Preschool teachers spend the year repetitiously teaching letter names and sounds. Letter recognition is a hard-fast rule for teaching content during the early years. But what happens when you have a child who is struggling with letter recognition?
That’s what this post is all about. We’re going to dive deep into why a child might not be learning letters and sounds, as well as offer proven and effective teaching strategies for teaching letter recognition.
What to Do When Letter Recognition Just Won’t Stick
What happens when you have a preschooler who simply does not seem to be learning his letters and sounds?
There is a lot of pressure for children to develop a wide depth of letter knowledge. Most children are expected to know the alphabet before entering formal kindergarten, and as preschool teachers, it’s our responsibility to ensure our students don’t enter school at a disadvantage to their peers.
Having a large array of alphabet activities for preschoolers can be helpful, but sometimes, even with the most engaging and inviting alphabet activities, the letter names and sounds just don’t stick.
I’ve heard parents say things like:
I can’t tell you how many times we’ve practiced the letters. My son just isn’t learning some of them! I’ve tried so many different activities. I am just at a loss. How do I teach him the alphabet and sounds?
I’ve also hear teachers say things like:
I have several students who just continue to struggle with letter recognition and sounds. I’m already going super slow, but repeating the same letter over and over again isn’t helping, either. I don’t think I’m doing this right. Or maybe I’m not doing enough, but I don’t have any more time during the teaching day! How do I teach letter recognition so my struggling students will get it?
I feel you. I’ve had third graders who struggled with letter recognition, and as a result, couldn’t read.
In third grade.
I know you want to do everything possible to give your preschoolers the best start in getting ready to learn to read, and that means cracking the code on how to teach letter recognition. So, let’s fix this.
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It’s Not You and It’s Not your Preschooler, Either
The most likely culprit for a child who struggles with letter recognition is that they’ve missed a critical piece in the learning process.
There is a process for teaching letters and sounds – aka phonics – which means that certain skills are taught in steps, of that other skills are taught in conjunction with one another. If your preschooler is struggling, it might be because you accidentally skipped a step in the teaching sequence.
Or, you’re not following a sequence at all.
Keep reading and we are going to go through my troubleshooting process for figuring out why your preschooler is struggling.
What is the Importance of Letter Recognition, Anyway?
There are numerous studies that support the learning of letter names and sounds in the preschool classroom. But what do those studies say?
- One of the strongest predictors of overall reading achievement is letter recognition.
- Children with weak letter sound knowledge have a deeper struggles in reading, spoken language, and writing letters.
- Therefor children who have the strongest letter knowledge have the highest reading achievement scores later in school.
- This is also correlated to higher academic achievement in general.
- For children who struggle to learn letter recognition, early intervention is critical.
- Early intervention is also the most cost effective because students will need less intervention in the long run.
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Start With a Letter Recognition Assessment
The very first step in targeting your instruction for a preschooler who is struggling learning their letters is to know where your starting point is. We have to know exactly what letters and sounds your students already know before taking additional action steps.
Because how can we create effective alphabet lessons if we don’t know what our students actually need?
I have created a set of toddler and preschool letter recognition assessments so I can track how well my students are doing throughout the year. I asses three times a year, near the beginning, right after Christmas break, and then before the end of the school year.
But these assessments can also be used for diagnostic purposes.
Focus More on Phonological Awareness
Learning the alphabet is more than memorizing the letter names and sounds, so teaching children letter recognition shouldn’t be isolated to just that.
Phonological awareness refers to the ability to recognize the variety of sound units that make up words. It encompasses a wide variety of sound related skills that are necessary for reading. For example, it is the ability to:
- recognize individual words
- identify complete sentences
- hear and count syllables
- listen to rhymes, identify rhyming words, and generate rhymes
It is different from phonemic awareness in that phonemic awareness deals only with specific and individual sounds within a word, not the entire word or group of words, or chunks within the word.
Teaching letter recognition activities in isolation, with the support of phonemic awareness, depletes the letter-sound-symbol connections we are trying to create in early literacy. By focusing more on phonological awareness, the letter symbols will have more meaning for our students, and therefor their ability to recognize letters and sounds will be easier.
Follow a Systematic & Explicit Phonics Curriculum Designed for Preschoolers
Let’s break down what exactly this means.
- Systematic – having a plan for instruction that progresses through a sequence of skills where future skills build upon previously taught skills.
- Explicit – having time set aside every single day to teach letter recognition and phonics.
- Phonics – instruction that is specifically designed to teach all four components of letter recognition and sounds.
- Curriculum – instruction that is not piecemealed together. Rather, following a comprehensive curriculum that includes all the skill work needed for success so that there is no chance of missing critical components.
- Designed for Preschoolers – We know that preschoolers learn differently than other children, so it’s critical to follow a program that is developmentally appropriate for preschoolers.
So, what does this mean for your child who is struggling with letter recognition?
The Daily Lessons in Phonics curriculum offers hundreds of teaching tips for teachers with struggling students. It includes modifications to activities, as well as differentiated skill work that will set in motion increased learning in your struggling learners.
These lesson plans are daily and systematic.
Make Learning Multi-sensory
This is a big one, and it will most successful if you are already doing the previous three strategies. Multisensory learning activities incorporate more than one sense, and using a multisensory approach to teaching the letters of the alphabet is supported by researchers, too.
Offering multisensory activities will help your struggling students learn uppercase letters and lower case letters with minimal mix-up. This is because it allows children to better learn the individual letter shapes of letters.
Multisensory activities can include things like:
- Letter formation practice using playdough, construction letters, or a sand tray.
- Drawing the letter in the air while saying its name and sound.
- Working with sandpaper or glue letters.
- Using maniupalatives like letter cards or magnetic letters.
And this one is my all time favorite multisensory alphabet activity…
The Daily Lessons in Phonics curriculum includes Alphabet Friends where preschoolers can sing a song and do hand actions and hear a story relating to an animal that represents the letter name.
Let’s Recap – What Do You Do When a Child is Struggling?
In the most simple steps. Here it is again.
- Do a letter recognition assessment.
- Focus more on phonological awareness.
- Follow a systematic and explicit phonics program.
- Make learning multisensory.
Here’s the good news. Doing the above is easier than you think because I have already created a systematic and explicit phonics curriculum that is designed for specifically for preschoolers. And it works as an intervention for struggling students, too.
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These daily lessons take the guesswork out of teaching preschool literacy. When you get these year-long lesson plans with our systematic sequence of skill progression, every literacy lesson you teach, builds upon what you’ve previously taught, so students feel successful and confident each day they’re with you.
AT A GLANCE — WHAT’S INCLUDED
- 40 weeks of daily oral language lesson plans
- 40 weeks of daily phonological awareness lesson plans
- 40 weeks of daily phonics lesson plans
Together, these three literacy components are the powerhouse of preschool literacy education because they are the early indicators of whether students will be come successful and confident readers. And these lesson plans feature only proven techniques and teaching strategies.
- BONUS! Supporting pre-reading printable centers for the entire year
This is the most engaging, most comprehensive, least prep required preschool literacy curriculum on the market.
I’m Sarah, an educator turned stay-at-home-mama of five! I’m the owner and creator of Stay At Home Educator, a website about intentional teaching and purposeful learning in the early childhood years. I’ve taught a range of levels, from preschool to college and a little bit of everything in between. Right now my focus is teaching my children and running a preschool from my home. Credentials include: Bachelors in Art, Masters in Curriculum and Instruction.