letter familiarity

How to Steal a March 8: Play Turns Letters into Familiar Friends

Like numbers, letters can be challenging unknowns for kids when they arrive at school but early play turns letters into familiar friends.alphabet letter fun for kids

When young children arrive at school, their biggest challenge will be learning to read, this is figure out what the lines and squiggles on a page mean. It’s a huge task and it will affect them their entire life. We all want kids to succeed at it. We can help smooth some of the bumps in that road by giving them opportunity to become familiar with letters thru play. That way, when a child encounters letters at school, the brain can say, “Oh, I’ve played with these before. Two hands have felt their shapes, and I can even call some of them by name. I’ve heard some of their sounds. This isn’t so bad.”

Have you ever had to go somewhere you hadn’t been in a long time and couldn’t remember the way for sure? That sense of relief you felt when you finally saw a few landmarks you knew is what a child feels when s/he recognizes a few letters in the sea of lines and marks that make up letters and words. That’s why play with letters is so valuable.familiarity with letters

What are some activities so play turns letters into familiar friends?
As you can probably guess, reading books is tremendously important. From exposure to lots and lots and lots of books, kids make the connection that the marks on a page have meaning. In a simple book, you may be able to show your child a few words. “Oh, look at this. Here is a page of things that are red. See, this is the word ‘red’ written down.” Pointing with fingers is allowed.
Foam and magnetic letters are more than toys. Even if kids don’t know the names, the brain is recording the specific shapes. Occasionally, you can say the names of some of them and make the letter sound.

Names are some of the first words kids recognize. Show them their name written down and help them trace over a letter or two. When out on a walk, at the store, or in a favorite restaurant, notice some names. Are any letters the same?familiarity with letters

When your child is playing with playdough, roll out some letters. Hmmm, speaking of rolling, roll out some cookie dough and bake up a batch. Letters can be yummy to eat and what a tasty way for play to turn letters into familiar friends.

These are only a few suggestions for play experiences with letters. The words ” to steal a march on someone” are used to say someone has an advantage. Finding ways for your child to play and have fun with letters gives your child that march, that advantage. How can you support letter play for your child?


#23: Transportation Toys Letter Fun and Learning

Today’s play-of-the-day is some transportation toys letter fun and learning. Giving kids hands-on time with letters builds their familiarity and experience. Or maybe that should be wheel time?

transportation toys letter fun

Children’s favorite way to learn is through PLAY. Come to think of it, that’s true for anybody. Rather than drills and flashcards, we can use children’s interests and toys. Kids love cars, trucks, trains, boats, and other toys. There are lots of great alphabet books and stories using transportation. For over two decades, Huckle Cat and Lowly Worm have been sharing a silly variety of vehicles in Richard Scarry’s Cars and Trucks from A to Z. Debra Pearson and Edward Miller take kids for a ride through the alphabet from Ambulance to Zamboni in Alpabeep, A Zipping, Zooming ABC. These are only two books, there are dozens more.

 transportation toys letter fun

Little Sister played with some foam letters and lined them up to be a road. These letters are not in alphabetical order but as she played, her hands and eyes were busy making the brain pathways to later recognize them.

alphabet letter fun for kids

Adults can draw big letters on the sidewalk with chalk to be roadways. Kids can drive their cars and trucks along the letters. Feet can be used instead of wheels to walk the letters. That’s sort of transportation toys letter fun and learning, just without the toys . Cars and trucks might like to roll out some letters in the sand pile.


Shaunna Evans at Fantastic Fun and Learning set up a simple race track abc game that rolled out an afternoon of play. With sticky notes and a felt marker, she printed out the letters of the alphabet. She made a road or racetrack along the floor with the letters. Her daughter chose a vehicle and drove it down the track, saying the letters as she went. Different cars and trucks needed their turn too.


Parents and caregivers may worry kids need to know the alphabet before going to school. What kids need is to have lots of encounters of the fun kind with letters. Remembering all those squiggles and lines, names and sounds is an enormous challenge. It takes many opportunities of seeing, touching, hearing, and playing with them. That way, brains can build their own roadways. Wheels make it wheally fun, don’t they?

Bubble Fun and Learning #19: Alphabet Bubbles

After a busy weekend camping, Little Sister seemed played out. With colored felts, she had some quiet fun doing alphabet bubbles.

alphabet bubblesWhen it comes to kids being ready for school, many parents and caregivers ask, “Does my child need to know the alphabet before kindergarten?” The answer isn’t a straightforward yes or no. Having some familiarity with letters is certainly helpful for kids. But what’s most important is that kids are comfortable and have had a chance to play with them.

Alphabet and letter play can happen with toys like fridge magnets and foam letters. As your child plays, build awareness with comments like, “Oh, these letters are very different. This one is just lines and this one has a circle.” Or, “These letters are almost the same, aren’t they?” You can notice that a letter at home looks like one you and your child see. For example, “Hey, this letter s looks like one on the stop sign, doesn’t it?” It seems so obvious to us, but kids need to see that there are letters all over.

Letters don’t all come ready made, kids can make them too. Play dough is fabulous for some letter play. Every now and then, you can make a letter and invite your child to try it too. When playing with sand, fingers can trace out some letters. Both play dough and sand are very tactile.

alphabet bubbles lettersFor children that are interested in paper and pencil activities, you can draw out the alphabet in big bubble letters. I was able to squeeze two letters onto an ordinary sheet of 8 1/2 by 11-inch paper. Using felt markers, Little Sister traced the shape of the letters inside. She wanted her letters to be rainbow so drew short lines of different colors. She didn’t do all 26 letters but did a few and then we put the alphabet bubbles away for another day.

Play is how brains learn best. Are there some ways your child can play with letters?

Off to School Toolbox: Familiarity with Letters

Before kids go off to school, parents and caregivers are concerned about what they need to know and a basic familiarity with letters is helpful.  But in the words of Dr. Dr. Dan Gartell, readiness is a state of mind, not a state of knowledge. Having encountered letters before will help kids develop a confident … Continue reading Off to School Toolbox: Familiarity with Letters

Ways to Play for Fun and Learning with Letters

Helping kids get ready for kindergarten includes supporting their need to PLAY and develop their confidence and social skills. Academics are not the priority, even though that’s what most of us think of first. Having some familiarity with letters is important, but this can happen as part of other everyday activities. As we read and … Continue reading Ways to Play for Fun and Learning with Letters