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When do kids know the alphabet?

By Tara Drinks

At a Glance

  • Knowing the alphabet is a key skill for learning to read.

  • Most kids know the alphabet by the time they start kindergarten.

  • Some kids need extra time and practice to learn their ABCs.

The English alphabet is a group of 26 letters that represent sounds in the language. Knowing these letters (and their sounds) is a basic skill kids need when they learn to read. 

Learning the alphabet happens in stages, and some kids learn later than others. But by the time kids start kindergarten, most know the alphabet. Here’s how and when kids typically learn their ABCs:

  • By age 2: Kids start recognizing some letters and can sing or say aloud the “ABC” song.

  • By age 3: Kids may recognize about half the letters in the alphabet and start to connect letters to their sounds. (Like s makes the /s/ sound.)

  • By age 4: Kids often know all the letters of the alphabet and their correct order.

  • By kindergarten: Most kids can match each letter to the sound it makes.

Along the way, kids begin to develop other skills, too. For example, around age 2 or 3, kids figure out the letters in their name. When they start school, they also learn that uppercase A is the same as lowercase a, just capitalized.

While kids typically learn the alphabet at a young age, some may need extra time and practice to master all the letters.

When do kids know the alphabet?

Why kids might struggle with the alphabet

Some kids have trouble recognizing individual letters or the group of letters that make their names. They may confuse letters that look similar, like b and d, or mix up uppercase and lowercase letters.

Often these challenges are part of typical development. Or it may be that a child needs to be exposed to the alphabet more. But for some kids, not knowing the alphabet could be a sign of a deeper issue with language. 

Some kids learn and think differently, and those differences can cause challenges with language. This includes a common learning difference called dyslexia.

Learn about signs of dyslexia at different ages

How to help kids learn the alphabet at home

The best way to help kids learn the alphabet is to have them experience books and language in a fun way. 

You don’t need to buy brand-new puzzles and books to get started. Instead, check out the local thrift store or library. Or talk to family and friends with older kids to see if they have books to pass down.

Here are some activities to try:

  • Read to kids. Try alphabet books like Dr. Seuss’s ABC or Chicka Chicka Boom Boom.

  • Do alphabet puzzles. Floor puzzles are a great way to practice recognizing letters.

  • Play letter scavenger hunts. Ask kids to find things that begin with a certain letter, like finding a book for the letter b.

  • Play alphabet games. Name as many animals as you can that start with the letter d, for example.

  • Make ABC art. Have kids create ABCs with clay or play-dough — or even write letters using crayons. They can also try writing letters in sand or shaving cream. 

Learn more about engaging kids’ senses , like touch, to build their reading skills.  

Next steps

If a child you know is struggling with the alphabet, there are ways to help. Families and educators should connect and share what they see. Together, they can dive deeper into what might be causing the trouble and make an action plan.

Learn more about trouble with reading and how reading skills develop from birth through grade school

Families: Get tips for talking with your child’s teacher about reading challenges.

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