Wondering about the order for teaching letters to your little ones? I’m on it!
I feel as though I am always writing about waiting to teach letter recognition. Wait and let little hands get strengthened by other activities. Wait until little minds have had ample time to hear different words and sounds. But a day will come when you SHOULD teach your little ones their alphabet letters, of course.
Whether it is when they are 3, 4, 5, or 6, at one point or another, they will be ready, and teaching letter recognition will be the name of the game. So, when they are ready, what is the order for teaching letters?
Don’t worry—I have an opinion on that too!
In fact, I have an entire learn-to-read program that includes letter recognition! How Wee Read covers it all, from rhyming to reading in 60 sequential, simple, and beautiful lessons:
- Step One: Phonological Awareness (7 lessons)
- Step Two: Letters, Sounds, and Blending (12 lessons)
- Step Three: Special Rules (5 lessons)
- Step Four: Familiar Readers (36 lessons)
You can grab a FREE Sample of How Wee Read, including beautiful letter cards that focus on the first grouping of letters—s, a, t, i, p, n—right here:
If you are more of a watcher than a reader, I have created a seven-minute video for you all about teaching letter recognition to young children. You can watch right here (or simply keep reading below if you would rather):
And just in case the video above doesn’t work for you, you can also watch it right here on YouTube.
What Order to Introduce the Alphabet Letters
When I was in the Kindergarten classroom, I did not teach letter recognition in alphabetical order. I began with “name letters” as these letters hold a very important meaning to children. So for “Sammy,” he learned all about s, a, m, and y.
Once children know their name letters well, I would introduce the other alphabet letters (and sounds) in this order:
At first, relatively quickly, I would introduce the first row of letters, maybe over a week. Then we do lots of activities playing with those letters: their sounds, shapes, and names. Once they are mastered, we add in the next row. Building and growing, slow and steady.
Starting with the lowercase is helpful, and something I have begun doing—though I haven’t always. Clearly, little ones need to know both upper and lowercase letters, but since so much of the print in our everyday lives is lowercase, I find it beneficial to start in that way.
The letter order is similar to the way the letters are taught in the Jolly Phonics Program. By teaching the letters in this manner, children are able to begin forming words very quickly. After learning the first six letters, kids can make words in the “at,” “an,” “it,” “ip,” “ap,” and “in” word families.
- s, a, t, i, p, n
- c, k, e, h, r
- m, d, g, o
- l, f, b, q, u
- j, z, w
- v, y, x
Introducing the letters and letting little ones begin to make words almost right away creates a huge sense of pride. And since you waited to introduce the letters (you did wait, right?) they are absolutely ready and will be catching on right away, grasping those letter names and sounds easily. If not, perhaps wait a little longer.
I know it is hard (trust me, I know!) but waiting until your little one is ready will save you both mounds of frustration, and ensure your little one loves learning. There is no rush.
Of course, ideas and games for introducing letters can be found all over How Wee Learn!
Games to Help Little Ones Learn Letters
Ready to start helping your little ones learn their letters? Here are some great ideas and fun games that will have those letters mastered in no time!
Digging Up Letters – Grab some dump trucks, diggers, and pebbles and “dig up” some letter-learning fun with your preschooler! This post shares more information about the order for teaching the letters.
Flying into Letter Recognition – This fun one just requires painter’s tape and construction paper. Pop that first group of alphabet letters (s, a, t, i, p, n) on the ground using painter’s tape and let those little ones throw paper airplanes to learn their ABCs!
Swat the ABC Balloons – We love using balloons for fun learning games. This alphabet activity is absolutely perfect for preschoolers as it engages the whole body. And we all know 3-year-olds LOVE to learn with their whole body.
Zoom and Sort the ABCs – All you need is painter’s tape and some toy cars for this one. This one uses painter’s tape in a different way; the painter’s tape forms the road while the cars hold the letters. This letters activity for preschoolers is great for introducing capital and lowercase letters.
Pipecleaner and Popsicle Stick Letters – Forming letters with pipecleaners and popsicle sticks on a homemade sticky board – popsicle sticks can be used for so many purposes!
Skeleton Bone Writing (bending Qtips!) – We use Qtips a lot over here for learning games like this one. Bending those Qtips is a great way to make the curvy parts of the letters. Having children manipulate objects to form letters is a very powerful learning opportunity.
Re-useable Alphabet Paper Chain Games – We use construction paper a lot to make simple paper chains. I like to add velcro to make these chains reusable again and again. Little words can be built and played with all day long.
Building a Name with Blocks – Duplo building blocks are a favourite here, and they are perfect for this name-building game.
Mail Play! – Mailing friends their “name letters” is a great way to practice letter recognition! Matching letters of the alphabet is a great place to start with letter recognition. First, little ones recognize which letters match, then they can practice forming the letters from a sample, and finally, they can produce it on their own. The order for teaching letters can be the same for all of these steps.
Dinosaur Bone (Well, Letter) Excavating – Magnetic alphabet letters can be used for so many learning activities, like this fun dinosaur letter excavation!
An A-MAZE-ing Letter Learning Game – Grab that painter’s tape once more! This time we made a fun maze for learning our alphabet letters.
Now that you are armed with some fun games, have an idea about the order for teaching letters, and have waited for your little one to be ready… it is time to let them learn those letters!
Have fun with this big step with your little ones. And remember, slow is always better. Follow your child’s lead and keep it light and fun. This is the beginning of a lifetime of learning and a love of reading.
For absolutely everything you need to teach your child to read—from rhyming to reading—take a peek at How Wee Read right here:
Good luck! And remember, I am only an email away with any questions!
Very helpful article!How do you know when your child is ready to learn letter recognition?
Very glad you found this helpful Jessica. A great way to know when little ones are ready is when they start asking questions about letters, asking what signs say, and generally begin to show an interest. Another way is to begin with a child’s name letters slowly. If they pick them up quickly, and remember them, then they are probably set. A lot of individuals who follow the Waldorf education philosophy believe it is best to wait quite a long time, regardless of whether little ones are ‘ready’ or not, allowing them to experience and develop in all the other important areas first. Letters are not introduced until first grade with that curriculum. There are all different views, all with positives and negatives. You just need to listen to yourself and your child to find out what will work best for your family. Hope this is somewhat helpful! Thank you for reading.
I was just wondering if you would teach the alphabet this way to all students. Do you find it is easier for them?
Thanks so much for posting this,
Hi Eunice, Thank you for reading! So glad you find it helpful. I do (personally) introduce letters in this manner – both to my own little ones, and to the children in my classroom. I begin with name letters, and then move through the letters in this order. I introduce sounds as well and have little ones build words and practice phonetics right from the get go. Hope this helps!
Sarah Conaway says
As a pediatric Occupational Therapist who consults with teachers about how to best teach letter FORMATION, this is not accurate. Children learn how to write letters in a developmental pattern. Horizontal and vertical lines first, then curves, then diagonals. Also, there are several more strokes when writing lowercase letters, so this is why uppercase letters (combination of only 4 strokes) should be taught first. When teaching children how to write their letters, the research is quite different than what you are suggesting.
This is a great point, Sarah! I believe in delayed writing, and am encouraging this method for teaching letter recognition, not formation. With these games and activities children practice letters and also practice building those important fine motor skills, pincer grip, and hand strength. Once children are ready to hold a pencil they will be strong and capable and will be able to print without any trouble. I believe children struggle to learn to print because they are being asked to write too young, or before hand muscles have properly developed for a number of reasons. Would you agree?
Great resource to teach ESL students the alphabet in English. Thanks!!
Very glad it is helpful Adriana, thank you for commenting.
Thanks for this, it’s great! I’m about to start letters with my 4.5yo daughter and I just wondered if when you teach the name letters you use a capital letter for the first letter and lower case for the following letters?
Hi Carly! Yes, that is how I would recommend it. I have done both ways, all uppercase and only the first letter uppercase, but I think for a name it is nice for little ones to be able to easily recognize it as it will be written in their environment 🙂 Hope this helps! Good luck and have fun Mama!
Love this! I used Jolly Phonics when I taught kind and it’s awesome! What would you recommend for second grader who speaks no English to start with? The first group, or ABC order? He speaks only Portuguese and is nearly deaf in both ears, so it’s hard for him to even repeat sounds, let alone remember them. He is also not literate in his native language, so I have no foundation to start on.
Well this is beyond my knowledge base I’m afraid Jenny! I would suggest talking with other ELL/ESL teachers. Personally, I see no reason to teach in ABC order … What a feat – best of luck to you and your little student!!
Is there a special way to teach the letters and sounds to a high functional autistic child. My son is in kindergarten and falling way behind his classmates.
Hi there, Thank you so much for your question. I have taught children with autism before, so I in fact do have a suggestion or two. Perhaps you could email me at HowWeeLearn@gmail.com and I could offer a suggestion or two and give you some helpful links. I can say that for many, many children (with special needs and typically developing) they need a lot of time to play and explore with letters and sounds before they are ready to grasp ‘learning’ them. My daughter started learning to read at 4, whereas my middle son is still learning his letter sounds at 5. Thank you for reaching out and I hope I can be of help!
I just found your site, I love! Thank you.I will be ordering your book!
Wonderful! So happy you found me – and I hope you love my book!Thank you for taking the time to comment.
Joyce Saad says
Wow!! I am so inspired by these activities. My son is four, and his teachers are on my case about him not knowing his letters and numbers. I personally agree with you — I just think he is not interested right now. However, I do have to work with him on it to keep him caught up and googled some ideas. I absolutely LOVE you excavation game!! And your use of tape!! I cannot wait to try these out with him. Thank you so much for these creative ideas.. I wish they were being implemented in my son’s classroom! I find he is a kinesthetic learner — do you have any more suggestions that will really help in dig in and get his hands on the letters? Thanks again!
Oh I am so happy you like this post! My two little boys are also kinesthetic learners so oodles of my posts, past and upcoming, will hopefully be a fun way for your little one to play with letters. For my little ones we are still focusing on tons of reading aloud, rhymes, and songs. And, in fact, I am just nearing the end of a book exactly on this topic! I will be sure to email you an advanced copy to check out when it is ready 🙂 Thank you for reading How Wee Learn!
Have a 4 1/2 yr old grandson in preschool not yet showing readiness to read but loves being read to. My son is anxious for him to start. With some dyslexia on both sides of family I tell my son not to worry or push him, just be patient and keep reading to him. I’d love to send his folks your book, is it on Amazon?
I completely agree Ruth. Parents just need to read, read, read until their little ones are ready to read, read, read! And thank you for passing along my book – it is on Amazon – here is the (affiliate) link: http://amzn.to/1Ovo0E0
Ketan Hein says
This is an excellent article! I’d love to share this on my blog!
My son will be 5 on March 17. He is in a private school in a 4k program. He is having trouble remembering his letters and doing work on his own without teacher assistance when expected. I am having huge anxiety over the school implying this may mean he should not go to 5k which I disagree with. I am going to start using your methods with him at home but wanted your opinion on whether this is a reason to hold him back from 5k???
Hi Lynn, I am sorry to hear you are having issues with your school. I am afraid I cannot offer much guidance as I am not sure the extent of any issues. I am a very large advocate for giving children time and delaying academics. However, there are certain developmental milestones that should be reached when a child is 4. For me, a child not knowing his letters or numbers at age 4 is certainly not an issue whatsoever, but I am not in the classroom with your little one. I would strongly encourage you to express your concerns and talk very openly with the teacher about expectations the school holds to be sure they match developmentally appropriate expectations. 4 is very, very little, and the most important thing is that he feels good about himself and his abilities. You should feel very proud of yourself for questioning things and ensuring decisions made are made with careful consideration. I wish I could be more helpful, but I hope you find answers and your little one gets the time he needs.
I am a teacher and have my own little ones at home, l really love your post and method,I use jolly phonics to teach and I can see this is so close to it. I will adopt some if your activities here in class and at home. Thank you for you work.
So happy you found it helpful. Thank you for taking the time to let me know!
Our school has what they call “kindergarten round up” where next years kinders get used to the school once a month the entire school year before. What we’re finding out is that they are cutting, playing alphabet bingo and are fully expected to go in (the year before mind you) recognizing both upper and lower case! Going into this round up my daughter is ready to begin learning, but my son is still not really ready (they’re twins). It almost makes me want to home school! Thanks for this great resource!
Wow. I am always so interested to hear how other school systems work and what the expectations are. They are so varied and the differences are amazingly vast. Some little ones would be ready for that of course, but others would be no where near ready! Homeschooling is so much more prevalent than you might expect … It is certainly not right for everyone, but it is a really valid option.
Hi Billie, just wanted to say how much I sympathize with you as our situations are so similar. When my now 5th grader was in kinder we had missed the “roundup” so we didn’t find out until the first few weeks of kinder how much farther “behind”she was. She was so excited and full of confidence going in and made great progress within the first quarter, but was being pushed so hard to catch up to the other kids (and staying late every day for a teacher recommended catch-up class, and homework each night [seriously?]) that she quickly became overburdened, insecure, and lost her spark. By the second quarter she had regressed and wasn’t even interested anymore. It was devastating. We finished out the year and decided to homeschool 1st grade, just to catch back up without the pressure and strain of 26 (yes, 26!) other kindergarteners to be compared with. It worked out so much better for us that 5 years later we’ve never looked back. However, it took years to regenerate that original spark again in regards to reading. It was nerve-wracking to have a 1st, then 2nd, then 3rd! grader that was not interested or “on grade level” in reading. But, even in 3rd grade, we just stayed chill about it and didn’t push. All of a sudden during summer between 3/4 she blossomed, all on her own, and now at the start of 5th grade she is reading at an “end of year” 6th grade level. Simplified classics mainly. It was a miracle. Anyway, ALL that to say – I understand, I agree, the pressure on your teeny tiny little boy is real and *can do damage, though not necessarily. Just wanted you to feel heard and be able to see at least one reallife potential outcome to your situation. Now with our 4 year old, I’m so so so not concerned. I’ll be able to see if he’s ready for kinder next year. If not, whatevs. Hope this helps 🙂
(P.S. we love homeschooling and certainly recommend it for a million different reasons in addition to academics, but it’s cool if it doesn’t work for everyone. Life’s not black and white. )
I love this response Elizabeth. Thank you very much for your kindness and support. I am so thrilled you were able to follow your daughter’s lead and give her the time she needed to thrive. Thank you for sharing your story.
I have one November born 4 year old who does not recognize the letters in his name
I was delighted, relieved, etc. to find your suggestions to answer the question “what next.” The order you have given for introducing the Alphabet after letters in your name gives me a place to start. What story, how to do small groups ,what to present during large group meeting time… will become apparent to me as I look at the needs of my children. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you…This is serious stuff…Thank you, I had no real idea of “what next”
This comment has put a huge smile on my face. I am so happy to be able to offer suggestions you find helpful. Thank you very much for taking the time to let me know!!
My “thank you” is because, thanks to your suggestion, I have a plan for the rest of the class – those that recognize the letters in their names.
Wonderful! SO happy this was helpful.
Hi, my daughter is 5 1/2 and a spirited, outgoing, delightful child. She started kindergarten a month ago and her teacher is admonishing her because she doesn’t know all her letters yet. My daughter is clearly discouraged and “losing her spark” as someone said above. We are working hard with her on her letters but she just says “I don’t remember them” and gets frustrated. Any suggestions?
I am so sorry to hear this. My suggestion, though I know it is really not helpful, is to give her time. Many little ones simply aren’t ready or interested in learning their letter at that age. Here in Ontario, where I teach Kindergarten, we are a purely play based program. However, since time might not be an option, I would suggest starting with her name letters. Practice them nice and slowly and don’t introduce anymore until she is SUPER confident with them. Once she really, really knows those letters, add in “S”, “A”, and “T” and again learn them nice and slowly. Pop them on the stairs and jump up them saying the letters before bed, pop them on the wall and high five them as you call them out as you walk past. I have so many playful ideas for learning letters on the blog – please feel free to use my search bar for more simple ideas. The biggest thing I can suggest is to go very, very slowly. We want that little munchkin to be super confident. Please email me if I can be of any further help HowWeeLearn@gmail.com. Good luck Mama!
I have a 3 year old who loves to be read too. He asks a million questions while we are reading, loves taking picture walks throughout books and will read with me for long stretches. He asks what words are and tracks the sentences with his finger as we read. He will ask what letter something is or wants to know what anything written says. However when ever I try to help him learn his letters he fights it. We have recently started working on his name. We do crafts, make shapes with our bodies, on walks I try to have him find certain letters in the signs we see, and he has fun doing it. Lots of variety, but as soon as I ask what a specific letter is he will not do it or even try to say. I feel he wants to learn to read, But just not from me. Any advice on what I can do to help him better?
I love the ideas I will be trying a lot of these out.
Thank you for taking the time to write! It seems like you have one very smart little guy in your home! It sounds like you are doing so many wonderful things. All the time you are spending with him reading is huge, and is so, so beneficial. I actually have an eBook I have written entirely about this topic as it is one that keeps coming up again and again (for good reason!) It is called Play into Reading Readiness and is a step by step guide for playfully teaching children phonological awareness skills (which are needed before children can read), letters, sounds, and even outlines how to teach children to read. It is $8 and can be found on my “Books” page right here. Best of luck and please let me know if I can help in any way – I am just an email away HowWeeLearn@gmail.com
I was wondering if I could teach the Satpin order to children who are 2.5 years old? I had another questions, is that when we sing ABCD would it confuse the child if we teach them in the satpin order?
Hi Jessica! Thank you so much for your question. 2.5 is pretty little to begin teaching letter names and sounds, unless of course your little one is very interested in this topic. There are oodles of phonological awareness activities to be playing with children before they learn letter names and sounds which will give them such a strong foundation that learning names and sounds comes so easily. I go by child readiness more so than age myself. I am happy to chat with you more about this, please shoot me an email: HowWeeLearn@gmail.com Thank you!!
Hello my 5 year old just started kindergarten and will be 6 in December. I just found out that she is behind majority of her classmates. She is not having an easy time recognizing her letters. She is great at comprehension, but when it is time to learn her letters it is taking longer to get her there. I just purchased ABC mouse, and she is seeing a resource teacher 30 mins each day while at school. Is there any other advise you would suggest we do at home? How would I be able to tell if it is something else that may be holding her back?
Hi Trina, Thank you for reaching out. Five is very young! I know, being a Kindergarten teacher, that the pressure to teach little ones more and more at a younger and younger age is a big issue in the classroom. A really large part of learning to read is knowing phonemic awareness. This really is the starting point for all other literacy to grow on. A strong foundation is what our little ones need to start with. I have written an eBook all about this and feel it would be very beneficial to you and your daughter. You can find it here: https://www.howweelearn.com/reading-readiness-preschoolers/ If you have any questions, or if I can help you in any way, please email me at HowWeeLearn@gmail.com. Hang in there Mama, xoxo
Laptop’s Fridgephonics songs are great and I also apply the Tucker hand signs for the sounds provide good recall for the Development all Preschool program I work in. We do lots of rhymes and reading and games as well with thematic plans. I stay away from worksheet.
Kath Kocs says
Hello. I have a bit of a quandary. like Sarah, my 26 month old twin grandsons are very, very interested in letters, sounds, letter patterns, and even grammatical symbols like commas & exclamation points. We were aware that they recognized their names (& each other’s), but it appears that they are recognizing words “out of context” i.e. without pictures, both alone & in sentences. And they point out letters & say the sounds often throughout the day. We did do the library “read 1000 books before kindergarten” in two months, so they enjoy books a lot. If they recognize 40+ words, are they actually reading? How do we make sure they continue to enjoy letters & words? How do we know they won’t be bored with preschool or kindergarten if they are reading very early? Should we be trying to slow them down somehow?
Wow this is very fascinating. I would love to chat with you further about this. Could you please email me: HowWeeLearn@gmail.com Thank you,
Sarah Conley says
Hi Sarah! I love your site and lifestyle and also the helpful content you share here on your website. My name is Sarah as well and I live in Portland, Oregon. I’m currently trying to get pregnant, so no kids here yet but I will bookmark your site for the future. I recently started a site that shares gift ideas for kids that are either eco-friendly, long-lasting or inspire creativity and/or make learning fun. Perhaps once it grows into something bigger (I just launched it this month) we could talk about doing some guest posts :).
Here’s the site if you’d like to take a look: https://happylittletadpole.com/2019/01/05/wooden-abc-blocks/ – I linked to the ABC block post as it’s related to yours. I’ll bookmark your site for now and maybe we can chat in the future! 🙂
PS: Love the hats you make for your chickens!
Thank you for taking the time to comment and introduce yourself. I had a look at your blog and it looks beautiful. I look forward to following along as you start your blogging journey! Please feel free to email me anytime 🙂
Ola Akinola says
I am lucky to have just found your site and I love it. I have been yearning to know more about the appropriate methods of teaching letters to the kids. I will appreciate those resource materials and videos that can help me out. I have a school in Nigeria and have been searching for who/materials to teach/help me out. Read through your comments and I am really blessed.
Cailie Jones says
Hi I just found your site and wow! Do you happen to have a list of words to teach along with the letters? I don’t want to miss any as I am highly interested in this teaching method with my child care.
Hi Cailie, Thank you for your message! A list of words to go along with this post is coming your way soon – thank you for the idea!
Hi. I am teaching my four year old nephew he is learning his alphabet he does know the song and sings it and does write his letters and name. He is however autistic so it’s a little harder for him to focus. How can I make learning more fun for him to be able to teach him?
Hi Nicole, Thank you for your message. How wonderful that you are teaching your nephew! I have many resources that will be helpful to you. This free printable is a great place for you to start. I also have an eBook that would be ideal. Please feel free to email me any questions: HowWeeLearn@gmail.com
Hi. I really enjoyed this post and I’m looking forward to implementing it when I start “school” with my almost 4yo in a few weeks. I love the idea of starting with teaching her the letters in her name but was wondering why you don’t recommend teaching letters in alphabetical order? I kind of feel, like someone else said above that it would be confusing to teach them out of order but still sing the ABC song. I could however see kids just memorizing the order verses actually learning the letter but I would be really interested in hearing your reason as to why you teach them out of order.
Hi Angela, That is so exciting that you are about to start school with your daughter! You will have so many special memories and adventures ahead. The main reason I suggest the s, a, t, i, p, n order is because it helps little ones begin to read right away. They can immediately form small words like: sat and pat. There is a lot more information about this within the post above. Please email me any other questions and I will be very happy to help: email@example.com
Orpita Ray says
Thank you so much for your weekly packets. I am using the preschool packet during this time of school closure. I appreciate your kindness so much. Thank you.
You are so welcome Orpita! I am very happy the printable bundles are helpful to you (and for those of you reading this comment and perhaps wondering about the bundles, you can see them here: School Closure Bundles
I’m starting the letters over again with my preschool class and I’m using this format when teaching them this time. They love learning new letters, all my kids love the letters of the day songs. Thanks for all the fun helpful tips
Please keep me posted, Becca! I am so glad that my blog is helpful to you. Thank you so much for the encouragement!
Thanks for the video. While I never sit down and watch videos, I listen to them when cleaning the kitchen, folding laundry, and doing other exciting mom tasks. Then I peek back at your blog if I have questions. The videos add a lot to your already excellent blog. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge!
Thank you so much for your encouragement Sara! I appreciate it very much and it is also helpful for me to know how parents are using the videos – doesn’t make me feel nearly as nervous to know I am just being listened to 🙂 Thank you very much for your kind comment xo
Hello 🙂 thank you for helpful info and tips. I have a question though – is this recommended order universal for all languages? Or it wouldn’t make sense for other languages than english?
Great question, Alexandra! This is the order so word families can begin to be built, so it is really only relevant to the English language.
Jen Wolf says
I work in a private preschool in a two year old room. We are expected to introduce them to letters and we’ve always followed along alphabetically. Would you say this method to be appropriate as a simple introduction? I strive to do things age appropriately.
In my opinion 2 is too young to be focusing on letters, for the vast majority of children. So I would suggest you keep it crafty, hands on, and focus more on the process of creating the shapes with their hands, then focusing on the letters themselves. The order really doesn’t matter at this age, as the letter knowledge won’t be retained deeply. I suggest starting this order when children are 3-4. Thank you for asking!
Thanks for this resource! I’m starting next week with my littles ♥️
Wonderful! Please let me know if you have any questions at all. xo