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Delay in learning alphabet letter

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D


Q: My son who will be five in October loves learning, especially anything related to science. He also loves books. We had his IQ tested and he came out in the 99th percentile on verbal skills. He's a sponge when it comes to absorbing new info that he's interested in. However, for some reason, he doesn't want to learn his ABCs. I'm a pretty easy going Mom. I've probably tried to sit down to teach him a total of 10 times. The other times I've just pointed out a letter here and there.

Early on he seemed frustrated that he made mistakes on the letters (yes, the perfectionism that follows a lot of our children) or that it didn't come easily. Then he stated he wanted nothing to do with the alphabet. So I let it go. Lately, he says he wants to learn so I'm gradually pointing out letters to him again. He knows some of them but not all. My daughter who is 2.5 is catching up to him on the letter recognition and I'm not "trying" to teach her. He seems to be a visual learner. He learned his colors later than others also, but then he learned them all at once with hardly any mistakes so maybe that's the way he learns.

Is it a personality thing? The way he learns? Should I be sitting down to teach him or letting it go until he starts K in the Fall. Should I be getting his eyes or hearing checked? Thanks.

A: We are all very anxious to have our kids learn their alphabets before they get to Grade 1. Therefore, if a child is learning everything at a relatively fast pace but not the alphabets, it's very normal to have some concerns.

Firstly, eliminate any health factor that may be the cause. Yes, do get his eyes and hearing checked though, from your description I don't think the problem lies here. You have been a very good mum by not pushing and forcing him to do anything that he may not enjoy. At this age, kids get frustrated if they feel something is expected of them and they are not able to fulfill those expectations. Perhaps, he may notice some disappointment in your expression when he's not able to say it correctly and decides to give up. Go slow on him. Keep pointing out letters in a way that doesn't look like you are teaching him.

I also feel that he may not be very motivated to learn the alphabets. Have you tried different methods of teaching? You may want to surf the Internet for various fun activities to help kids learn the alphabets. Make the alphabets meaningful to him. E.g., make up a story where the alphabets form the characters. You need to teach him indirectly. Does he go to a pre-school? If he does, you may want to speak with his teachers on what can be done to help him learn his alphabets.

Research has shown that children learn the alphabet in a certain order. A child will learn the curved letters first, then the curved letters with a straight line, and finally the letters with only straight lines. This is the order: S, J, C F, L, V, T, W, K, P, G, A, B, E, D, H, M, Z, N, R, O, I, Q, U, Y, X. You may want to try this.

As you mentioned that he absorbs information very easily, I'm sure all that is needed in this case is to make the learning meaningful to him. When children are engaged in something meaningful, they are motivated to remember by association, which is important in recognizing alphabets.

Children have different learning rates. Your child may need lots of direct instruction to learn the alphabet. Let him learn at his own pace. As he has learnt everything else steadily, he will learn the alphabets when he is ready.


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