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Print-Rich Environment

Dear Debi,
I have a 3-year old who can say the alphabet by memory but does not recognize his letters. How can I help him?
Bernice, Los Angeles, CA
Debi's Tips
Debi Gutierrez
Debi Gutierrez
  • Use ordinary household items to point out letters and numbers
  • Make signs, labels and charts for items around the home
  • Plan playful literacy experiences like games & reading to children
Expert Advice
Jocelyn Tucker
Jocelyn Tucker
Board Member, National Association for Family Child Care
This question is a typical example of a child memorizing his letters without understanding the concept behind language.

Developmentally, children are not expected to recognize letters and numbers at 3. They simply dont have the tools to understand them at such an early age.

For pre-school age children, pre-literacy skills come from the environment that surrounds them. You can help children with their pre-literacy skills by using ordinary household items and point out letters and numbers.

You can try it with milk cartons and packaged items while preparing a meal, for example. You can also make signs, charts and labels with pictures and words to identify items around the home.

In doing so, you will be creating what we call a print-rich environment. Labeling and showing children words and letters allows them to make connections between the printed word and the function they serve.
Child Care provider Comments
Family child care provider for 5 years
All my toy and play areas are labeled for print recognition. We have words and pictures to go along with them, all over the house.

Ive never had a parent concerned about their child reading with me. In fact, most of my parents have been surprised at how quickly their children are recognizing words. Thats the beauty of print-rich environments, children learn instinctively, by absorbing the world around them.
Alma Martinez
Alma Martinez
Child care provider for 10 years
I use nametags to encourage print recognition. When the children are so young, they dont need to know all the letters of the alphabet.

In my daycare we have about 4 or 5 kids whos names start with the letter A. I point at the first letter of their name in the alphabet and make sure that they look at the letter that follows, B. By doing this, the children begin to understand the logic behind the alphabet, and the relationship it has with them.
Clarissa August
Clarissa August
Family child care provider for 21 years
I have labels everywhere in my home; on tables, on chairs, you name it! To help them understand the formation of a letter, I let kids create letters out of household items, like beans, yarn, etc

I like children to learn through the environment, but they need some guidance. I always make sure that when we sing the ABC song Im also showing them the letters at the same time.

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Topic: Early Learning Areas
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The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC)
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California Child Care Health Program and the Child Care Healthline
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