Alphabet · Letter Recognition · Letter sounds

Back-to-School with Letters

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It’s almost the end of September already! The leaves are changing colour, the indoor shoes are slightly worn in, and pumpkin spice is everywhere. What better way to celebrate the back-to-school season than with a few answers to frequently asked questions about letter practice at home.

*Note: there are many schools of thoughts on how to approach letter names and sounds; the following suggestions are what I find to work well.

Letter Names or Letter Sounds?

There are many ways to approach letter identification and learning letter sounds. What I have found most efficient and effective is to focus on fewer letters at a time and to work on both the letter name and it’s sound at the same time. Why?

1- The majority of letter names give the child a clue as to the sound they make. For example, the letter D has the /d/ sound at the beginning and the letter F has the /f/ sound at the end.

2- Letter names make great labels for letters, as many of the letter sounds are harder to make in isolation. For example, b’s sound in isolation tends to sound more like /buh/, which can make blending it with other letter sounds difficult for beginning readers.

3-Letter sounds in isolation are more abstract and it can be harder for children to makes meaningful connections with them on their own. For example, the letter “a” in farm makes a different sound than the “a” in cat and then again in walk. In my experience it’s easier to say “can you find the ‘a’ in those three words?” instead of referencing their sounds.

No matter what you believe in regards to letters and letter names, “research has established that children who know the names of letters learn letter-sound associations more readily than those without letter-name knowledge.” (Words their Way for PreK-K, 2014)

Upper or Lower Case?

Again, I would say go with fewer letters at once and work on both upper and lower case letters at the same time. However, if you find that your child is struggling with matching upper and lower case letters, or recognizing lower case letters in general-start with just the upper case. Why?

1- Uppercase letters are easier to visually distinguish than lowercase letters (take for example- the uppercase B and D versus the lowercase b and d).

2- Uppercase letters are easier for beginning writers (for example, E versus e). Even when instructed with lower case letters, young children naturally prefer uppercase.


Which letters should we practice first?

Start with the letters in your child’s name as these are letters that will carry great meaning. Next, I would recommend focusing on letters that are not visual similar. Some letters look very much the same (such as b, d, p, and q or W, V, Y). And kids confuse these often, even older kids. I invite you to separate these letters and practice them at different times to minimize confusion.


From here, I would suggest asking your child’s classroom teacher what letters they know or use this quick checklist to determine which letter names and sounds need work. I suggest starting with two to three letters new a week, in addition to reviewing known letters. Choose letters that are visually and phonetically different (as mentioned above, like Tt, Ff, Mm).

How can we practice?

The Internet is full of wonderful blogs that focus on letter practice. Here are a few places to get you started:

1-Sort letters by their sounds with a scavenger hunt game.

2- Practice a variety of skills: matching upper and lower case; letter names; and/or letter sounds with this matching game.

3-Practice letters in context with these great teaching the alphabet books.

Miss I. 🙂



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