My 4-year-old can recognize letters when he's playing Letter Factory, but mixes them up at preschool and even on flashcards. Is this normal? How can I help him?

It’s normal for children to mix up letters when they are first learning about the alphabet. Children are introduced to letters in multiple contexts, and oftentimes, these letters are presented in different styles, shapes and sizes. Although the typeface used in the Letter Factory may be most familiar to your son, he is also seeing letters that use different styles. For example, one uppercase J may have a horizontal line at the top, while another may not.  One lowercase t may have a small curved hook at the bottom, while another has a straight vertical line. Thick lines or thin, slanted or straight, there are more typeface varieties than there are letters in the alphabet, so it’s not surprising that children may have a hard time transferring their letter knowledge from one context to the next. As they develop letter recognition skills, children benefit from frequent opportunities to practice in a variety of ways. For example, play I-Spy with letters on signs, posters, billboards, even cereal boxes. Play with alphabet magnets, blocks, puzzles and flashcards. It’s usually best to introduce letters in alphabetical order, or start with the letters in your child’s name. Uppercase letters can be easier to tell apart, so they are often introduced first. At the same time, the lowercase letters show up more in print, so there are good reasons to include both.

Carolyn James, Ph.D.

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