How to Teach the Alphabet to a 3-Year-Old? – Ultimate Guide

How to teach the alphabet to a 3-year-old?

Finding fun ways to teach your 3-year-old the letters of the alphabet is one of the most challenging but important steps your child can take towards becoming a confident reader. Knowing the alphabet before they start school is one of the biggest factors in reading success1.

“The single best predictor of first-year reading achievement is the child’s knowledge of and the ability to recognize and name the upper- and lower- case letters of the alphabet”1

Luckily there are fun, easy, and engaging ways to teach your 3-year-old all the letters of the alphabet. You don’t have to struggle or put it off, I’ve done over 20 hours of research into finding the most effective ways that exist to teach your 3-year-old the alphabet. I’ve packed the very best resources and ideas all into the one article.

How to teach a 3-year-old the letters of the alphabet?:

  1. Teaching and singing alphabet songs
  2. Reading alphabet books
  3. Fun alphabet charts
  4. Letter games
  5. Letter toys
  6. Read print around you
  7. Learn the letters of their name
  8. Learn the sounds of the letters
  9. Color in Alphabet
  10. Don’t use a “Letter of the week approach”

So, let’s take a closer look at all the fun and exciting ideas, games, and resources for each of these topics. This article is going to be the only resource you will ever need to help your 3-year-old learn the alphabet!

1. Teaching and Singing Alphabet Songs

Songs, poems, and nursery rhymes are the ideal way to help your 3-year-old start to learn the alphabet. Singing and rhyming is fun but it also allows your little one to learn about the sounds that make up words. By learning these sounds your little one starts to learn the letters that make up these sounds.

Simple fun songs will engage your 3-year-old more than just showing them letters of the alphabet. They are more likely to remember and learn the sounds and letters through rhyming than just plain boring repetition. 

Also, just knowing the letters of the alphabet isn’t as important as knowing the sounds the letters make and how they combine with other letters to make new sounds. That’s why songs and rhyming are so beneficial. They allow your little one to explore letter sounds in a fun way.

Click here for an amazing resource of all the letters of the alphabet each with their own rhyming song that you can sing to your little one. Most other websites will charge for these alphabet songs, but I found one that doesn’t!

Another way I use to teach my 3-year-old alphabet songs is YouTube. There are so many fun and free songs. My little ones love them, we sing them every day. Here are some of my favorite videos (the least annoying ones!) on YouTube to teach your 3-year-old their alphabet:

2. Reading Alphabet Books

Most 3-year-olds love to read. My 3-year-olds love books and I’m guessing yours do too. You can use that love of books and reading to help your little one learn their alphabet. There are plenty of beautifully illustrated alphabet books. I have listed my favorites below. In my opinion, these are the most beautiful and useful alphabet books available today:

Alphabet books are a lovely way for your 3-year-old to learn their letters. It makes me so happy when I sometimes catch my little ones with a book. Looking and playing with it all on their own. It proves to me that they love books and my heart fills with joy! Have you ever had that same feeling?

Keep these alphabet books in a place where they are easily accessible to your 3-year-old. It gives them the opportunity to learn at their own pace and explore them in private. Exploring alphabet books on their own and in a way in which they feel no pressure to learn is comforting for your 3-year-old.

3. Fun Alphabet Charts

I’m sure you can remember the alphabet charts and posters that used to be in the classroom when you were growing up, I can. I remember all the beautiful illustrations for each letter. I used to stare and appreciate each one, a few still stick in my mind even now.

Well, times have moved on. You can still get a beautifully illustrated alphabet chart (which may be your preference) but they also make electronic interactive charts now. These charts are even more helpful in teaching the alphabet.

I have one of these interactive alphabet charts (It was great value at Amazon) for my little ones now. They are amazing. Each letter is interactive, allowing your 3-year-old to push each letter and hear how it sounds. The sound of each letter is important because learning the alphabet is about how each letter works in conjunction with other letters to create sounds.

This interactive poster also has a quiz mode so they can test their new skills. Although I love the beautifully illustrated poster of my childhood, the new electronic ones just offer more value.

If an electronic interactive poster really isn’t for you, then take a look at my favorite alphabet posters available from Amazon:

4. Letter Games

Kids love playing games, and luckily for us, they also learn best through play. There are plenty of games out there to help your 3-year-old learn their alphabet. I’ve made sure by testing them with my kids that these are the games that kids actually love to play. They won’t even realize they are learning because they are having too much fun, and that’s the way it should be.

So, here are the absolute best simple, fun, and easy to set up games to teach your little one the alphabet:

  • Alphabet Post: In this game, your little one will become the new alphabet postperson. They will need to sort through a pile of letters to find the right one and post it int he letterbox before the time is up.
    Setup: Use 26 envelopes and draw on a letter of the alphabet on each. Use a cardboard box and cut out a letterbox hole so your little one can post the letters in when they find the correct one. My kids love this game! A fun countdown timer like this one works wonders.
  • Alphabet Fishing: This is one of my children’s favorites. In this game, your 3-year-old will stand by the bath and using a fishing net catch each of the 26 letters floating around the bath.
    Setup: To play the game you will need two things. A children’s fishing net and a set of foam letters of the alphabet. (Amazon links to both so you can see what I mean). Then fill up the bath and toss the letters in for them to find. You can make the game harder by making it a bubble bath!
  • Alphabet sorting game: This game is a free printable by Totschooling. The setup is that you print the cards, cut them all out, then have a pile for each letter. (I didn’t have a basket for each letter like it suggests so I just used a sheet of paper with the letter written on it). So if a picture of a bee is drawn then that goes on the pile for the letter “B”. Ideally, you can laminate (Link to the laminator I have) the cards to make your set last longer.
  • Alphabet disco: In this game, your 3-year-old will boogie while the music plays. Then you will stop the music randomly and shout out a letter. Then they have to run to that letter and freeze until the music starts again. Setup: Print out or draw the 26 letters of the alphabet onto paper and scatter them around the room. (I’ve laminated our set to make them last longer). Then play your little ones favorite dancing songs and let them boogie! But don’t forget to shout stop and a letter.

5. Letter Toys

As there are plenty of letter games to keep your 3-year-old having fun and learning at the same time. There are also plenty of letter toys. Of all the best alphabet toys that I found some are bought and some are homemade. Not all learning toys have to be expensive. With a little creativity, you can make fun alphabet toys at home.

Here are the best toys that teach the alphabet and my 3-year-olds have enjoyed:

  • Alphabet cookie cutters: I bought my 3-year-olds these Alphabet cookie cutters from Amazon for a ridiculously low price. They’ve had hours of fun with them. Such great value considering what I paid for them. You can use them for baking cookies, in play-doh, sand, kinetic sand, food making. I keep finding clever new uses for them!
  • Sand tray: Using a sand tray, your little one can practice drawing out the shapes of the letters with their fingers in a fun and tactile way. Either buy a sand tray or you can make your own at home. If you struggle to find suitable sand then you can use alternatives like salt or polenta. Just pop it in on a baking tray or in a plastic tub, it will give your little one a new and exciting way to draw letters
  • Tactile alphabet cards: Make your own alphabet tactile cards using this tutorial from teachingmama.com. I’ve tried making them at home and they turned out great. My little ones love feeling the satisfying bumps of the letters on each card. They are the perfect homemade toy to help your 3-year-old learn the letters of the alphabet.
  • Magnetic letters: These are another amazing multi-purpose toy. You can buy a magnetic alphabet set cheaply from Amazon. Then you can, make words on your fridge with them, go magnetic letter fishing with another small magnet on a string. If you run out of ideas for magnetic letter games then take a look at this article with 8 more magnetic letter games.

6. Read the Print Around You

When you are out with your 3-year-old, make a point of reading out everything you see. Read signs, read packaging labels, read restaurant menus. The more exposure that your little one has to words and letters in their daily lives, the more likely it is that they will find success in learning their alphabet.

Immersing your 3-year-old in reading and seeing different letters every day will allow them to pick up reading and writing quicker. It will also inspire confidence in your little one, finding the world becoming less scary for them as they begin to understand more.

Learning to recognize the letters of their home town or favorite dish in the restaurant can be a great method to teach the alphabet. If your 3-year-old feels like they have a connection to the letters they are learning they will be more eager to learn. Just like learning their own name, they are fascinated by it.

7. Learn the Letters of Their Name

Your 3-year-old will have more interest in learning letters if they can see the connection between reading, writing, and speaking and learning the alphabet. What better first letters and word to learn than their own name? Imagine how proud they will be when they can read and write their name.

The best method to teach your 3-year-old the letters in their name is to first introduce each letter. Then teach them the letter pairs that make up the parts of their name. For example, Katy would be “Ka”-”ty”. Concentrate on teaching them what sounds these letter pairs make.

The joy that you feel when you have successfully taught your little one the letters of their own name is overwhelming. 

If you want more ideas, take a look at this article for more ideas on teaching your 3-year-old how to learn the letters in their own name.

8. Learn the Sounds of Letters

The best way I found to teach my little ones the sounds of each letter in the alphabet is to use a song. I find that the alphabet song that I linked to on YouTube above is great for teaching your 3-year-old the sounds of the alphabet.

This article also has plenty of great ideas for teaching your 3-year-old letter sounds in a fun and hands-on way. The more involved your 3-year-old is in the process of learning, the more likely the learning is to stick in their head.

Remember that the letter sounds of the alphabet are different when said alone to when said in certain words. For example, the letter B is pronounced “Bee” on its own but “Buh” in some words. Point out the differences like this to your little one so they aren’t confused.

9. Color in Alphabet

Print off coloring sheets for all the letters of the alphabet. The coloring sheets from this page are beautiful. The images are gorgeous and it’s all for FREE! I love them, many websites would charge for such amazing quality coloring sheets. Your 3-year-old will love coloring these in and they will learn the letters of the alphabet while having fun.

10. Don’t use the “Letter of the week approach”!

I know the letter of the week style of teaching the alphabet is very popular, but teaching one letter a week has its problems. Teaching just one letter every week to your child isn’t the best method of teaching the alphabet efficiently. Don’t believe me? Then take a look at the research:

“The ‘letter of the week’ approach is problematic because it isolates the letters by removing them from the meaningful context of written language”1

 “The slow pace of programs like ‘letter of the week’ is a serious disadvantage”1

The problem with the letter a week approach is it teaches letters in isolation without any kind of meaningful connection to reading and writing. Children who have been taught letters in isolation find it more difficult to relate them to the words that they are reading and writing.

The way that I found success in teaching my children the alphabet was by introducing different letters at the same time. Letters that have a connection. Letter groups that produce the sounds of words. For example, “QU” “CK” “WH” “NG”. 

Learning the alphabet by concentrating on the sounds of letters, and how they combine to make words helped my 3-year-olds learn their alphabet with ease. Now both are confident readers. 

Learning the alphabet is the first step in helping your little one become a confident reader. But it’s just one of the 3 key skills that will put your 3-year-old on the fast track to reading. Read my article to find out the other two important skills and give your 3-year-old the same advantage when they get to school.