I have been a speech-language pathologist for 25 years. When I am doing speech therapy with children as young as three years old to correct error sounds in their speech, I am very aware that since they are not yet readers, they do not have the same understanding of sounds and letters that older children already have. Some preschool children are aware of letters and may know the alphabet song. The connection between a letter and a sound, however, is not typically something that children learn until they attend pre-k or kindergarten. This is much later than the connection should be made. Letters and sounds are different concepts and it is as important to teach the connection between the two as it is to teach the letters themselves. I teach the letter name paired with the written letter and then teach the sound that the letter makes. These are all taught at the same time to give the children a full understanding of the connections and give them good basic knowledge to help them learn reading skills more easily.

Parents will generally teach their children the classic alphabet song that is sung to the tune of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. A song is a great way for people of any age to memorize information. It is important to also pair what the children are singing to a picture of the letters as they are singing them. If there is no concrete connection made between the letter that is sung and heard and the letter that is written and seen, then the children are just learning a random song. Learning the label for a picture or an object is how these preschoolers have already learned the vocabulary that they know. Parents have provided labels to things in the child's environment. All children should have an alphabet poster or chart of some kind that should be brought out when the ABC song is sung. They should be taught to touch each letter as they are singing it. This will avoid that single "LMNOP" cluster that they clearly think is one letter.

The next step for the children to learn is that every letter makes a sound. This phrase will help them learn that there is a difference between a letter and a sound that it makes. The same chart can be used when teaching the children that each letter makes a sound. I like to use a song that I heard in a pre-k classroom with all of my kids in speech therapy. I take the sound that they are targeting and put it into the song. The song is to the tune of "hot cross buns" and it would go like this: "D says duh, D says duh, every letter makes a sound and D says duh." This can be used with every sound. I use the short vowel sounds when singing the vowels. When vowels are long they say their own letter name. The children will learn the rules for when a vowel says its own name when they learn rules for reading in school. The short vowels are found more often, so I believe it makes sense to expose the children to this When singing vowels use short sounds "a" (as), "e" (bed), "i" (in), "o" (on), "u" (up). These tend to be harder for kids to learn for reading and writing and any jump-start is helpful. The pre-k classroom picks one letter each week to target and then does activities all week with that sound. Art activities, searching for things that start with that sound etc. I suggest that parents do the same thing. As the weeks progress, you add to the length of the sound song and mix the letters up so they are not learned only in order. This work on pairing sounds and letters will give your child a great jump on early reading skills. We tend to forget that just because a child can sing the alphabet song doesn't mean that he knows his letters. He simply knows a song if the written letter and the sound of the letter is not taught at the same time.

I have been a licensed speech-language pathologist for 25 years. I have specialized in early intervention speech and language therapy for much of my career. My goal is to help parents with their concerns about their child's speech and language development by providing resources and information. I currently have a blog with other topics in the areas of speech and language development. Check out these topics at: