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Learning Letters

Education Expert Advice from Peggy Gisler, Ed.S. and Marge Eberts, Ed.S.

Q: My five-year-old son can say that alphabet, but he has no desire to recognize the letters or to start printing them. I have tried everything from games to worksheets, and nothing is working. How do I motivate him to want to recognize the letters? We've read to him almost every day of his life.

His teacher is already concerned that he will become frustrated in class because all of the other children will be ahead of him. What do you recommend?

A: Since his teacher is already concerned, ask for her suggestions on ways you can help your son at home. You might also want to have your child's eyes tested to make sure that a vision problem isn't interfering with his desire or ability to recognize letters.

Keep in mind that when you talk about your son's ability to write the letters of the alphabet, you are talking about his using fine motor skills. How good is your son at these other fine motor skills: coloring, copying, pasting, or cutting with scissors? All children have their own internal time clocks that indicate exactly when they will develop these skills; however, doing puzzles and playing with small objects can improve these skills.

Maybe you are trying too hard to get your child to learn the alphabet letters. Your son may feel your tension. Try taking a more relaxed approach and concentrate on having fun teaching him one letter at a time. Stick with that letter until your son easily recognizes and writes it. Here are some activities that you can use:

  • Take a stick and have fun together writing a letter in dirt or sand. Say the letter as you write it. Then have your son trace and say the letter. You can also put sand on a baking tray for him to trace or write a letter.

  • Let him finger-paint a letter using paint, pudding, or shaving cream.

  • Get a box of alphabet cereal or pasta, and let him pick out a specific letter or the letters he knows.

  • Have him use markers to circle a letter he knows every time he sees it in newspaper headlines or ads. He should name the letter as he circles it.

  • Help your son make letter cookies or pancakes.

    More on: Expert Advice

    Peggy Gisler and Marge Eberts are experienced teachers who have more than 60 educational publications to their credit. They began writing books together in 1979. Careers for Bookworms was a Book-of-the-Month Club paperback selection, and Pancakes, Crackers, and Pizza received recognition from the Children's Reading Roundtable. Gisler and Eberts taught in classrooms from kindergarten through graduate school. Both have been supervisors at the Butler University Reading Center.

    Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.


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