqFwRVs&w=560&h=315]

After posting this video on Facebook a couple months ago, I had quite a few people ask me how I taught our (then) 19 month old his ABCs. My degree is in Early Childhood, and much of my working experience is with children three and under. I'm hoping this blog post will share some answers and encourage other parents with some new ideas.


Disclaimer: This is not a formula for success. This is our personal experience. It worked for Louis. It might not work for Nick and Sally. As my father-in-law recently said, Louis is HUNGRY for knowledge. He wants to learn and desires to be taught. Much of his learning has honestly taken place by accident, or even without me! I have followed his leading in all of this. I have never pushed him to learn something he did not care about.


My hope is that you can glean some ideas for teaching literacy to your little ones - mostly because literacy can be relationship-building for the two of you. It is not my desire that every child will be able to regurgitate the letters on flashcards before their second birthday. It is not helpful if they can read, but you haven't provided the lap for them to snuggle into. The following suggestions I make are to be motivated by love and interaction.


Amen and Amen. Yes?


I chose to start teaching Louis by focusing on the uppercase letters. The lowercase alphabet is easy to grasp after the uppercase is mastered.


How To Teach Your Toddler the ABCs


1. Read books about the alphabet.




It doesn't matter what age they are, read to your children. We started reading to Louis at an age when he had no clue what was happening, but he totally understood that we were talking to him, and that we were focusing on him.


Also, it's important to read the same books over and over and over. As adults, we may become bored while reading a certain book for the 27th time that day, but our children are drinking in the words, the rhythm, and the tones. They are listening, they are learning, and they are memorizing.


We let Louis know that reading was important. If he brought us a book, more often than not, we stopped what we were doing in order to read to him. Many suppers were served a few minutes late because I had to read about that crazy pigeon before I could finish cooking our meal!


Louis can "read" many of his favorite books to himself these days. He imitates the same tones and expressions we have used when reading the book to him (1,000 times or more!!)



For teaching your children the ABCs, it's important to read books specifically about the letters of the alphabet. Encourage them to interact with the letters in story form.

ABC book suggestions (all approved and endorsed by Louis): Chicka Chicka Boom Boom


DC Superhero ABC 123

No matter what book you are reading (ABC or not) be sure to look for uppercase letters throughout the text or illustrations. Point these out occasionally.


2. Interact with the alphabet.

Nasko has taught me the importance of hands-on learning, so we have tried to use that with the other boys as well. To accomplish this with the alphabet, we have been very intentional about buying toys that have to do with the alphabet. Here are some examples:

IMG_7950 IMG_7492 IMG_7866

Louis' favorite though, have been these extra-large alphabet magnets that we bought before Nasko came home (there are cheaper magnets available, but these are big enough to not be a choking hazard). Despite buying them for Nasko, they have become Louis' THING.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jI76cgWuAP4?rel=0&w=560&h=315]

Louis was only 14 or 15 months old in this video.

From early on, he has loved carrying the magnets around the house. We always keep them on the dishwasher or the bottom section of the refrigerator. The important thing is to have them at your child's level that they can touch them and hold them.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tc67Yb1wsYQ&w=560&h=315]

This video was taken the day that I realized Louis really wanted to learn his letters! He kept bringing me the magnets and asking me to tell him what they were. He was 17 months here.


3. Sing the alphabet. [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jmyheCSmFBU&w=560&h=315]

(This video was from a few weeks ago.)

Try to sing the alphabet daily. The best way to do this is to incorporate it into something you are already doing - hand-washing, brushing teeth, before a meal, etc. At our house, we sing the ABCs during almost every diaper change. Considering we change roughly 13,000 diapers everyday, the traditional alphabet song got a little boring after a while. We have learned five different versions of the alphabet song (did you know it can be sung to the tune of "Mary Had A Little Lamb"? Go ahead, try it.).

By singing different tunes, I hoped that Edward and Louis (and Nasko) would learn to say the actual letter names, and not just attempt to glide along with the tune. More than likely, you probably grew up gliding. This is evident by the fact that a majority of kids don't learn to separate L M N O P until they are in kindergarten.




Singing the alphabet to multiple tunes SHOULD help alleviate this problem!

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gfJYt0UwMNA&w=420&h=315] (This video is from yesterday!)


4. Play with the alphabet.

If you want to get moms all riled up, mention the topic of giving a toddler a digital device. I'm not here to argue about brain development or the benefits of technology at a young age, but I am here to say, "I STINKING LOVE OUR IPADS."

There are so many instances where being outnumbered by your children (who thought that was a good idea?) can be rather frightening. In those moments (restaurants, long car rides, mommy-needs-a-time-out, the 4:00-5:00 PM hour) it's a wonderful thing to just hand your child an electronic device that contains nothing but educational games.

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I have scoured the internet for the best ABC toddler apps. Some of them cost a little bit of money, but I've found that you have to pay a little to get the quality learning materials. ABC book suggestions (all approved and endorsed by Louis):

PBS Kids Video (not a specific ABC app, but it contains PBS shows - many of which focus on letters and reading)

ABC Farm, ABC House, ABC Food, ABC Go, ABC Music

Wee Sing ABC

Elmos Loves ABCs


These last two are Louis' absolute favorites:


ABC Videos by StoryBots

The StoryBots videos have been life-changing in our house. The developers wrote and recorded songs for each one of the letters of the alphabet. They are clever, catchy, visually-appealing, and super educational. Louis LOVES them. He can sing many of them with minimal prompting.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=videoseries?list=PLD9908AF19A9D352A&w=560&h=315]

If I had to choose one single thing that piqued Louis' interest in learning the alphabet, it would 100% be these videos. He absolutely loves them.

You can see him dancing to the video about the letter "I" here:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=meKoeNLex6k&w=560&h=315]

Louis' favorite is probably the letter I. Nasko loves M. Edward, naturally, prefers E. Mama's choice is always B ("bananas are a fruit that is fun to eat, you gotta bounce-bitty-bounce to the boppin' beat now!") and Taty likes P!

We like to let these play on our TV as we are cleaning up from dinner in the evening. The kids dance and sing along, and the quick tempo keeps us adults cleaning! (I think my level of dorkiness is through the roof now, eh?)


5. Highlight the alphabet.

All this step requires is being mindful of your surroundings. As you are out and about with your children, point out the letters on road signs. Show them the uppercase letters used on food packages and other products you buy. Especially be on the lookout for items that are at the eye-level of your children.

Recently, Chance took Louis to Walmart and Louis walked right up to a big chip display and named every letter on the sign. The display was only about three feet tall, so the letters were right at his height. He was able to point to them and touch them as he named them.

In your home, give your children the opportunity to notice the alphabet naturally. This vinyl cut out is on our wall:


My kids love to point out the letters in it.

Also, we have used name card and a name chart for determining who prays for each meal. We draw out a name card and ask the kids to each look at the first letter and then the whole name. This helps them learn the letters associated with the people in their family.


6. Share the alphabet.

Finally, encourage your children to share the knowledge that they have acquired. Ask them to identify letters for your friends and family when they visit. Have your children demonstrate what they have learned for those people around them. The praise and encouragement from others will motivate them to keep learning.

In our house, this translates into Louis labeling his letters for our dog.


Louis regularly follows Allen around the house, trying to impart wisdom. We encourage this, as it gives Louis someone else with whom to practice!

Again, remember, building a relationship and a love of learning is the most important thing at this toddler stage. Not everyone's children will be able to identify the upper and lowercase alphabet by the age of 21 months (not to mention sing it, identify 1-10 and count to 13, but that is neither here nor there). God has given every child a different personality with different interests.

Your child may be speaking in paragraphs by this age (Louis is a very quiet kid who is trying to sail through life on one-word phrases). Every child is different. Enjoy spending time with your children. 


At the top and bottom of this post, I included a "Pin It" button. You can pin this post to one of your Pinterest boards in order to reference it later. (Figuring out how to add this button made me feel like a real, grown up blogger!)

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