Children who begin school recognising most letters of the alphabet and the sounds they make will generally progress more quickly with reading and writing than those who don’t.

I have taught junior primary students for many years. At the beginning of each year I assess my students’ letter knowledge and then monitor their progress throughout the year.  I generally find that the children who begin school recognising the letters and sounds develop the confidence and skills to write independently after just two terms of schooling.  They also learn early reading skills far more quickly and progress through the reading levels at a more rapid pace.

With the right equipment and knowledge, you can teach your child to recognise letters before they begin school.

What letter sound should I teach my child first?

Parents are often confused about which sound to teach their child first. Do you teach the letter name, which is what we say when reciting the alphabet, or do you teach the letter sound?  To begin, I recommend teaching the short letter sound for each letter of the alphabet. To help you recognise this sound, the illustrations in the table below begin with the short letter sound for each letter of the alphabet.


Why begin with the short letter sound?

Most of the words children first learn to read and write at school are made up of short letter sounds. For example, “cat”, “hot”, “sit”.  If your child can recognise and say the short letter sound, they will be ready to progress to the next stage of blending sounds together to read and write words.  If your child begins school with this letter knowledge they will be better prepared to learn early reading and writing skills.

Which letters do I teach first?

Try to start with letters that can be blended together to make three letter words. For example, I like to begin with the letters “s”, “a” and “t” because children can blend these letter sounds to read “sat”.  You could then teach your child the letters “p” and “i” so that they are able to blend the words: sat, pat, tap, tip, sip, sit and pit.

Spend 10 minutes a week with your child learning a new letter

You will need: 1 set of alphabet magnetic letters, whiteboard, whiteboard marker and whiteboard eraser.


  1. Introduce the new letter by writing it on the whiteboard and saying the short sound it makes.
  2. Give your child time to practise the correct formation of the letter on the whiteboard. I like to teach children to write on whiteboards as mistakes can easily be erased, which gives them the confidence to ‘have-a-go’.
  3. Ask your child to think of words that begin with the focus letter sound and then watch you as you write each word on the whiteboard. Children learn by watching you, so explain what you are thinking when you construct each word that you write. For example, emphasise the first readingsound and then sound out each letter as you write it: s-t-o-p.
  4. Erase your writing and direct your attention to the magnetic letters. Say the short sound for the letter you have been learning and ask your child to find it and place it on the whiteboard.
  5. If your child is familiar with other letters, revise the sounds they have already learnt by asking them to find and then place the magnetic letters on the whiteboard as you say the sound. Leave the letters your child doesn’t recognise at this stage.
  6. If your child knows enough letters to make a three letter word, you can begin making words with the letters you have on the whiteboard. Choose words that only contain the short letter sound. For example: cat, hot, mum, sip, net.reading

Aim to repeat these steps once a week until your child is able to recognise all 26 letters of the alphabet.

Use a School Start Buddy to teach letter recognition

The School Start Buddy is a case that opens up to reveal all the resources in the above activity and more. It has two whiteboards, one for displaying magnetic resources and another for doing learning activities with your child.

The School Start Handbook that comes with the School Start Buddy explains how children learn to read and write and guides you through activities to teach your child – just like the above activity.

Here is my video that explains how to use the School Start Buddy to teach letter recognition.

Sharona Edwards

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