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I posted a video recently on facebook of my 18 month old reciting his entire alphabet. Noah needed some coaching on a letter or two, but overall did an incredible job on his own! Being the proud parents we are, I wanted to share his progress with friends and family. After I posted it, I started receiving questions from some of my momma friends asking what we were doing to help him learn letters at such a young age. Looking back, we realized there have been quite a few little things included in his routine that didn’t even seem obvious at the time. These toys and fun short practices have helped his language and letter recognition skills grow at a super fast pace. Here are six easy tips to engage your toddler in activities to gain a better understanding of the alphabet – and let them think it’s their idea ;)
The first time my son played with a puzzle was while we were in the pediatrician’s office waiting to be seen. It was one of those wooden puzzles with tiny little raised handles on each piece so that kids can grab them easily to put into place. While I would love to say that Noah conquered that puzzle immediately, he actually had more fun wailing the pieces across the room at other sick children. Not my proudest mommy moment, but a great learning opportunity to teach him how to properly use a toy – and apologize! After a few minutes, he liked the idea that pieces fit into their correct places. Easter was coming up soon, so we bought him a super cute puzzle by the maker’s Melissa and Doug. They have created TONS of child friendly learning toys. Easy to use puzzles are their specialty. We went with the alphabet variety, and it was an instant hit. Noah loves to bring us his puzzle, which lives neatly tucked away in a tupperware container when it’s not in use. He thinks we are playing a fun game, and he is absorbing loads of information at the same time. Don’t you love it when they think something is their idea?! #winning
2) FREE educational videos.
Another fun activity we do often is watch educational videos on youtube. I have seen many DVD’s and expensive home learning systems advertised on tv, but why spend money when there are so many FREE varieties available right in your living room. If one doesn’t catch their attention, your child is bound to gravitate to a certain brand, so keep trying until something fun sticks. TV time is controversial for children under two, so we try to use it monitored, only short periods of time, interact with Noah by explaining letters with the program, and keep it educational. It’s also a great distraction if you need to get dinner made, or a workout done. Here are some of our favorite FREE videos that emphasize learning the alphabet:
3) TEACH MY TODDLER learning kit.
If you are not a fan of tv, the TEACH MY TODDLER kit is for you. I remember seeing a very excited post on a mommy group that gave glowing reviews. When it comes to his toys, Noah is like 10 second Tom from the movie 50 first dates, so I thought why not throw in an educational variety to mix things up a bit. Honestly I wasn’t expecting a whole lot out of this, but it really is AMAZING you guys! The kit in itself is pretty simple, consisting of puzzles, flashcards, and posters on the subjects of letters, numbers, shapes and colors. However it is such a fun activity for the kids, and they love sitting with you as you help them go through the puzzles. We use this kit at least once a day and send it to his grandparents house as well. It comes in a little briefcase and if I don’t hide it, we find Noah trying to lift half his body size and carry it to us so we can have some play time. He always has the cutest little face of determination lol! When I look at all the things we’ve bought our son to play with over the last year, this comes in top 5 as one of the best purchases.
4) Use ‘Letter’ toys all around the house.
This is a simple one that someone brought up to me one day – surround your child with what you want them to learn and it becomes second nature. Magnets on the fridge are always a fun toys for kids to play with. They also really enjoy foam letters in the bathtub. These are some great ways to have the alphabet in different area of the home, while giving your child a chance to see them often. If I am cooking in the kitchen, my son loves to play with his letter magnets. We talk about which letter I want him to get for me and which one he has pulled for me to see. If your refrigerator doesn’t magnetize (most stainless steel varieties do not), try the dishwasher. Ours worked out perfectly when the fridge was a bust. Crayola makes some super awesome washable crayons that can be used on the shower walls as well. Kids LOVE coloring and it’s a great time to showcase letters and how to write them. These little toys are sooo inexpensive, so if you are on a tight budget, this may be a great option for your family!
5) Incorporate the alphabet into your daily routine.
This one seems pretty obvious but it is part of our routine so I want to add it into the mixup. Noah is a little spider monkey when it comes to being changed. That boy wiggles himself so much, we have to hold him down at times, with barely enough time to get the velcro straps secure on his diaper. You know what keeps him perfectly still? Singing the alphabet song or reciting his letters. He also likes to count his numbers too. Its funny that something so simple really does work. We also like to recite letters if we are waiting for dinner, clipping fingernails, or doing any type of activity that may require a little distraction for a few minutes. Try it… you’ll be amazed how it can change a stressful situation. If you have family helping out with daycare, ask them to participate in these activities as well. Noah has such an amazing support system who constantly strive to teach him during their time together. The more repetition, the faster your child will start to understand and repeat them back to you. Once they get the basics of letters, moving onto sight words is a great tool to prepare them for reading. Pick a few of their favorite words, write them on a flashcard and tape them in places where you you might stand with your child for a few minutes each day. The changing table, bathroom mirror, kitchen cabinets and near their bed (but out of reach) are some great options for this activity. Change the words around so that they don’t get used to the location and throw in new words as they learn the ones posted. As they get older, start letting them pick words they want to know about! Involving them in their learning process helps encourage confidence and initiative to learn more as they grow.
6) Point out letters while you are out and about.
My son was the first one to notice that letters are actually on things other than his toys. I mean, I knew they were there, but never thought to use them as a learning tool. Now when we go to the store or a restaurant, pointing out and reciting letters is a fun game. It’s also very distracting to go over a menu and when you have a hangry child that wants his food, like, yesterday. Our world is covered in the alphabet, so be sure to point out signs, books, placemats, grocery food items, car logos, etc. The options are really endless! We also have fun disposable placemats that have letters on them and can be thrown away when your child is done eating. Not into disposables? Try a regular alphabet placemat that can be cleaned after each use. These are so great because it works as a table barrier to prevent germs and a learning tool at the same time!
Obviously there are so many tools that are available to help your little one absorb information that will help them thrive in the future, but the best thing you can do is be present when these games and activities are out. They look up to us for guidance, so it is our job to take an active role in being the best parent-teachers we can be. It is said that children’s brains are like a sponge, so they will literally be taking in so much information from the world around them at rapid pace. It is such a proud moment as a parent when they walk up to you and start reciting the correct letters! I also want to point out that in no way is my child a tiny genius. He struggles in some areas and excels in others just like every other kid. When he took an interest to letters, we just used that opportunity to help him achieve the success he was working toward on his own. This can apply to so many things for your child as well such as numbers, colors, shapes, reading, etc. They are ready and willing to learn, just need someone to help nurture this process along the way. What an honor it is to be that person!
With much love from my table to yours,