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ABC Games for Toddlers to Promote Early Reading

Olivia Briggs
April 15, 2015

Ready ... Set ... Read! Play these games with your kids and see how fast they'll leap ahead from ABCs to reading.

You know how much you love reading to your kids, but did you know your daily story time can actually help them in school later on? Studies have shown that the sooner you can get your kids reading, the better they're likely to do in school.

ABC games for toddlers are one way to speed language and literacy along and give kids that edge. Early literacy has an enormous impact on school performance, says Dr. Roni Cohen Leiderman, a doctor of applied developmental psychology and co-author of "Gymboree -- The Parent's Guide to Play."

ABC games can take many forms. Renate Zangl, a doctor of developmental psycholinguistics and author of "Raising a Talker," notes, "Toddlers love to feel like they're helping." So, while playing ABC games for toddlers, encourage them to help you by mimicing letter sounds you're making.

Here are 3 game ideas to help get you started:

  1. Mealtime ABCs
    As a kid, you may have been told, "Don't play with your food," but who cares about a little mess when there's learning to be done? "Toddlers are great multisensory learners, and every moment is a teachable one," says Dr. Leiderman. Turning mealtime into an ABC game for toddlers makes for a fun learning experience for you both. This game is for tactile learners, who learn by doing things or experiencing them -- actually putting their hands on things.

    You'll need baby food or any safe, edible substance that can be used as "finger paint," such as yogurt mixed with a tiny amount of food coloring. Place your tot safely in a high chair.

    How To:
    While feeding, put some baby food onto the tray. Using the spoon or your finger, trace out letters in the food. Tell your toddler what the letter is and the sound it makes. Then challenge toddlers to make letters of their own. If they do, praise, praise and praise! If not, no worries! Keep making letters of your own and encourage them to help!

  2. ABC Walk
    Zangl offers this letter-sound moving game for physical learners, who learn by being movers and shakers. 

    You'll need a colored cloth, scissors and a colored marker. Cut six pieces of cloth into 20-inch squares. Pick two letters you'd like to start with -- for example, A and B. Write out the letters you're targeting on each of the six squares, making them clear and easily identifiable.

    How To:
    Place your six squares in a bag and have your child pull them all out one by one. As each letter is pulled, explain the name of the letter and what sound it makes. Then spread the squares out on the floor, creating a maze or path. Help your toddler crawl or walk over the letters while narrating, "You're walking on the letter 'A.' 'A' makes an aah sound." Then it's time to move to the next letter. Ask, "What square do you want to go to now?" and continue until you get to the end of your maze. Then celebrate -- you've both won!

  3. Spotlight on ABCs
    "Toddlers love suspense as much as we do," says Dr. Zangl. So why not use this natural inclination to teach the alphabet? She offers this game for visual learners, who need to "see" something to process it.

    You'll need colored paper, scissors, a marker, tape and a flashlight. Cut five-inch squares (approximately four to six of them) from the colored paper and write capital letters on them. Then, tape your squares up on the wall.

    How To:
    Dim the lights and seat your toddler in your lap. Build the suspense ... "Let's see what letter is on the wall ... Oh, there is an 'A'!" Then point to it with the flashlight. "What sound does 'A' make? An 'aah' sound!" The objective is to get your tot to call out the letter or letter sound when you point to it with the flashlight. If this takes time, don't worry. Repeat, have fun and praise them.


Read On!
For language development, both Dr. Zangl and Dr. Leiderman stress there's no replacement for reading to your toddler. "Parents that love to read have children who love to read," notes Dr. Zangl. Both experts advise reading to kids often, playing ABC games with them and celebrating their progress with praise, praise and more praise!

Want to help your tot learn shapes? Try these 7 Shape Games for Kids.

Olivia Briggs is a professional writer, mother and arts educator currently residing in her hometown of New York City. Follow her on twitter.

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