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Your child should know the alphabet before kindergarten because she'll find school far less confusing if she already knows all her letters — but don't panic if she doesn't have all the letters down pat. There are many different ways to "know" the alphabet. At the simplest level, your child should be able to recite the alphabet, probably with the help of the alphabet song. Learning the alphabet song is fun but doesn't indicate any real understanding of the letters. Your child should know the names of the letters when you point to them, should be able to find letters in words by name, and ideally should be able to associate some of the letters with the sounds they make in words.
How do you "teach" the letters? Very slowly and very patiently: Work on one letter at a time. Spend at least a week or two on the letter. Here are some fun ways to teach the alphabet:
* Practice writing each new letter in sand or fingerpaint. * Form the letters in play dough, cookie dough, or pretzel dough. * Cut the letter out of sandpaper and glue it on cardboard. Trace over it. * Make a large letter out of paste on construction paper and have your child stick cereal, beans, dried noodles, or buttons on the wet paste. * Look for each new letter on cereal boxes, signs, newspapers, and books. * Circle the letter on the pages of magazines or newspapers. Start with capital letters and then move to lower alphabet case. * Make a matching game with pairs of cards made of the capital and lowercase letters. * Start an alphabet book allowing a page for each letter. Count how many times you see your letter during the day or during a car trip.
The biggest mistake most parents make is trying to do too much at one time and confusing their children. This project can take at least a year or perhaps even longer for some children; others pick it up much faster. And remember, don't worry if she hasn't mastered all 26 letters before school starts; the letters will be taught again in kindergarten.