7 Alphabet Toys for Playfully Teaching Kids to Read

Reading is an integral part of almost any education plan... and alphabet toys are probably one of the easiest and fun ways to teach your kid the basic skills.

The Alphapet Explorer is a popular eduational toy for toddlers to learn letter recognition and word associations.

"Since my son got the Letter Discoveries for Christmas, he has finally started to learn phonics which I had previously tried teaching him using flashcards. Like the other posters have mentioned, this toy's music doesn't drive me crazy. It's easier on the nerves than most. The toy has many features including a game in which children are either given the letter name or the sound and asked to locate the corresponding letter. It keeps score so you can monitor progress. The music option lets them play the alphabet song providing they hit the letter keys in order from left to right (like reading). Great toy! We have lots of electronic toys, but this is my son's favorite." 

Learning to recognize the alphabet is the first step of any formal education plan.

But the trick is to allow your child to ‘play’ and from this ‘play’ grasp the concepts that we would like her to ‘study’.

By far, alphabet toys are the best examples of educational toys that help the child learn while playing.

When I began my career as a private tutor about a decade and a half ago, I was mostly working with kids who were having difficulty coping with their school syllabus. These kids were roughly about 10 year or older.

However, lately I find my services are being used much more often in the case of pre-school goers. Problems like dyslexia, autism and even Down syndrome seem to be getting diagnosed early and parents are stepping in with intervention plans.

One of my most difficult tasks is teaching these pre school goers alphabet recognition and also the sounds that these letters make. Of course, I need to use a lot of props depending on the child’s age and ability. Alphabet toys are one of my most favorite and successfully used props in teaching children the basics of English scriptures.

LeapFrog Fridge Phonics Magnetic Alphabet Set LeapFrog Scribble and Write LeapFrog My Own Leaptop

Below is a list of some of the toys that I have used along with the age category that I have found them useful for.

Alphabet Toys for 6+ months

The aim here is not to overwhelm your child with the 26 letters, but just to familiarize her with the various forms of the letters.

Leap Frog Spin and Sing Alphabet Zoo

The Spin and Sing Alphabet Zoo will probably keep your child's attention longer then any other toy she owns.

The Spin and Sing Alphabet Zoo will probably keep your child's attention longer then any other toy she owns.

What I like about this spinning toy is that it doesn't force your child to focus on the alphabets only. There are three modes to this toy and while the letter mode will have the name of the letter announced each time the spin stops at a particular letter, the animal mode will simply say the name of the animal along with its corresponding sound.

The music mode plays a soothing music that stops once the spinning stops. As is clear the toy offers much more than just alphabet recognition.

The fine motor skills of the child are teased and developed by inciting the child to spin the toy for the desired effect.

I have used these toys with kids as old as 18 months and found that children loved the fact that they spin the ball and there was no telling where the roll would stop.

This unstructured format of the alphabet helped me to test their knowledge from time to time. This is why I keep the toy handy even for testing my older kids. The toy is easy on the child’s visual senses and allows the baby to play without having to bother with adult assistance.

Since there are no small parts, chocking is not an issue and kids can be left even in the play pen with the toy. All in all, the toy is perfect for the first exposure to letters of the English alphabet.

Alphabet Toys for 18+ months

A child of a year and a half has usually mastered her hand eye co-ordination better than a baby who is 6 months. This is why it becomes necessary to bring in movements that require more control. Also, by now your child needs to focus on the letters individually and understand their chronological order too.

Educo Alphabet Abacus

The Abacus is gorgeous, colourful, sturdy and spinny - and it is sure to engage and educate.

The Abacus is gorgeous, colorful, sturdy and engaging - and it is sure to entertain and educate.

I found this alphabet toy very hardy and loved the fact that it did not require batteries. The colors on the blocks are one step above the primary ones and therefore expose the child’s mind to much more than just the basics like red, blue, white, etc.

A lot of my kids learnt the names of colors like orange, purple, lime green, while playing with this toy.

Apart from the 26 letters, the abacus also introduces the kids to the first ten numbers. Each block is spun to show an item from the child’s world that corresponds with the letter.

While the fine motor skills of the child are developed, her visual senses and her cognitive abilities are not ignored either. Apart from learning to identify each and every upper case letter of the alphabet, the toy also helps in memorizing the chronological flow of the alphabet.

As opposed to beads, I find this Abacus much safer, handy and also much less 'messy'.

Classic Embossed Alphabet Blocks ABC Melissa & Doug Deluxe 10-Piece Alphabet Nesting and Stacking Blocks Fisher-Price Little People Builders Stack 'n Learn Alphabet Blocks

Alphabet Toys for 36+ months (3+ years)

Three year old kids are mostly much smarter than we give them credit for. Their minds are ready to put the alphabet letters in various combinations in order to make small words and therefore the need to expose the child to adequate stimulation.

Melissa and Doug Magnetic Wooden Alphabet

The best part of this Wooden Alphabet toy is that the entire back of the letter is magnetic, not just a little piece like those cheap plastic magnetic letters. These will not fall off and they are strong enough to hold artwork up on the fridge.

The best part of this Wooden Alphabet toy is that the entire back of the letter is magnetic, not just a little piece like those cheap plastic magnetic letters. These will not fall off and they are strong enough to hold artwork up on the fridge.

Before I found these wooden alphabets, I would often encourage the parents to put up the smaller magnetic ones on their fridge, etc. However, I have found that the wooden magnetic alphabet by Melissa and Doug are not only larger and much more easily handled by kids, but also attract the child visually with their glossy finish.

The fact that the back of the alphabet is completely magnetic helps to keep the letter in place, which is very important when the child begins to form small two to three letter words.

The great part is that these letters come in both upper and lower case and work perfectly in teaching the difference between the two. Sorting the letters out in the two cases works well as an activity to help identify the differences between the two cases.

I find it very easy to make the child understand the concept of three letter words like ‘mat, ‘bat’, ‘cat’, etc by using this alphabet set.

Alphabet Toys for 48+ months (4+ years)

Kids this age are ready for some big time learning.

Most children already have a good grasp of their letters by now and need to move beyond just letter recognition. They need to know the chronological order of the English alphabet, combinations that will work to make small words, sounds the letters make and so much more.

Indeed this requires alphabet toys of a caliber higher than the one discussed before. Since a majority of my students are in this age group, I have tried out a larger variety of alphabet toys in this segment.  

Melissa and Doug Deluxe Alphabet Stamp Set

The alphabet stamps are good quality, easy to hold and comes in a sturdy storage box (no lid). The stamped letters are clear and the font is easy to read.

The Alphabet Stamps are good quality, easy to hold and comes in a sturdy storage box (no lid). The stamped letters are clear and the font is easy to read.

This is one alphabet toy set I swear by. It has helped me teach a lot of kids the concept of putting letters together in order to form words.

The problem with most other alphabet sets was that once we made a word say ‘MAT’, then it was not possible to make the word ‘CAT’ without breaking up the ‘MAT’ first.

This did not work well when I was trying to drive home the concept of similar words. Not being able to see the words and compare them was causing complication. And buying many sets of alphabet toys was not a viable option. With the stamp set I found that the kids could stamp away to glory and make as many words as they like without having to spoil the ones made before.

The fact that the ink is not toxic and washable works fantastically. Apart from the helping learn the various aspects of the English alphabet, the Alphabet Stamp Set worked very well to teach my four year olds a lot about hand eye co-ordination and also how applying a certain amount of force is important to get the desired results.

Melissa and Doug Upper and Lower Case Alphabet

Upper and lower case alphabet toy for learning the difference between the two letter uses

You'll find beautiful full color illustrations under each upper and lower case letter make learning easy and fun! It also helps children develop their letter and case recognition, as well as manual dexterity and matching skills.

While most kids will get the capital letters quite easily, the lower case tends to be a bit confusing. Almost every child I have worked with has confused the ‘b’ and ‘d’ and of course the ‘p’ and ‘q’.

This upper and lower case alphabet toy is effective in helping children see the relationship between the capital letter and its corresponding lower case. There is a well crafted picture puzzle where these letters fit perfectly.

The ‘A’ has an airplane under it while the ‘a’ has a picture of an apple. This helped me a lot especially in teaching one of my autistic students the fact that while upper and lower case look different, they produce the same sound.

Melissa and Doug See and Spell

The Melissa and Doug See and Spell is a wonderful way to teach your toddler to spell, recognize his letters, and work on developing motor function.

The Melissa and Doug See and Spell is a wonderful way to teach your toddler to spell, recognize his letters, and work on developing motor function.

This alphabet toy set comes with 50 colorful letters along with 20 picture boards with the appropriate letters cut out on the board.

The idea here is to help the child build on her spelling skills. She is to see the picture and then choose the letters that will form the word corresponding to the picture.

There is a good mix of three and four letter words, which is ideal for this age group. The pictures are simple like frog, tree, bus, fish, etc, which is why they appeal to the senses of the child.

See and Spell is durable and what I particularly like about it is the visual aid that it provides in order to help the child understand the word better. The image of the frog immediately makes the child think of the word frog, which is cut out on the board and then the kid needs to find the corresponding letters and fit them in.

The challenge is not too little and not overboard either... it's a perfect formula for this age bracket.

Fridge Words Magnetic Word Builder Melissa & Doug Deluxe Wooden Stringing Beads Eureka Tub Of Letter Tiles

Alphabet Toys for 7+ years)

Most children this age are already reading. They know their basics and understand the structure of the English alphabet, its correct order and even the sounds made by them. These kids have far surpassed the two, three and even four letter word stage and are now experimenting with their knowledge to build on it further.

The need now is to bring on an alphabet toy that allows them complete freedom to create what they want.

Bananagrams

Bananagrams is an original, super fun and portable alphabet game. It's also a great game to travel with, play in hotel, at pool, on plane, keep kids busy at restaurant while waiting for dinner! Lots of ways to use this portable, simple game.

Bananagrams is an original, super fun and portable alphabet game. It's also a great game to travel with, play in hotel, at pool, on a plane, and keep kids busy at restaurant while waiting for dinner! Lots of ways to use this portable, simple game.

Personally I feel this is a must-have for any home with kids who can read and form words. With about 144 letters, it is scrabble set free.

One can form long words, short ones and simply set their cognitive skills rolling when working with this toy. I find this toy great for times when the kids are loosing focus of the task at hand.

A short five minute game of Bananagrams ensures that everyone is awake and excited once more.

Of course due to the small size of the letters, it is important to keep them away from younger kids, but the banana pouch does help in storing the letters properly.

Since the game does not require a pencil, paper or even a board, it comes across as a simple ‘game’ for the kids. Not only the kids, but I myself have enjoyed Bananagrams on several occasions and highly recommend this alphabet toy.


Children are very quick learners and all one needs is to be able to give them their knowledge in an attractive package.

I once worked with a three year old autistic child who could name almost every car from a World Car Guide. It was interesting to watch him make names of cars using the alphabet stamp set, however he was not making much progress with the wooden alphabets.

Indeed there is no ‘one strategy that will work for all the kids, so it is important that you figure out where your child’s interest lies and then develop a teaching plan that revolves around this interest.

So, while these toys do fall within a certain age bracket, it is not necessary that you expose only kids that correspond with the age recommendation of the toy, to that particular toy.

Simply work from your child’s view point and you are much more likely to be successful.

For more on teaching very young children to read, go here.

Alphabet Toys >> Educational Toys