Developmental Tools for Teaching Letter Recognition

teaching letter recogntion

This blog discusses activities for teaching letter recognition. At its most basic, letter recognition refers to letter identification. It is one of the main skills children need to know before they can name, write, or sound out the letters. The following fun letter recognition games for preschoolers are based on development and skill progression.

Be sure to read through our blog post on name practice for kindergarten for resources and tools to support letter use and recognition in children ages 5-6 or for kids at the level where they are recognizing letters in their name.

Use our new color by letter worksheet to further develop this letter recognition skill.

Teaching letter recognition

What you need to know about Teaching Letter recognition

Letter recognition, or the ability to recognize and identify letters begins at a very young age. But did you know that teaching letter recognition skills starts way before kindergarten and and even before entering the classroom?

Kindergarten students are many times exposed to writing and copying letters on trace worksheets, and writing pages. But before a young child can do these skills that are part of the curriculum, knowing what skills lead up to these skills is helpful.

Even before a young preschooler is able to identify and name letters in printed context such as books or letter play activities, they are learning this skill through the immersion of seeing letters in everyday life.

Letter identification and the ability to recognize letters in printed form might occur through exposure on television, printed media, following along while a book is being read, or while engaging with technology. 

There is a progression in the important literacy skill of recognizing printed letters:

  • Letter recognition in isolation – example, pointing out all of the upper case letter As on a letter picture book
  • Letter recognition in every day life – example pointing out the letter S on a stop sign
  • Letter identification – identifying and stating letter’s names
  • Letter identification in text -reading and sounding out a letter’s sound in reading or sounding out written text
  • Matching upper case and lowercase letters– matching the upper case letters to lowercase, and vice versa

Each step of teaching letter recognition skills is founded in experience and practice. This includes communication with others, exposure, and reading with caregivers. 

Not every child learns the same way. Starting as young as preschool, caregivers can support children by using their interests and strengths to teach them new skills.

Children don’t need to read or write until well beyond toddlerhood, but preschoolers enjoy looking at books, finding letters on walks, and learning letters through movement. 

The best way to teach letter recognition
The best way to teach letter recognition is by first covering the prerequisite skills.

Prerequisites to Letter Teaching Letter Recognition

Several areas are needed to develop letter recognition skills:

  • Object permanence
  • Form constancy
  • Visual discrimination
  • Visual figure ground
  • Working memory
  • Visual memory
  • Visual scanning skills
  • Cognitive skills
  • Physical development

You can see that these components are founded in visual motor skills, perceptual skills, and working memory.

Before any of this can happen (and through the process), young children should be exposed to rhymes, songs, and singing the alphabet song. (Add alphabet exercises for movement fun!) This is actually the first step in the road to literacy!

Teaching letter recognition requires Visual discrimination Skills

Letter recognition/identification is when a person is able to look at a letter and recall it from previous experience. Recognition of letters occurs both in uppercase and lowercase form. Additionally, there is a cursive letter recognition aspect as well. This blog post covers cursive letter recognition skills.

This site states that even before letter identification, there are a few other skills that should be taught, including visual discrimination, so the child is able to find differences among lines and shapes. 

Visual discrimination can be taught in isolation through books or worksheets, or in games and activities such as Memory games, matching and sorting activities, or playing “what’s the same” and “what’s different” through hidden picture activities and puzzles.  We cover this visual perceptual skill in our blog post, Wacky Wednesday book activity.

Visual Memory Another great play-based activity to develop the visual perceptual memory skills needed for letter recognition, are games that challenge kids to notice differences. Present the child with a tray of everyday items, and ask them to memorize the items on the tray. Ask them to look away or cover their eyes. Take away one or more items, and have them recall the missing items. 

Letter activities- Other ways to encourage letter play is through printed alphabet worksheets, puzzles, letter magnets, or other alphabet manipulatives such as letter beads. You can ask the child to sort letters based on shape, such as those that include straight lines, versus curved line, or diagonal letters. You can also sort letters by letters based on size: tall letters, short letters, and letters with a tail that hangs below the lines.

One way to encourage functional handwriting is through addressing letter size. This tall and short worksheet has a fine motor and visual motor component that can be incorporated into whole-body movement activities to teach these concepts that carryover into letter sizing and use in handwriting.

Prerequisites to teaching letter recognition begins in infancy

These prerequisite skills that support letter recognition, such as visual discrimination and memory, develop as early as infancy, when young children identify 3D objects that are familiar to them like their bottle, favorite toy, or their parents. It is important infants experience tummy time in order to develop visual motor skills, and strong oculomotor skills, as a result of time spent on the belly while looking at objects.

As children grow, their visual discrimination becomes more refined and they are able to identify pictures and written words.

Toddlers are able to point to a picture of a puppy in a book they are reading, or identify who is hiding under the blanket.

Object permanence and working memory

When a child sees an object and knows what it is called, this is referred to as object permanence. This requires working memory skill development to use what is seen, remember it, and store it for later retrieval.

While visual discrimination is the ability to detect differences and similarities in size, shape, color and pattern, cognitive ability is necessary to recognize these differences based on previous exposure, along with memory to have stored that information away in their mind’s eye to recall when needed.

This skill is typically associated with letter formation and handwriting skills. Identifying and discriminating between differences in letters allow kids to copy and write letters from memory. However, noticing and identifying the differences in the curves, diagonal lines, and lines that make up a letter are essential build up to that skill.

Hearing and saying the letter sounds associated with letters are part of the process, too. Phonemic awareness is developed initially through play, but this skill continues to develop and progress as reading and literacy skills are refined in kindergarten, first grade, second grade, and beyond.

Teaching letter recognition begins with the ability to recognize details in visual images

In more depth, students should identify likeness and differences of shapes or forms, colors, as well as the position of various objects and people. Developing discrimination skills will help children learn the alphabet and then both read and print letters a lot better. 

There are numerous types of visual discrimination that children should begin to understand and develop. These include: 

  • 3D Objects
  • Shapes
  • Drawings & Pictures
  • Colors
  • Letters and Words
  • Sequences

Letter recognition games

The letter recognition activities and games and listed below are fun ways to instruct children in the essential skills needed for reading and literacy. It’s literally the building block to reading.

  • Name Recognition- Start with recognizing the letters of their name. Point out letters in the child’s name and ask them to point to letters in a book or on a sign. Children can first begin with recognizing upper case letters of their name, then moving onto the lowercase letters. Working first with uppercase letters is best, because capital letters are easier to discriminate between. Lowercase letters have many similar letters, b,d,p,g,q, and j. 
  • Bean Bag Letter Toss – Affix upper and lowercase letter stickers to one side of each bean bag. Put a basket or bucket across from your child. As your child throws the bean bags into the bucket, ask them to name the letters and their sounds of the letters. Students can run around looking for matching letters scattered around the room.
  • Alphabet Play dough- Write down large letters on a piece of paper and place that paper into a sheet protector. Encourage your child to form the letters on the sheet protector with play dough of their choosing.
  • I Spy Letter Walk –Take a walk with your child and look for letters in their environment such as on license plates, street signs and building. Play, I Spy, searching for different letters, or letters in sequential order. The printable tools in the Letter Fine Motor Kit are a great resource for this activity.
  • Jumping to letters – Create a letter pathway with sidewalk chalk on a playground or sidewalk. Children can walk, run, jump, or crawl across the letters, naming them as they move forward! Change it up by asking them to walk backwards along the path. This is a fun motor planning activity.
  • Chasing the Alphabet – (Amazon affiliate link:) Sammy Chases the Alphabet is a book I wrote about Sammy the Golden Dog playing fetch with balls around his farm. Each ball has a letter on it. After you read the book, bring the story to life by adding letter stickers to ball pit balls. Toss the balls around a room or outside, and encourage your child to find them all, naming the letters on each ball they find.
  • Food Alphabet Worksheets – Pair real food items with these food worksheets. These worksheets include the letter, a food that starts with the letter, and all of the letters that make the word. As children sound out each letter, ask them to point to the letter that makes that sound.

more letter recognition Activities

Alphabet activities like the ones below support recognition skills through repetition. Alphabet recognition occurs through songs, play, and hands-on activities.

  • The Soundabet Song – Letter identification doesn’t just include what letters look like, it also includes what letters sound like. Can your child point to the letter name as well as the sound it makes? This Soundabet Song is a great way to teach kids how to pair the sounds of the letters to what the letters look like. 
  • Letter Push – This ABC play dough activity uses plastic letters and play dough! Add in some fine motor skills to alphabet identification, by having children push plastic letters into play dough while they name the letter. This can be done as a circle time game, where each child take a turn pushing in a letter, or a small group time where every child has the opportunity to push the play dough letters. 
  • Alphabet Sensory Bins – Nothing keeps my preschoolers entertained more then a large sensory bin! Adding alphabet letters or letter markers to the sensory bins for children to find and match, is one of the most exciting letter identification games. Check out these sensory bin base ideas to use in different letter recognition sensory  bins.
  • This alphabet sensory writing tray requires users to recognize letters by uncovering them from a sensory medium. This is a great activity for recognizing letter parts such as diagonals or the curved part of a letter as the letter is uncovered.
  • Metal alphabet tray play – My favorite is to add a metal pan to the sensory table, and ask kids to stick the magnet letters they find in the sensory materials onto the metal pan!
  • Alphabet Discover Bottle – This sensory discovery bottle can be used before naptime, bedtime, in a calm down corner, or as a learning activity. As children shake the bottle, they can name the letters that appear! 
  • Match letters- Match uppercase letters to lower case letters, match different fonts of letters, and match letters in different environments (books, signs, on television, in print, etc.)
  • Gross motor activities- Use a letter floor mat to jump on a specific letter. Ask the child to find a letter magnet and place it on the letter mat.
  • Letter recognition scavenger hunts- Use ideas like these letter clothes pins scavenger hunt for ideas.
  • Write letters in shaving cream or in sand
  • Sort letters by word families when teaching letter groups
  • Play beginning sound games- I spy with my little eye, a word that starts with /b/
  • Use dot markers to dot letters
  • Spot letters on a white board and trace with a dry erase marker
  • make letters from pipe cleaners
  • Sensory play activities
  • Trace letters on sandpaper

A final note teaching letter recognition skills:

Learning through play doesn’t have to be stressful. Every child learns differently, and that includes recognizing letters of the alphabet. Once a child has developed the visual discrimination, expressive and receptive language skills needed to participate in letter identification activities, notice what motivates them to learn.

Do they like to move, cut, color, dance, or sing? Pick a letter activity that you know your child will love, and they will keep coming back for more. This will result in increasing their attention span and learning new letters daily. Follow your child’s interests and you will surely have a wonderful time!

Jeana Kinne is a veteran preschool teacher and director. She has over 20 years of experience in the Early Childhood Education field. Her Bachelors Degree is in Child Development and her Masters Degree is in Early Childhood Education. She has spent over 10 years as a coach, working with Parents and Preschool Teachers, and another 10 years working with infants and toddlers with special needs. She is also the author of the “Sammy the Golden Dog” series, teaching children important skills through play.

The Letter Fine Motor Kit is a 100 page printable packet includes everything you need for hands-on letter learning and multisensory handwriting!

This resource is great for pediatric occupational therapists working on handwriting skills, fine motor skills, visual motor skills, and more. Use the activities to promote a variety of functional tasks.

Teachers will find this printable packet easily integrated into literacy centers, classroom activities, and multisensory learning.

Parents will find this resource a tool for learning at home, supporting skill development, and perfect for therapy at home!

MULTISENSORY HANDWRITING

Grab the Letter Fine Motor Kit and use all of the senses, including heavy work, or proprioceptive input, through the hands ask kids build and manipulate materials to develop handwriting and letter formation skills.

ABC’s of Summer Learning

ABCs of summer

Summer is a time to relax and have fun, but with a little thought, play can inspire learning! We created this ABCs of Summer list of summer alphabet activities years ago, but it is still a fun resource! Go through the activities week by week, or use switch to a new letter every few days. The best thing about this list of A-Z summer activities is that it’s very open-ended! Pick the ones that work for you!

ABCs of summer activities for kids

ABCs of Summer

This list of a-z summer activities was inspired when our kids were preschoolers. We wanted to pull together a list of fun alphabet themed play ideas that could be a Summer Bucket List of sorts.

With the end of summer looming and back-to-school fall schedules not so far off, we thought it would be fun to present an A to Z list of fun, creative, and educational play and learning activities. 

That’s where this summer alphabet comes into play!

There are so many reasons why messy, sensory play supports development and learning. Not only are kids learning the alphabet, they are developing skills in other areas, too:

  • Learning the letters of the alphabet
  • Fine motor skill development
  • Visual motor skills
  • Gross motor skills
  • Sensory input for self-regulation
  • Handwriting or pre-writing skills
  • Eye-hand coordination
  • Confidence
  • Body awareness
  • Connection with others
  • Attention and focus
  • Executive functioning skills

We wanted to pull together a list from around the web and share playful and fun activities to make the most of summer before those fall schedules start up again.  Now is the time to make a few memories.  

Kids learn through play so the best learning comes through playful activities.  Let’s wrap up the summer with a full alphabet of fun.   Here we have it…the ABCs of Summer Learning! 

ABCs of summer for kids

How to Do ABCs of Summer

 These ideas can be done all throughout the summer, but it’s very open-ended.

You can look through the list and pick and choose a few activities to extend out the dog days of summer. 

Motor Skills- Encourage movement. You can use our alphabet exercises to get started with ideas. Pick a letter, do the letter exercise, and then do an activity or two based on that letter. Then repeat in a few days with a different letter.

Sensory-Based- The alphabet summer ideas listed below are mainly sensory-based play, meaning that they involve texture exploration, messy play, and getting the hands and body involved in the play. This is designed to inspire learning! Consider making an alphabet sensory bottle to start off your summer ABC theme. Shake up the bottle, find a letter, and do the activities associated with that letter until you complete the whole alphabet. You could select a random letter or you could look for a specific letter. It’s up to you!

Incorporate Handwriting– For children in kindergarten and above, adding in writing practice is a good idea. Use these letter formation strategies for practicing each letter…also grounded in movement and sensory experiences to promote motor memory of letter formation. For children in preschool, addressing pre-writing skills over letter formation is recommended, based on development. Simply go through the abcs of summer based on the lines used in letters. Our recourse on letter formation covers recommended progression of letters based on development and lines. Older kids can even just write some of the words that start with that letter, for additional practice with copying words, writing on lines, and spacing.

Writing Trays- Speaking of writing practice, there is more than one way to practice forming letters or the lines that make up letters. Use one of our many writing trays for handwriting as an added way to incorporate motor and sensory movements to form individual letters or pre-writing skills associated with the letters. (lines, diagonals, shapes, line changes, etc.)

One final tip: Summer is meant to be a time to slow down on the schedules, lists, educational tips and pointers…and  a time for the kids to just have fun being kids.  So be sure to make this FUN and a way to connect through play.

With these tips in mind, let’s get started on the ABCs of Summer!

Summer Words that Start with A:

Summer Words that Start with B

Summer Words that Start with C

Summer Words that Start with D

Summer Words that Start with E

Summer Words that Start with F

Summer Words that Start with G

Summer Words that Start with H

Summer Words that Start with I

Summer Words that Start with J

Summer Words that Start with K

Summer Words that Start with L

Summer Words that Start with M

Summer Words that Start with N

Summer Words that Start with O

Summer Words that Start with P

Summer Words that Start with Q

  • Sort and Manipulate Quarters 
  • Play the Quiet Game
  • Make a fort with a Quilt
  •                                  

Summer Words that Start with R

Summer Words that Start with S

Summer Words that Start with T

Summer Words that Start with U

  • Plan an Under The Sea Party
  • Use an Umbrella in the rain or sun
  • Help Unload the dishwasher
  • Blow bubbles with a straw underwater

Summer Words that Start with V

Summer Words that Start with W

Summer Words that Start with X

Summer Words that Start with Y

  • Go for a walk and Look For Yellow
  • Name the months in the Year   
  • Play in the yard
  • Visit a yard sale

Summer Words that Start with Z

What are your favorite summer activities?

Clay Letters

clay alphabet

These clay letters are a fine motor activity we made years ago, but we still use them today in multisensory learning activities. In fact, the clay alphabet is such a great tool for sight word and spelling word manipulatives. This week, we used two of my top Occupational Therapy recommendations in a combined fine motor power activity…to make stamped letters for learning!

We used clay and alphabet stamps to make our own clay letters for hands-on learning, including practicing spelling words, sight words, letter identification, and letter order.  This was the perfect learning tool for my second grader, kindergartner, and preschooler!

Make clay letters with alphabet stamps and use them in spelling words, decodable reading, word building, letter identification, and alphabetical order activities for multi- age learning ideas and hands-on learning in this fine motor work learning and play idea for kids.
 
 

Clay Letters for multisensory learning


As an Occupational Therapist, I often times recommended using clay as a therapeutic tool.  It’s resistive and provides proprioceptive feedback while working on hand strength.  Combined with letter stamps, we were able to make our own movable and colorful letters.  

 

Pressing the alphabet stamps into the clay is a great fine motor exercise and one that strengthens the hands, promoting a functional pencil grasp, separation of the sides of the hand, and intrinsic hand strength.

Make clay letters with alphabet stamps and use them in spelling words, decodable reading, word building, letter identification, and alphabetical order activities for multi- age learning ideas and hands-on learning in this fine motor work learning and play idea for kids.
 

Fine Motor Work Activity

Make clay letters with alphabet stamps and use them in spelling words, decodable reading, word building, letter identification, and alphabetical order activities for multi- age learning ideas and hands-on learning in this fine motor work learning and play idea for kids.
 

How to Make Clay Letters

This post contains affiliate links.

You’ll need to start with alphabet stamps for pressing into the clay, and some colorful clay. You’ll want to get the type of clay that quick dries.

We used our Alphabet Stamp Set to press lower case letters into small, rolled balls of modeling clay. I love the bright colors of THIS brand.

To make he clay letters, kids are really strengthening the hands.

First, ask your child to first pull off small pieces of clay from the long rolls.  Roll the clay into small balls and gently press them into disks.  

Then, have your child find the letters of the alphabet in alphabetical order.  Using the Melissa and Doug Alphabet Stamp Set was a great way to further our fine motor work.  The size and shape of the letter stamps in this set are perfect for working on intrinsic muscle strength and tripod grasp.  

Pressing the stamps into the clay is a nice way to address precision.  

Press too hard, and the clay disk is too thin.  

Press to lightly, and the letter’s impression is not deep enough in the clay.  This precision of grasp requires proprioceptive awareness.

Make clay letters with alphabet stamps and use them in spelling words, decodable reading, word building, letter identification, and alphabetical order activities for multi- age learning ideas and hands-on learning in this fine motor work learning and play idea for kids.
 

The brand of clay that we used does not harden.  This makes a nice activity for kids, but if you want to keep your letters, use a modeling clay that does dry out.

Make clay letters with alphabet stamps and use them in spelling words, decodable reading, word building, letter identification, and alphabetical order activities for multi- age learning ideas and hands-on learning in this fine motor work learning and play idea for kids.
 

Learning Activities with Clay Letters

We used our clay letters in a bunch of different activities. Try some of these hands-on letter activities:

  • Practice spelling words.
  • Practice spelling sight words.
  • Arrange letters on the table.  Ask kids to visually scan for letters to find in alphabetical order.
  • Practice letter identification.
  • Copy the letters to work on letter formation.
  • Arrange the letters on a table.  Pull out a letter and ask your child to name a word that starts with that letter.  Ask them to write the words to practice handwriting.
  • Practice decodable reading and word building with the clay letters.
 
 




Make clay letters with alphabet stamps and use them in spelling words, decodable reading, word building, letter identification, and alphabetical order activities for multi- age learning ideas and hands-on learning in this fine motor work learning and play idea for kids.

More Letter Fine Motor Activities

You’ll love the fine motor activities in our Letters Fine Motor Kit. The printable kit is loaded with letter activities that build fine motor skills. You can grab it and all of the other themed fine motor kits below, to build skills through play.

Use these Fine Motor Kits for hands-on activity kits to develop fine motor skills, strength, dexterity, and manipulation. Kids LOVE these fine motor kits for the motivating activities. Therapists love them because it’s fresh, fun ways to work on pinch, grip, manipulation skills, and much more. Try some of these themed therapy kits:

Colleen Beck, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with 20+ years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

Glitter Letter Manipulatives for Learning

letter manipulatives
These DIY letter manipulatives were very easy to make.  The kids and I have been playing with these letters for a few weeks now.  We love playing with learning elements and we’ve done a lot of letter identification activities.  This one was fun to make and for playing!
 

Letter Manipulatives

Letter manipulatives are a hands-on tool for supporting letter identification in young kids. This is a great preschool activity that can be used as a pre-writing activity. Helping kids to identify letters with alphabet manipulatives supports early literacy skills. 

Alphabet manipulatives like the ones we made below are fun for helping kids to match uppercase and lower case letters, too. 

They can be used in handwriting tasks or as a writing prompt while working on letter formation

Use these letter manipulatives in several ways:

  • In sensory bins
  • In an I Spy game
  • With writing trays
  • In play dough
DIY letter match manipulatives with glass gems.  These are great for letter identification, matching, memory games, pre-reading.
 

 

 
This post contains affiliate links. 

 


How to Make Letter Manipulatives


This letter learning activity was a lot like our DIY color glass gems.  They are so much fun for sorting, patterning, play on the DIY light box.  We used a similar manner to make these glitter letters. These large glass gems are great for play and learning.  We’ve written letters and shapes on them, and painted them, created art with them.

If you haven’t made your own DIY decoupage, this is one thing you need to try.  We use this stuff all the time.

 

 

 
Paint the flat side of the glass gems with decoupage.  Cover with glitter.

 

 
Shake off the excess glitter.  Coat with another layer of decoupage.

 

 
Stick on letter stickers and cover with another thin coat of decoupage.
 
 
Let those beauties dry.

 

 
When the letters were dry, we played letter memory, sounded out the sounds of the letters, and matched the letters.  This is a great way to play and learn letter identification, letter sounds, pre-reading, visual scanning skills, and more.

 

 
We haven’t tried putting the letter manipulatives on the light table yet, but I think they will look great!
 

More Ways to Use letter manipulatives

 

 

Work on letter formation, letter identification and handwriting skills with our Fine Motor Letter Kit! Perfect for hands-on letter learning.

Colleen Beck, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with 20+ years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.