Letter knowledge, or knowing the names of letters and knowing that each letter makes a different sound is one of the six principles of early literacy. We know that in the earliest years, most of a child’s learning comes through time spent playing. Toys that promote letter knowledge are a great way for children to interact directly with the letters, give parents opportunities for modeling the sounds, and contribute towards early-stage phonemic awareness.
There are hundreds of toys on the market related to alphabet awareness for babies, toddlers and preschoolers. Here are a few of our favorites.
My Favorite Things Flashcards
Flash cards are a great way to explore the alphabet. Before children can learn to read, they need to recognize that each letter represents a different sound, and that words are comprised of smaller sounds. It’s best not to ‘quiz’ young children with flash cards, but rather to let them explore and play with the cards however they like. Parents and caregivers can say the name of the letter and model the sounds as the child shows interest. This set is beautifully designed by artist Lorena Siminovich, so if your little reader is too young to handle them, they can be used to decorate the nursery until they are older.
Uncle Goose Alphabet Blocks
Classic alphabet blocks are a play area essential, and these are our favorite. In addition to exposing a child to letters, alphabet blocks promote spacial reasoning and fine motor skill development in young children. We like these because they are durable and non-toxic. Each block display four letters (great for the child whose name has repeat letters!) an animal, and a number or arithmetic operator. These blocks are great for children learning multiple languages because they can be purchased in the alphabets of 21 different languages.
Young children love the bright colors and spinning tiles on this toy. If you have a toddler, this is a great toy for letter exploration without the mess of flash cards or blocks! With preschoolers, you can use this toy to talk about how some letters look alike, but make different sounds (“M” and “N”) and how other letters sound similar, but look different (“K” and “Q”).
The first letters your child will most likely become interested in are the letters in his/her name. Take a look around your child’s room, and you’ll understand why! Your child will enjoy spelling out their name on a magnetic board or the refrigerator. Eventually as your child becomes familiar with words that commonly appear in children’s books, such as “DOG”, help them spell those words as well. This will reinforce that letters represent sounds, and sounds combine to make words, and words have meaning. We like these because they have a full magnetic backing and come in lots of great patterns and colors.
Traffic Signs and Lights
Toys are great for learning letters, but so are everyday objects in a child’s environment. Street signs offer a great opportunity to point out letters and their sounds wherever you are. This set of street signs and stop lights is a great addition to any train or car set. As your child becomes familiar with the signs, they will be excited to point them out when they see them on the street.
Please note that not all of these toys are appropriate for small children under age 3; be mindful of manufacturers’ warnings related to choking hazards.