30 answers

How to Teach Abc's to Stubborn Child

Hello Moms,
My daughter will be 5 at the end of the month and is suppose to be starting Kindergarten in September. They would like them to already know their ABC’s and some other stuff. My problem is that I have been trying to work with my daughter on this since March and she hasn’t wanted much to do with it. I thought that if I sat her down today and let her color the letters and hang them on the wall and point to them she could at least learn the first 5. 3 of them are in her name! Well over a span of 5 hours today she still only knows B. I don’t know how to get her to learn them. I tried giving her some candy when she did well, but she only got one piece since she would mess up. I know that she knows them, but she won’t do them. I tried taking things away from her. Telling her that she wasn’t going to be able to go this weekend to IN unless she learned the first 5. She know doesn’t want to go and isn’t. I tried to explain to her that she has to know these to start school; she doesn’t want to go to school any more. I am at my wits end with her, I don’t know how else to get her to work on them. I don’t want to send her to Kindergarten if she doesn’t know them, she will already be SO far behind the other kids, and my oldest had that problem and she is still struggling through school. Anyone have any ideas for me?

2 moms found this helpful

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Thank you for all the moms that gave great advice. I put her on the starfall.com and she loves it!! I hadn't thought of looking online for anything and that must be what she needs. She is excited to get on and do it and I sit there with her and she tells me what they are without me asking. To the other moms, she's stubborn, not stupid, but she has her own way of learning, and I still don't know what it is, She is the 4th child I have tought ABC's and 123's too and none of the other ways have worked. I have been trying for almost 2 years working on her ABC's. She knows everything else and has for years, that's why she didn't go to preschool. But if she can't learn her ABC's before school starts then I will not start her until next year since she is only 5, she doesn't have to start. Again thanks again to the moms with the good advice!

Featured Answers

I just got these AWESOME FUN DVD'S..My kids love. They are by PRESCHOOL PREP.. I got mine from the library... We had the site words dvds and my kids loved them.. So I went and found the Meet the COLORS, SHAPES, LETTERS, AND NUMBERS...

They are such cute dvd's and my kids LOVE THEM..

My kids are 5.5 years old (girl) and 4 year old boy...

Leap Frog Letter Factory is wonderful as well. It will also help her learn her phonics sounds...which she should know as well.


I haven't read all the responses but haven't you tried the ABC song with her? It's one we all used to learn the alphabet. Just sit with her and teach her the song. It's much easier to memorize lyrics than just letters.


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Are you kidding me?!?!?!?! You can not threaten a child to learn and you can not expect instant results (learn 5 today?!?). Lifelong learning is a process that takes time to implement, teach and appreciate. Also, please be very careful not to punish your daughter for your own procrastination. She's almost five. Did you not consider preschool? Why just now are you putting a mad rush on a learning process that can take several years to master? You need to stop IMMEDIATELY and re-evaluate your methods, your goals and your expectations.
If you truly want to help your daughter get ready for school, you need to re-establish fun in learning and make it a part of everyday life within your household. Reading (EVERYDAY!) to your children is the greatest gift you can give. They don't have to know every letter in every word, but you can offer an interest in stories, language and imaginative play that is the foundation of reading and language down the road.

If you really want to make progress, please consider creative, fun, positive learning opportunities as part of every day play.
* Have a "B" day. She can wear a brown shirt or a shirt with a bee on it, blow bubbles or bake brownines. Color a "B" and hang it on the fridge that day. Practice it subtly and add a different letter several days later.
(A = applesauce, art; M = M & M's for a treat, P = pack a picnic or play at the park, pink socks; S = silly songs, Skittles, etc., etc.)
* When you're sitting at the breakfast table, let her look at the cereal box while she enjoys breakfast. Casually point to the letters and spell out words. Do not drill her or force the issue, just do it and let her model you when she's ready.
* Play games on outings or during meals or activities. Look at packaging, placemats, books or toys. During play ask her to find a letter or two at a time (just a letter or two). Can you find an "A"? Where is the "T"? etc.
* Have alphabet soup for lunch, alphabits cereal for an afternoon snack or glue ABC pasta to construction paper for an art project.
* Sing. Sing every day. Make up silly songs (or better yet, let her make up a silly song about whatever she wants). You can sing about a Crazy Cat named CeCe or Dance with a Darling Dog named Doug or Zing the Zebra at the Zoo. It doesn't matter that it doesn't make sense. What you are doing is playing with sounds and teaching rhythm, rhyming and letter sounds.
* Take regular trips to the library and get involved in library groups or story time (they have programs for all ages, so all the kids could participate).
* I would also suggest allowing your older daughter to take a teaching role. By allowing her to share her knowledge and skills, you not only offer her an opportunity to build confidence and pride in what she knows, you also have an extra role model proving that ABCs are pretty cool and fun to learn.

No matter what, please keep in mind that learning needs to be fun. The more you force the issue, the bigger fight you'll have on your hands. Teachers will step in and polish off the details. Your job is to instill a love of learning through play and a willingness to participate in future learning activites.

2 moms found this helpful

My son loves to play with the bathtub letters that stick to the walls of the tub. Buy her a pack of those and give them to her to play with in the tub. I bet she'll get curious and start asking you which letter is which. Before you know it, she'll recognize all the letters!

Another fun idea is to sing the ABCs every time she washes her hands. We are supposed to wash them at least 15-20 seconds, 30 seconds is better, to get all the germs off, and singing the ABCs is perfect for timing. Singing the whole song at a usual slow pace will take 30 seconds. Once they get good and sing it fast, it still takes 15 seconds, so they still get their hands clean while happily singing the ABCs. Be sure, especially at first, to do it with them, and do it yourself, too, so your children see Mommy do it, and it just might keep the baby calm in the mean time, too.

Good luck!

Also, children do learn at their own pace. I have 4 with one on the way, and my first was reading by 3 and reading on his own by 4. My second is 6 nearly 7, and he has just gotten the reading thing going and still working on being able to do it on his own. Up until recently, he just did not want to put in the work to figure it out; he wanted to play and have some fun. Once he got the "critical mass" under his belt (or into his head) he now finds it fun and will voluntarily sit down on his own to read. My 4 year old reads 1 and 2 letter words, and my 19 month old is learning his letters. As we read books or stories I will just point them out to him, and he repeats, as best he can since he has only just begun to talk and is still in the "1 syllable without an ending consonant" stage mostly.

The idea is to make it fun, and just a part of what you do, not something extraordinary, or work (for as long as you can help it). Short, frequent repetitions are better than long sustained effort. Also, reading to your children at least once a day is really helpful all around, and even the infant benefits and might even begin reading before you are even aware you taught it! :)

I don't know which school district you are in, but my son has his last day of kindergarten today. I would check with the school to see what is required for them to know for kindergarten. I know the things they are requiring for kids to know for kindergarten has changed so much. Any advantage you can give them is great. Here are a couple of options that you can try. Now that your other daughter is out of school, let them play school. Let them take turns being the teacher and the student, you could include your three year old in this as well. I think the dollar store has little chalk boards, and there are some great websites out there that will allow you to print out worksheet pages, for age and grade specific for free. You could also plan some meals, and activities around the letter of the day. Have the kids come up with food and activities for the day to eat and play. A – apples, asparagus, art, and try to go through the alphabet.
They say that kids sometime learn better with someone other than a parent. You may want to think about starting her in school a year later, and doing either a pre school and pre kindergarten class in the fall. You could also check with the school or local library to see if they have a list of people who would be tutoring this summer. To really help she should not only know how to say or write the letter, but also know the different sound that each letter makes, and how to count. My son knew his letters and could count to 20, but still struggled. I know that my son’s class started reading books about 3-4 weeks into the school year, with not knowing all of his sound, he got behind very quickly. Leap Frog videos are really good, they have a set of 5 – letter factory, talking word factory 1 and 2, learn to read and Math circus, you maybe able to check them out at the library. I think I bought mine at Barnes and Noble, if not. Sorry this is so long, but it is hard to watch your child struggle and get frustrated, and then not want to take the time to try. By the end of Kindergarten they are adding and subtracting, have to know how to count by 2's, 5's and 10's.

Hi S.,

I am an educational consultant for Discovery Toys and also a First grade teacher. Please visit DT's website(www.discoverytoysinc.com), click on the catalog and check out all the wonderful teaching "games", especialy ABSeas. Look in the school years section of the catalog. I use several of these "games" in my classroom. If you want to earn some free educational toys, give me a call and we can set something up. J. ###-###-####

I just got these AWESOME FUN DVD'S..My kids love. They are by PRESCHOOL PREP.. I got mine from the library... We had the site words dvds and my kids loved them.. So I went and found the Meet the COLORS, SHAPES, LETTERS, AND NUMBERS...

They are such cute dvd's and my kids LOVE THEM..

My kids are 5.5 years old (girl) and 4 year old boy...

I am blessed with two strong willed children. To learn letters by sitting, coloring and learning would have never worked. Don't start with A. Start with T, M or S. Then look for it everywhere. If you find it 10 times on the way to the store, we'll get gum (or something). I had to be creative and let them read stop signs, license plates and food wrappers, but they learned at their pace. I did the same with couting. Count the post along side the highway, blue cars, people with glasses. ANYTHING. I also would have them take junk mail and circle all of one letter. You'll be amazed how many T's are in a letter. Then count them!

five hours is to long for a five year old to be expected to work on anything some easy suggestions are when you are driving any where have her look for letters onthe way get your older child and even your younger child involed , another way is make playdough while you are playing with her make letters and have her guess them, have you or your 9yr old read her alpphabet books (agreat one is chicka chica boom boom) check your local library they have great programs and story hours that are usually free or low cost. most of all relax and let it come natural , a childs attention span at this age is about 10 minutes long . children learn best through play and through peers of their own age . a nother way you can work with her is to make flash cards with the letters and a matching picture on another flash card and you or her older sister can play memory match. i have several other ideas too many to write . my name is D. and i am a retired preschool teacher if you are interested in more ideas my e mail is ____@____.com send me an email and i'll send you some more ideas

Make a game out of everything, all the time, don't try to force it. My son likes to use the letters to make faces (i.e. the B is the eyes, J for the nose, C for the smaile, O for the head). Go on a walk and ask her is the swing looks like a really long U, or the dinner plate looks like and O.

I think you need to give up the struggle. If you've seen issues with child 1 then why start her? I personally think making learning a discipline issue so young will only backfire. They'd like her to know them but its not imperative. 6 is the average age for reading and it happens when they're ready. A power struggle over school will be miserable. Try something different. She sounds strong willed and although it doesn't seem so now, its a very good quality. Like at 13 when she's being influenced to do things she knows are wrong! Celebrate her the way she is and let her have control over what she can and needs to. Being behind the other kids in K won't hurt her. Feeling like you don't think she's good enough might. Good luck!

When my daughter was learning to read she had some difficulty. I made flash cards for her and we went through them a few times a day. I did not use food as a reward, but a collective reward at the end of learning a group of words. In our case it was a Barbie Doll because that was her goal. Let your daughter come up with something she would like to strive for, and then decide how many letters she needs to learn for that. This worked well for us and soon she was reading literally 100's of books.
Good luck!

Sometimes kids will be much more cooperative when they are not with a parent. FYI, she doesn't need to learn the alphabet before she gets to kindergarten. So let it go, use some of the dvd's like the others have suggested and she will pick it up. This is obviously having a negative affect about her perception of school, so skip it. Did she go to kindergarten round up? If not, get in there so she can tour the school with the teacher, etc, to get her excited about kindergarten.


I haven't read all the responses but haven't you tried the ABC song with her? It's one we all used to learn the alphabet. Just sit with her and teach her the song. It's much easier to memorize lyrics than just letters.


First of all, check into pre-school for when your 3 year old turns 4. If you don't want to have this problem again in a couple years, make sure to sign up early. There are free pre-school programs out there, our daughter just finished Project-Free, which was wonderful for her. Second, the school covered ONE letter a week, using the Zoo Phonics method. I think you are forcing the issue a little too hard. Try to find creative ways to learn the letters, such as going to the library to get an "Alligator" book for the letter A, then find fun activities to do like letting her help you slice an apple while teaching her the sound that the letter A makes. Good Luck.

I don't know why the schools won't let children just be children anymore. It's enough to make me want to recommend homeschooling. Kids learn when they're ready and pushing them only creates resistance, which you're now experiencing. She sounds like a smart girl who enjoys other things right now. I think she'll be fine. I'd drop it for now then try to reintroduce it as a fun game, maybe having your older daughter play school with her and make it fun. I'd get out of it for right now before the resistance gets worse. You have a big family and lots of other things to be concerned about, I'm sure.

My daughter is just finishing Kindergarten this week. She was told to know her letters before she started to. Well, it turns out, they did NOT really need to know them - that is what they teach them in Kindergarten!

However, I understand you may still want to work with her anyway over the summer to give her every advantage possible. Here is my suggestion....

- since a main obstacle is stubborn attitude, I would stop pushing the issue so hard. If you are stressed about it, that may but a barricade up. Try to make it fun. Here are some ideas....
- Designate a certain day to be dedicated to a letter.... for example.... today is B day! That day, let them have a big letter B on both hands, make pancakes in the shape of letter Bs, make jello B's, let them draw letter B's on your belly, make shaving cream tray's of B's, etc.....
- Don't go in alphabetical order - start with the letters in her name. Once she has those, work on the consonants you think are easiest to give her confidence. Save vowels and lower case for very last.
- Use side walk chalk to make letters - you write in white, have her trace in color.
- Make an ABC photo book - each day (or week) do a new page. Use pictures of HER for each letter (ex: her throwing a Ball for B, her riding in a Boat for B) and stickers (Butterflies, etc.)
- Most important - just relax. If she learns them, great, if not.... at least she is having fun bonding time with you - which may be far more important to her growth as a person than learning her letters is anyway!

- One more thing.... Walmart sells great workbooks - they have some designed to do with your kids over the summer before they enter Kindergarten (and other grades). They sell them in the toy section, not the book section.

Hello :) Well, first of all, perhaps you should take it easy with her - the more you pressure her, the more she will retreat from trying. I would highly recommend trying the Leap Frog Letter Factory DVD - this is something we did with our boys and they are both amazing with the alphabet now - I highly recommend it! Hope this helps!

K. :)


I have heard that kids learn things when they are ready, not when we are!!! I see this with both my boys, they learn different things at different ages and at their own individual pace. I know this is not the public schools philosopy, but I do believe it is true from watching my own kids. I'm wondering if your daughter is not willing to learn the ABC's because she is trying to show you her own independence?! Just a thought :)
My pediatrician mentioned a fun thing that to do with letters. She said go around the yard and pick up sticks and then make letters with them on the driveway. Since the weather is finally nice, you could draw letters on the driveway too. Also I bet there are some CD's that do some fun alphabet songs, other than the one we all know.
On a personal note I have to tell you that I received a lot of pressure from my Dad growing up regarding learning and school work. I was a B student in high school and that took a lot of work. My husband was not good at school and did not put nearly as much effort in as I did and was not pressured very much, but once he got to college became really serious about learning. As adults we both have Bachelors degrees and I think we are both pretty smart!!! The difference is he has great memories of school and I remember it as a drag! My husband even seems to enjoy life much easier than I do, he is relaxed and I am too high strung and I wonder if this is related to this at all.
I think if I remember it correctly, it was Albert Einstein (or some other genius!) that didn't even talk until they were 4!!!
Hope that helps and good luck with everything,


S.; teaching does not have to be sit down and learn and do , you can teach her the alphabet in subtle ways, you sing it around the house, you be happy with learning if you are not a happy teacher she will not want to learn, learning does not always come easy , the best way to change someone is to change yourself, sometimes students dont get casue its not taught to them in a way they learn best, change your stragedy, teaching at her age is more about play , tonights dinner is S ssssssss spaghetti breakfast here is your M mmmmm milk abcdefg lalalalalalalallalala you can do this, enjoy life and sing , be a happy teacher, she may even have it and you not know it, dont worry about it, when its performance she may prove up to the challenge, you color with her, and you color the alphabet and you hang it up around the living room or whatever room, or point and sing each letter, if the work is worthy doing you wil do it too, she may not want to be the only one , enjoy life and have a great day D. s

Hi S.,

Learning should be fun. If now, at the age of 5 learning is a 'chore' it will always be a chore to her. When I was 15 months old I was apparently able to speak 2 and 3 word sentences. My mother lost me in a store because she let me wander around a jewelry counter alone because I wanted to see my Aunt on the other side. It freaked her out so badly, she FORCED me to memorize my mothers entire name, my fathers entire name, my address, my phone number and the phone number of where my parents worked. At 15 months! She would force me to recite it for friends, family, and strangers. When I didn't, I would get a spanking.

I always loved to learn...but I HATED HATED HATED memorization... still do, and I am now looking down the barrel of 36. This really hurt me in school. I had a terrible time in math because there were things you just had to memorize...like the times tables. I had a hard time in grammer, because I hated memorizing the 'rules'. I did ok in school... B/C student mostly. But, those things were I really put in some effort... I got A's. If I had put in that effort in everything, I would have been a much better student. But the memorization always got me.

My point is, make learning fun. Just work it into every day life.

My daughter has an alphabet puzzle. She loves puzzles. (she's only 21 months) When my husband and I 'play puzzles' with her and she picks up a letter to put it with the picture...we just say 'that's the letter B' ... or whatever letter is it. It was never about making her learn...but just using a teaching opportunity during something she enjoyed doing anyway. Now, when she's in the mood...she can recognize her entire alphabet.. and say all but a couple of the letters. (W and Q are still difficult for her to say) No, she isn't a genius child ... yeah, she's smart...but it was never 'learning' for her. It was just something fun that we would do. It was playing for her. We never did this so she would know her alphabet before the age of 2. It was just a puzzle my sister got her for Christmas because she likes puzzles and she already had a couple of animal puzzles.

My guess would be that your daughter knows more then she is letting on....but it sounds like you're making it to be work...so she's balking at it. Make it fun. Don't put the pressure on her. Just spend time with her, read books, point out letters, just find fun ways to create learning opportunities doing things she already likes to do.

If learning is perceived as work now ... it always will be to her.


My daughter struggled with learning her ABC's and the letter sounds. Her teacher suggested the LeapFrog DVD's (sold at Target for $10) called Letter Factory, Word Factory plus two others for reading and math. These things are awesome! You can even choose to play a game on the DVD as well to instill confidence. My son turned 5 in March and now knows his uppercase letters AND the letter sounds. All from watching the DVD's. Now he goes around asking if certain words start with a specific letter. Now, we need to work on lowercase letters as they aren't included on the DVD. Great resource and they don't even feel like they're learning. We had them for a few months now and the kids request to watch them.

Good luck and hang in there!


Are you sure she is not toying with you? Children often know things, they are just not willing to share at this time. My mom went to a preschool class that my oldest attended and she came back to tell me that he did not know the words to the songs. That was not true. He knew all the words, but decided that if everyone else was singing, he did not need to. I have taught preschool and kindergarten for over ten years. Do not base your decision as to sending her to Kindergarten or not on her not knowing the alphabet. They still work on that skill very much in kindergarten. Perhaps she will want to be at the top of the class. Competition is a good motivator. One suggestion I do have is to find something she likes, ie. barbies, my little ponies, etc. and make up cards and put one alphabet letter on each. They do not have to start with that letter. Talk about who or what is on the card then ask what letter is on the card. It worked for a mom who had a son who did not know what to reveal to us that he knew the alphabet. His favorite item was the Turtles. We first conferenced in Feb., and by May he knew his letters. he was ready to share.

There is a DVD that my 2 yo watched called Letter Factory that taught her all her letters and sounds. Here's a link to check it out. http://www.amazon.com/Leap-Frog-Letter-Factory/dp/B0000INU6S

It doesn't matter if she knows them in order as long as she knows what they are and the sound they make and honestly the sound is more important then the name of the letter.

Hi S., It seems to me that this has become a power struggle. You won't win it by punishment. I have a daughter that is the same way. You will need to get creative. The library should have some kids computers and there would probably alphabet learning programs on it. If you make it a treat to go to the library and play a game with her on their computer, get letter coloring books. Concentrate on one letter at a time not on 5. Start by coloring a picture of that letter. Play games, like can you find something in the house that starts with the mmmmmmmmm sound. Only eat M foods for lunch that whole week. Make a place mat with pictures of the M and using contact paper to sandwich the pictures and the cut out letter M. Just surround her with that one letter. She won't be able to help but learn it. Then move on to another letter (don't test her on the letter) every few days. Before you know it, you will be somewhere and she will say hey there's an M and you might have thought that she didn't even know that letter. Read the same book every night for a few weeks (she will be bored with the story and start looking at the words as you point to them while you read.

Just a few suggestions, hope that they help. Good luck.

I second the www.starfall.com suggestion! Let her see it as a fun game, not something she has to do, and she will be learning while playing. Also, maybe a cd in the car? Anything that you can do to expose her without her realizing she is learning would probably be best. And she will probably surprise you when she does decide she is ready, with how much she knows.

Learning should be fun and it just doesn't appear to me that she is ready for school. And that's okay!! My daughter is turning six in August and she will just be starting Kindergarten. I've seen so much growth in the last year...I'm really glad that we waited a year for her to start. She is much more interested in school and learning and writing, etc. I'd wait if I were you until next year. And over the course of the next year you can think of ways to make learning the ABC's fun. Concentrate on one or two letters for a week. Look for them everywhere - in the stores, on signs, on clothing. Read lots of books and point out the letters on the pages. She'll probably join in and think the game is fun. Have her practice writing them in pudding or salt. Starfall.com is a great suggestion. My kids both love it! Make learning fun so that when she does go to school she doesn't hate every minute. Best of luck!

video at Target - "The Letter Factory" by Leapfrog. Don't know a kid who doesn't love it. My 3 yr. old learned her letters and sounds that way.

go to starfall.com

great website.. my 2 year old learned most of his letters on starfall.

but just like most battles with kids you cant win.

when she wants to do the aBCs she will....until them it is just a battle..

You need to have them testing for learning disabilities and dyslexia. The schools can (and must) test them and if they are determined to have a disability, the school must provide them accomodations.

Please don't wait until your child is so far behind that she feels bad about herself... Most children know and recite these long before kindergarten... That should be a clue there is something amiss...

Leap Frog Letter Factory is wonderful as well. It will also help her learn her phonics sounds...which she should know as well.

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