Irrelevant of whether you buy into the schtick of the late-night infomercials, unless your toddler is genuinely gifted, she will probably have more interest in using a book for scribbling, or swatting the cat, than in actually trying to read it. Still, you can begin helping your toddler develop her “pre-reading skills” with any number of toddler alphabet reading games.
Letter matching games require your toddler to pair up pictures of familiar objects, such as a ball or animal, with the first letter of the object’s name. The game is played with two decks of cards. Letter matching cards are available for purchase, or you can make an inexpensive set from a sheet of poster board. One deck has one letter of the alphabet on each card, while the second deck has one picture per card with the first letter of the picture corresponding to each of the letters in the other deck. You should spread all the cards out on the table or floor, face up. Then point to a picture card, such as a bird, and then ask your toddler, “Do you know the first letter of the word, bird? It’s the letter, B. Can you find the letter, B?” Bear in mind that you need to make this fun, or your toddler will lose interest before you get the cards laid out, so help him whenever he struggles. Once he locates the correct card, have your toddler place the letter card next to the picture card. Later, when your toddler becomes proficient at matching the correct objects and letters, turn the cards face-down and see if he can find the corresponding letters and objects, like a game of tiny-tot Concentration. Of course, you may have to face the jumble of simultaneous emotions of pride, consternation and chagrin if he runs the table on you.
Alphabet puzzles, another match-and-learn alphabet reading game, is designed to develop shape recognition and will help your toddler begin to associate letters with the actual order of the alphabet. You can make a simple alphabet puzzle with a couple of sheets of poster board and a marking pen. Write out the alphabet on two poster boards and cut the letters of one sheet up into puzzle-shaped pieces. Try to make the shape of each puzzle piece as different as possible to make it easier for your toddler to crack the code. Ask your toddler, “Can you find the letter, A,” as you point to the letter, A on the uncut board. When she finds the correct letter, ask her, “Can you say, ‘A’?” Just don’t get on her if her “B” and “Z” sounds the same; let her at least learn the alphabet before you think about sending her to speech therapy.
As you are no doubt aware, toddlers love to jibber-jabber in a sing-song voice. Even though you can’t make out most of what he is “singing,” you can still take advantage of your little one’s natural penchant for crooning to help her learn the alphabet. So, the next time you’re ready to pull your hair out because your child has been signing the same melody for the last two hours straight, pull out an alphabet song book instead. There are volumes of books that are filed with pictures and simple songs that focus on a specific letter of the alphabet, like “Buzzy, buzzy baby bee,” or the entire alphabet, such as the good ole “Alphabet Song,” that you sang over and over again — way back when!
Drawing is a great way to help toddlers learn the alphabet, and having a constructive outlet might just might keep your little artist from doodling all over your mother’s antique mahogany coffee table with her crayons. Many coloring books teach letter-object association, such as having a picture of a horse next to a big letter “H.” Work with your toddler while she colors in the horse and then ask her, “Do you know what letter that is?” while you point to the letter, H. When she gives you a vacant look, and just starts scribbling over the letter with her crayons, ask her, “Can you say any other words that sound like “horse?” Another great alphabet reading game for toddlers that incorporates drawing is to point to a letter of the alphabet and ask her, “Do you know what that letter is? Can you name something that begins with that letter?”– and have her draw pictures of whatever she names. Just try not to be an art critic when her donkey and duck look exactly the same.