Brain Power

Step 2: Love those letters
Each time your child sees, hears or speaks a word, her language skills develop. “By the age of 4 or 5, children can learn the names and sounds of letters, as well as begin playing games with sounds—known as phonemic awareness activities—that mirror the blending and sequencing that they will have to do when reading,” says Jill Lauren, a New York City–based learning specialist and author of That’s Like Me! (Star Bright Books, 2009).

Since your child has probably already mastered the alphabet song, teach her “The Name Game” with her own and other familiar names (“Katie, katie, bo-batie,” “Jake, Jake, bo-bake,” “Mommy, mommy, bo-bommy”). Tongue twisters crank up the love of learning letters and sounds, too (“She sells seashells by the seashore”), as do nursery rhymes (“Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”) and other simple songs (“The Wheels on the Bus”).

Household items can spark word games as well. Point out the clock and have your child list as many words as he can that rhyme with each one (“clock, block, sock, rock”). Encourage a greater understanding of sounds by having your child identify words that start with the same letter, too (“clock, carrot, cake, car”).

Put letters everywhere—magnetic ones on the refrigerator, alphabet blocks in the playroom. Show your child how to spell her name or other simple words first with blocks or magnets, then by writing each letter and saying its sound. Wherever you go, point out letters—on signs, food containers, clothing. “Once a new sound is acquired, remember to keep practicing it,” adds Lauren. “A common mistake parents and teachers make is that they teach the ‘letter of the week’ and do not revisit the sound once it’s been taught. Repetition is important.”

It also helps to involve multiple senses. For example, write your child’s name with large block letters and have him decorate it with items that begin with the same letters (e.g., for “SAM,” use strawberry halves for the “S,” apple slices for the “A,” mini marshmallows for the “M”). “The more senses engaged, the better the chance for retention of new information,” explains Lauren. “Gluing marshmallows onto a giant ‘M’—and eating some along the way—will certainly help children remember that the sound for ‘m’ is ‘mmmm.’”