23 answers

Almost 5 Year Old Can't Recognize Her ABC's-Looking for Guidance

Hi Moms,

My daughter will be 5 in January and will be starting kindergarten Sept. 2010. She's in her 2nd year of preschool and does not recognize the alphabet. She can recognize her name as a whole but most of the alphabet she can't.

What's puzzling is that she's a huge book lover and we avidly read since she was 6 months old. She even sleeps with books in her bed. She can memorize books sometimes word for word and she's passionate about learning how to read and going to school. My questions are can a child learn to read without recognizing the individual letter and it sound first? Can they learn words first and go backwards or just learn as whole? Maybe I'm focusing too much on just the letter?? I know you're not supposed to compare but my son who's a first grader was able to recognize his abc's when he was barely three and is excelling in school. I'm not suggesting that he's any smarter. My daughter is brilliant but just doesn't know her abc's. Will it all just click for her some day??

This is concerning to me: She attends preschool 3 days a week. They are learning 1 letter a week. They spend a day tracing a letter, the next writing freehand and the 3rd day a craft with the letter. When I'm going through her work or even after school I'll ask what letter is her class working on this week, she'll tell me that she doesn't know, and there's all this letter classwork in her back pack that she's completed that day.

My goal is to help her grow and prepare her for kindergarten. Any guidance or suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

FYI, I have not put any pressure on her to learn the alphabet. I'm not sitting her down everyday forcing her to learn this. She's been exposed to reading daily, alphabet flash cards games, dvd's, workbooks, puzzles, etc. in a funlike manner throughout her lifetime. She has no idea I have a concern.

Thanks in advance!

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What can I do next?

So What Happened?™

Thanks moms for all your suggestions. We are starting with a vision test. We spoke with her preschool teachers and they feel she's doing fine and to give her some time. We are going to continue to work with her at home for the next quarter with many of your suggestions and go from there. If there's no improvement or if she still seems to be not retaining what being taught at school and here at home, we'll have her assessed at that point prior to entry of kindergarten.

Thanks again!

Featured Answers

buy the DVD Leap Frog Letter Factory. Have her watch that over and over and over for a few weeks. Literally 3 or more times a day each day. She will know every letter and sound by the end of that time. I was amazed the first time that I did this with a group of preschool kids and stopped doing the letter of the week because of the success. I have never had to teach individual sounds/names after they watch that DVD over and over. It's a miracle honestly. I've had kids that knew only one letter but after a week knew all of them upper and lower case

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I bought my son the Fischer Price Fun to Learn Laptop. It is 30 dollars at TOYSRUS. That taught him the whole alphabet- it is a really good toy.

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Please !!!!! Don't panic.Relax,my son turned 5 this July,
he was in Pre-school for over 2 years,he just started Kindergarten and he was not recognizing half of the alphabet.
Two month later,he loves the alphabet, he writes a few words,he knows his letter.
Give these children time,they come around.

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My brother was ten years old before they realized that he couldn't read because he memorized everything. Little man would listen to other children read and my mother and then he would recite it back to them when it was his turn. Mom spent $800 for about a year with a special tutor that taught him to read.

The school wanted to put him in a learning disabilities class, but mom said no because she knew he was extremely smart...heck he could memorize a book after hearing it one time. He wasn't slow.

So she investigated and found this lady that had her own clinic. She spent the money and this woman had my brother reading above grade level in a year. He went from 1st grade level to sixth or seventh grade level in a year. Now my mom and my brother had to do a lot of work at home, but it worked.

He graduated from highschool at the top of his class and then college with a double major in Computer Science and Math summa cum laude at 18.

He wasn't slow. She may have a disability like dyslexia but that doesn't mean she's slow, she just needs help with her learning styles. I would have her evaluated to get a head start with this especially since pre=school spends so much time with the alphabet. I have worked with four kids thus far and had them all starting to read between 3 and 4 years of age. Kids can learn their alphabet at about 2...sounds soon their after and start using that to read as soon as three.

Ease your own mind and have her evaluated. It can't hurt. Then you can work with her early if you must.

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Hi S.,
Don't flip! Every child is different!! Teachers meet them where they are, just do your best. When my daughter was young she had a leap frog device (they were really new & hip then) that you could put a sheet of paper in & color on it, well they had an alphabet one that sang songs, you'd put the sheet in & hit the go button, then it would sing a phonics song about that letter. My point is there are all kinds of tools out there, walk down the leap pad section at Target & see what might help, go to the library, too.

Oh nearly forgot, the BEST book is Dr. Seuss' ABC book. I've read it so many times that I know it by heart, Big A, Little A What begins with A? Auntie Annie's Alligator, AaA... it's silly & repetitive. Read it before bed or whenever, but read it daily. It helps.

You could make a game, like a letter of the day and have lunch be something with that letter, cut the sandwich into the shape & be silly. Kids love silly. :)

Have fun!

1 mom found this helpful

I bought my son the Fischer Price Fun to Learn Laptop. It is 30 dollars at TOYSRUS. That taught him the whole alphabet- it is a really good toy.

1 mom found this helpful

It is not unusual at all for a child to not know their alphabet until age 6 or 7. According to some educational philosophies, there are levels of physical development that a child has to reach before they are ready for certain mental development stages. It may be that she'll go through a growth spurt and then follow that up with a mental spurt, during which she'll start to pick up the alphabet. The school my kids are going to follows this logic, and they don't teach the alphabet specifically until 1st grade. Then each letter is taught (out of "order" so they don't just memorize the alphabet) in such a way that the child develops an understanding of that later that will help them learn to write next. In the process of learning to write - those that haven't already, will learn to read. While there are many children who will easily pick up reading early, it does not necessarily mean that those who don't are going to have a learning disorder.

I am glad to hear you are taking a no-pressure approach to this, and would suggest you continue on that path. There will be signs along the way in Kindergarten and 1st grade that will let you know if there is more to be worked on.

Good luck!

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Given the exposure to books your daughter's had from a young age, and being in a structured preschool program for the second year, I would be a bit concerned, too, as to why my little one doesn't recognize letters yet.

Have you spoken with the preschool teachers already about your concerns? Every child learns differently so maybe this is not an unusual pattern that they see.

Also, I would recommend you contact your local public school district to ask for a preschool screening. When you make the appointment or when you bring her in, be sure to mention your concern with the letter recognition.

Good luck!

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Well, my thought was, how is her vision? It wouldn't hurt to get her an eye exam if she hasn't had one yet.
But if her vision is fine, maybe it just hasn't clicked for her yet.
I have an alphabet book from our preschool, that I'd be happy to send to you, just email me. Our school did one letter a week, but I heard this year they are doing 3 letters a week. I assume this is so they have more time to re-cover the information, last year it was abc's learning the letter, and then the second time around it was abc's seeing, writing the letter, writing, saying the sound.
Anyways, on Amazon you can also get a set of Alphabet cards made by Eeboo, that are very cute and well illustrated and have different themes, like fairies, plants/flowers, tools, traditional. I have a set for each of my kids, it's decoration and useful. That same company also have many child games, flash cards, puzzles. Land of Nod has them too, but I think Amazon was cheaper, and probably free shipping if over $25.
If she memorizes by hearing then say the letters and then show her, say it then write it. I'm sure you could find a parent guide to teach your child by the way they learn best, some kids learn by seeing, some by doing, some by hearing, etc. Ask your librarian or preschool teacher for some specific books.
Our preschool teacher also recommended getting a cookie sheet/tray of sand and practice writing letters in it. It's fun and tactile for them. And same concept with shaving cream in the tub, just more stinky.
If you determine she doesn't have any issues, just keep trying until you get a method she enjoys.
I just got some new books for our leap pad for my 6 yo, and my 3 yo is the one that loves it. Just goes to show they all have different preferences. (Our library loans out leap pads and books, as well as phonics box sets.)
Good luck

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I wouldn't be concerned yet...and I definitely wouldn't jump to any "learning disabilities" conclusion that others have. My daughter, who is 4 was much later at learning her ABC's, than her older brother. I have to say that she does know all of her ABC's and letter sounds now...thanks to the Leap Frog Letter Factory video. This video is awesome at teaching letters and sounds, after a couple of times watching this, she has had much success with letter recognition and sounds.
If she still has not made any progress when it gets closer to kindergarten time, then definitely talk to her pediatrician to discuss her development. But, I wouldn't worry yet, if I were you :)

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From working with my 8-year old in homeschool (she was public schooled up through first grade) I was also surprised at the things she could do or knew and the things that she didn't know. For example, she graduated first grade and didn't know her days of the week or months of the year. She didn't know her seasons or which season had what weather.

I've discovered that if kids don't understand the purpose of what they are doing AND they don't get continual practice on it they don't bother to remember it. That's not to say your daughter may not have a learning disability (she may) but just to point out that it may not have "clicked" yet why we need to know the names of the letters of the alphabet.

Also, (my daughter will do this too) she DOES know the answer but is too lazy to think of it when you ask OR she's too into something else she's doing (like getting ready to go out and play).

I would keep making a game out of it and see if you can find an educational game with the letters of the alphabet. They have them at Teacher stores. You could play for M&Ms and she could win M&Ms for correct answers. That would make it fun for her, but also a more "focused" time on learning it rather than you asking her when you're in the grocery store and she's more interested in the candy aisle!

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what do they do with her at preschool if they are not teaching her her ABCs and 123s??? that is what preschool is for, it should not just be social hour. what are you paying for???
at this point you really need to work with her on a daily basis so she is prepared for school. this is not something you can do 2 weeks before she goes to kindy. make a book for/with her of her favorite things that start with the letters, that way it is not a baby book but something she has made and she will enjoy going over it day after day. do you have the leapfrog letter factory movie? if not i strongly suggest it, my daughter new the letters and their sounds before she was 2. i would just turn it on in the background most of the time and she got it. practice practice practice.

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I agree completely with Nora's post on Leap Frog Letter Factory. My husband bought this for our 4 year old about a week ago and he's been watching this over and over and it's amazing, he knows his sounds and letters, and he says his letters more clearer. His x's no longer sounds like s's. Definately a must get.

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buy the DVD Leap Frog Letter Factory. Have her watch that over and over and over for a few weeks. Literally 3 or more times a day each day. She will know every letter and sound by the end of that time. I was amazed the first time that I did this with a group of preschool kids and stopped doing the letter of the week because of the success. I have never had to teach individual sounds/names after they watch that DVD over and over. It's a miracle honestly. I've had kids that knew only one letter but after a week knew all of them upper and lower case

1 mom found this helpful

My son had this exact same issue. We discoverd that he has a learning disability in which I mean he is a Visual Learner. He never got the phonics aspect. He can look at something and if you tell him what it is he would memorize it but to put something infront of him and ask him to read it or tell you what it is, he couldn't. I would definetly call the school she will be attending and ask to talk to the Special Education Department. You could also call the schools administration building and talk to them about it as well. Your doctor can't test for something like this but you should let the doctor know so if need be, he/she can coordinate with the school or he/she might have some advice for you as well. You aren't doing anything wrong. Just keep reading to her. My son is now an avid reader once he got the help he needed. Don't be discouraged and stay positive.

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I haven't read your responses, so sorry f this is a repeat. I don't know if you allow your child to watch tv, or how much you allow, but Super Why on PBS is great for letters and the alphabet. That's how my daughter learned her alphabet letters without me even knowing. Word World and Sesame Street also on PBS are good,too! Also, we have a computer game called sesame street first steps that my kids like to play. It teached letters, numbers, shapes, and colors, as well as how to use a keyboard and mouse. It might be worth checking out something like that, too! good Luck in what you decide. Also, it will come in time no matter what you do.

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My first son recognized all of his capital letters before he was two. I didn't realize at the time that was really early! (he didn't read especially early, although he was in the middle-top of his K class.)

My second son came along and he had almost no interest in letters in preschool. He liked numbers and counting. He recognized all of his numbers before his letters. He just started K (he's almost 6, too) and he's moving ahead in huge leaps and bounds, starting this past summer. When they're ready, they're ready. Your child has a full year to go before K even starts, and if she's like my son she's working on other skills right now (he's great with puzzles and drawing,for example, much more than his more reading-oriented brother was.)

I think culturally we have the idea that all kids are ready earlier now, or that everybody's reading chapter books by the end of Kindergarten. But kids have not changed that much in a generation - they take their own time, and some kids aren't ready for the decoding of alphabet/reading at age 4. Keep reading and keep it fun and light. Her brain is doing so much right now - reading readiness is just one of a thousand things that their amazing brains are making sense of.

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First has she been test for dyslexia? Have you had her eyes checked to see how well her eye sight is? Can not recognize letters if you cannot see them well. If you live in McHenry County you can go have her tested free of charge at SEDOM in Woodstock IL. http://special.il.schoolwebpages.com/education/school/sch...;
When my son had tubes put in his ears we had his hearing tested afterward here free of charge. Using there services has nothing to do with a child's mental faculties. There services are for the whole county.
If you do not live in McHenry County SEDOM should be able to direct you to a place near you.

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Hi S. have your daughter tested to get to the root of the problem because at 5 years old she should be able to recognize and said her ABC's especially since she's in pre-school.

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Good for you for not being a super pushy mom! I was so happy to read your last paragraph; so refreshing to see rational thinking :)

The only thought I had was, how is her vision and eyesight. Any problems there?

Another suggestion might be to get on board with the preschool teacher and find out a little more about the curriculum and what they are doing when. For example, if there is a 'letter of the week theme' then reinforce that at home as well. When at the grocery store, cheerfully announce "Let's see how many 'T's we can find!" or "If you can point out 10 'T's before we end our grocery trip (or driving trip, look on billboards) then you can pick out a treat that begins with the letter 'T'." You'd get letter recognition AND counting with this fun game.

Good luck - sounds like you are really doing the right thing and have a healthy balance in how you are approaching this. I know it can be frustrating; also talk with the preschool teacher to find out how she does in class and maybe ask for suggestions from the teacher as well.

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Don't panic....they all learn at their own rate and in different ways. Most preschools offer some kind of preliminary testing for learning issues and I would take advantage of that. It may be she has a different way of processing info. Or it may be she has some kind of learning deficit. But if that is the case it is better to know earlier. And if it is true, she sounds highly motivated and interested in learning so you got that going for you! I would buy those magnetics letters, put them out on the fridge and casually start to mention them and the words they form.

Whatever the situation is, you'll just figure out how to handle it. Things are going to go on unexpected turns during your journey as a mom. You just learn to roll with it.

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It is completely normal for kids not to know all their alphabet at the start of kindergarten. In fact, my sister teaches first grade and one of the things they test for at the beginning of the year is that the kids learned their alphabet in kindergarten. Most do, some don't. Some kids don't really become readers until they are older. A few months ago my son's first grade teacher was concerned that he was having trouble memorizing sight words (he wanted to sound everything out because he was good at that). Nine weeks later he was slightly above grade level. 6 months later he is a very fluent reader. My sister just did some testing on him for a class she is taking and he blew through things that were two grade levels above him. But he basically had to decide for himself that he wanted to read. It sounds like you are doing fine by your daughter.

PS - If you have never participated in your public school district's preschool screening, you may want to check it out. Schools have to do this (by law) to help identify kids who may be in need of services. Some do screenings in the fall, but I think most are winter or spring. It may help give you some reassurance that she is ok and if they sense that there is a problem, measures to help your daughter can be discussed/implemented.

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I would be a little concerned that she may have a learning disability. Don't freak out at those words, because it doesn't mean that she isn't smart, she just may have some issues "processing" the information in her head and there are things that can help!

I would call the school where she will be attending kindergarten and tell them your concern and ask for whomever is in charge of I.E.P.s or who does testing for things like this. Tell them you feel like she may need some help PRIOR to kindergarten and ask for resources.

Another place that may be able to help is DHS. They have what is called Early Intervention where they assess developmental delays in toddlers (0-3) but I bet they know of other programs for older children as well. (I didn't have any luck with my brief search on their site.)

Otherwise, I would continue to stay light-hearted about it and play games. There are lots online, but here are a few that we have done:

For every letter she recognizes (you can do this with words later,) write it on a slip of paper and make a paper chain. For every 3 letters, she gets a prize. The prize can be anything from a little toy to doing a messy art project, etc etc.

Hide letters in Easter Eggs and go on a hunt!

Put the alphabet up in various places around your house or in the car, etc (the dollar store has all sorts of things- foam bathtub letters, puzzles, posters or strips that you can hang on the wall, etc.)

Does she watch TV? I'm not a big fan of kids getting screen time, but a lot of the PBS shows can be good for learning alphabet. Word World is good for repetition and it makes the letters into words that form into animal shapes, etc. Games like "Leapster" handheld games might be fun too for her.

Use playdough to form the words by hand, or alphabet cookie cutters. Have her try to "write" them in fingerpaint, etc. Using multiple senses at ONCE can often be good to help cement things in your mind. Etsy.com has big wooden alphabets you can play with as well as www.souns.org which are big letters to touch with braille on them.

We made our own alphabet when teaching my daughter to read by using water bottle caps (the white screw-tops) and writing on the top with a Sharpie each letter. Then you can play with them and rearrange, etc.

Hope this helps. Feel free to contact me if you need more ideas. I have taught pre-school and homeschooled my daughter for Kindergarten.

Above all, have patience, keep encouraging her, and remember that so soon this will be a distant memory! Kids all grow up fast, but each at their own pace. It sounds like you are on the right track!


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If she uses the computer at all check out www.starfall.com & www.pbskids.org they are great educational websites, teaching kids letter recognition and sounds. They are also fun for them. The preschool will/should do a test at the end of the year to let you know if she is ready for kindergarten or not. Talk to the teachers. They'll let you know how she's doing. Kids always behave and respond differently when mom & dad aren't around. My daughter did the exact same thing. Now she is in the 2nd grade and reading at a 4th grade level.

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Well, certainly I'm no expert, but it does seem like she should at least know her uppercase letters by now. At her school, do they work on the alphabet and letter recognition? Does she know how to say her A,B,Cs? Does her teacher think there's a developmental delay issue in this area? I'd be inclined to think that she will catch up on her own. But if it were my kid, I'd probably have her evaluated by a developmental specialist. Your pediatrician should be able to recommend one. I know at our old family practice (Illinois Masonic Family Practice on Wilson) they have one on staff that is excellent. Her name is Catalina. Can't recall her last name. I'd just want to make sure that she's on track. But I wouldn't worry. Sounds like she's doing well in all other areas. Every kid is different, as you know.

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