Teaching Baby the Alphabet · Activities & Tips for Learning Letter Symbols

Hi Mamas!

I'll be sharing how I taught my baby the different letter sounds and symbols in English.  This post will go through the following information:
  1. My credentials and what my baby can do
  2. Tasks that involve letter sounds and symbol recognition
  3. How I taught my baby (My process!)
  4. Helpful tips for learning

I've also put together a YouTube video of this content.  Check it out if you'd rather tune in by listening and watching my demos!

My credentials

In case you're curious about my background, I am a licensed and credentialed speech-language pathologist.  I have a master's degree in Speech-Language Pathology, a bachelor's in Communication Disorders, and a bachelor's in Human Development.  A lot of my undergraduate studies were focused on language acquisition and literacy development, so this is an area of passion for me!

What my 18-month-old baby can do

When my baby Lena Rose turned 18 months, I did an informal assessment to check in on her learning.  She did the following:
  • Labeled 18 letter symbols by sound (e.g., when shown the letter "A", she made the short 'a' sound: "ah-ah-ah")
  • Labeled 7 Chinese characters
  • Had an expressive vocabulary of 110+ Chinese words, and a little over 20 English words. 

You can watch Lena's video to see her labeling the letter symbols and Chinese characters!  

How I taught my baby letter sounds

This process of learning phonics didn't start off in an academic, sit-and-listen manner.  I began with American Sign Language (ASL) letter signs, which I used when I sang the ABC song to my little girl.  I had decided to sign the letters to Lena, simply because I knew them and was teaching high-frequency words in ASL to her anyway.  (These were words like "more", "all done", "open", "want".  I have a video of Top 15 signs to teach your baby, along with tips on how to introduce and teach baby sign language.)  One wonderful thing about the way sign language is used with hearing babies is that it provides a visual support (something you can see) paired with an auditory cue (something you hear), which I believe aids language development.  

Lena began to really focus on my hand signs whenever I sang the ABC song.  With her attention on my hands, I began to slowly introduce a letter at a time, saying the letter name, the sound that it makes, and a familiar word that begins with the sound.  For example, I'd show her the hand sign for "A" and say: "A is for ah-ah-apple."

Pretty soon, Lena started parroting the sounds when I'd show her the hand sign.  When she appeared more consistent and confident with recognizing the hand sign and making the letter sound, I started to show her the letter symbol.

I used magnetic letters on a cookie tin, which Lena liked to put on and take off.  However, you're welcome to use other materials as well, such as chunky wooden puzzles, flashcards, doodle boards for writing the letters, or even post-it notes with the written letters! 


We focused on learning one new letter at a time, so that it wouldn't seem overwhelming.  Once Lena appeared consistent with a new letter, I would add another.  Be sure to check out my video to see some example activities. 

With this method, we are up to 18 (mostly lowercase) letters now!

Helpful Tips

1. No need to go in order of ABC's

Choose the letter sounds that your child can actually make. For example, Lena couldn't produce the short "e" sound well, so I skipped over "e".  I picked out sounds that were easy for her to make.

2. Find associations for each sound

This one's important as it also helps with memory for learning. Make sure each word you associate goes with the phonetic sound.  For instance, S = sloth (one of Lena's favorite bedtime stuffies), F = fanfan (Chinese for "rice", which Lena loves because she's a carb monster like me), B = baba (Chinese for "daddy").  

3. Introduce bit by bit. 

Work on one new letter sound at a time so that it's easily "digestible" for your little one. Too many will be overwhelming! 

4. Make it child-led 

Be sure to make the activity child-led and interesting. It's important that we don't turn it into a chore or a task. It needs to be enjoyable and fun for your little one to want to remain engaged. If it's not, I highly recommend following your child's lead and moving on to something of greater interest to him/her.

5. Go at your child's pace

Don't expect results overnight. I sang the ABC song for many, many weeks and paired it with signs. I wasn't very consistent about it in the beginning, and only when Lena was about 16 months old did I begin to introduce the actual symbols to her.  Since introducing the first symbol (letter "a" in our case), it has taken a lot of repetition for her to get this far.

6. Consistency in practice is good, but not required 

Don't worry or freak out if you miss a day or even a week of "practice".  We're not drill sergeants and our babies aren't robots. If you practice with them sometimes, great! If you don't, that's totally okay too! Go with the flow and see what fits into your routine and schedule. In reality, I struggle with consistency and I sometimes remember to ask Lena if she wants to practice her letters on a daily basis, and other times, I go a week or two without bringing it up. 

7. Don't give your baby or yourself pressure 

Remind yourself that this is simply exposure to another area of learning in your child's day of rich and stimulating experiences, enjoying other toys and activities. This is but ONE thing, and at this age, play, exploration, and having a healthy and trusting attachment with the adult are the most important for your baby. Try not to lose sight of that.

I hope that this blog post will be helpful to you!  If you'd rather watch the video version, check it out here:

Warm regards,