How to teach your toddler the alphabet through play

Has your little one shown interest in learning the alphabet? The Montessori method calls this a “sensitive period”, where your child is particularly receptive to teaching. The important thing at this age is to make it fun and low key, with no set expectations or goals. Play-based learning is so important, as children are far more likely to pick up new concepts when introduced through games and activities. Here are some great ways to teach the alphabet to your child through play.


Alphabet books

A great place to start is with ABC books. There are countless literary options on the market, but look for books that have multiple photos of objects beginning with each letter on each page. Sound out each letter, then ask your child to identify the other things that start with that letter, emphasising the letter sound. Depending on their vocabulary level, you can also ask them for any other words they know that begin with that letter. This helps to familiarise them with the letter and build a foundation on which to play other alphabet games.


There are two types of puzzles that are brilliant for ABC play: letter trays where each letter fits into its own slot and jigsaw puzzles featuring the alphabet. Start with a lowercase letter tray and have your child get used to placing each letter into its place while sounding it out. This will help them recognise each letter's form and the order of letters in the alphabet. Once they are confident at placing each letter where it belongs, introduce the upper case letters. Have them match each upper and lower case letter so they can see how they relate to each other.

Once your child has mastered that, introduce an alphabet jigsaw – a large floor puzzle with pictures as well as each letter is ideal. This will help bolster their letter recognition and ability to place letters in order.

Foam letters

Forget rubber duckies; foam letters are a must-have for bathtime fun. Use the power of friction to attach them to the side of the bath and teach a little science in the process. Create words, play with letter sounds and let your child trace the shape of each letter. Foam letters are also great for sensory play – hide them in a tub of shaving cream or water beads and have your child fish out each letter and say what it is.


If your child loves building toys, Lego Duplo sets are your best friend. Some Duplo sets are specifically focussed on the alphabet – like the Lego Duplo Alphabet truck. This Duplo set consists of a truck and trailer, 26 alphabet bricks, two Duplo people and a teddy bear. Your child will love manipulating the letter bricks and pointing out the letters they recognise, and you can use them to spell out words in your Duplo builds. There is a tie-in with an animated sing-a-long video on the official Duplo Youtube channel that will help them learn the alphabet song.


Letter games

We’ve probably all played eye-spy on long car trips, but don’t overlook it as a great way to teach letters to kids and get them to explore the world around them. Whether you’re in the car, out on a walk, or at the shops, playing eye-spy will help them learn the alphabet and is a great way to combine learning about colours and shapes.

Magnetic tile

Did you know that magnetic tiles can be used for more than just building patterns and towers? It’s often overlooked that you can place them on your fridge or garage door just like other magnets – in fact, anywhere that’s metal! Use a whiteboard marker to write letters onto tiles and have your child line them up in order. You can also play a matching game with lowercase and uppercase sets and have them place tiles on top of each other.

Scavenger hunt

Every toddler loves an Easter Egg hunt, even if they’re not looking for chocolate! Cut out letters of the alphabet (or use your magnets or wooden letters) and place them around your home – varying how hidden they are depending on the age and abilities of your child. Then, have them search for each letter and bring them back to your play area and place them in order. A variation on this is to use only a selection of letters and place them next to household objects to reinforce the sound, e.g. place the letter T next to the TV, the S on the sofa and the B on their bed.

Nature play

Go on a nature walk with your toddler and collect leaves, flowers, twigs and other natural elements. When you get home, trace letters onto a large piece of paper and have them place their finds to make the shape of each letter. Not only is this a lovely way to spend quality time together in the outdoors, it’s also a great activity to show your child how to form letter shapes before they can write.

As you can see, there are many ways to introduce letter recognition to children and teach them the alphabet in ways that are fun and low-key. The same ideas can also be used for teaching numeracy. These games are a fantastic way to spend quality time with your child, and the more you play, you’ll be surprised at how quickly your child learns their ABCs.

*Collaborative post