The first step in your child’s journey toward reading and writing is learning their ABC’s, and one of the most effective ways to teach them is with teaching toys that make playtime fun as well as educational.
The alphabet has been incorporated into all kinds of children’s toys, from classic building blocks to puzzles and electronic picks, so parents have a plethora to choose from — the most beneficial toys, however, incorporate other developmental tasks as well.
If you’re wondering how to pick a great toy that covers them from A to Z, don’t worry! We’ve spelled it out for you, and reviewed some of the best alphabet learning toys for your little one. Read on!
In this article:
How do I choose the right alphabet toys for my child?
- Safety: Whenever you’re choosing toys or gear for your kids, safety must be the first consideration. As alphabet toys are usually for kids under three, it’s important to avoid those that are choking hazards — crafty kits with alphabet beads and decorative nursery items that feature the alphabet shouldn’t double as toys for little ones, as they’re often simply unsafe.
- Durability: Although we’d like to imagine our toddlers spending the majority of their time with their alphabet toys in quiet contemplation, the truth is that they’ll get banged around, tossed, shoved, stacked, and toted around just like the rest of their toy collection. That means, as always, to choose toys that can stand up to your kiddo’s roughhousing. This is important, as returns and rebuys are no fun for anyone, so be sure to get a sturdy pick the first time!
- Additional developmental benefits: As we’ve established, there are all kinds of toys, books, and teaching tools for alphabet learning, some more dynamic than others. Picks like blocks that can be used for building or stacking, and which incorporate other visual elements like numbers, colors, and objects, work as teaching tools on multiple levels, making them some of the best alphabet learning toys available.
At what age should my child begin learning the alphabet? What milestones should parents be on the lookout for?
Although most children begin to identify some letters around age 2, it takes several years for them to fully master the alphabet. Typically, by age 5, children can recite the alphabet from start to finish.
Playing with alphabet toys and sharing reading time with adults can help children to better grasp the alphabet and prepare them for reading independently. Here are some milestones to watch for:
- By age 3, many children can identify some letters on sight and match the sound a letter makes to its written image.
- Between 3 and 4, children generally begin writing letters with guidance, especially those associated with their name, and familiar phrases like “mommy” “daddy” and “I love you.”
- By age 5, most children can write all of the letters of the alphabet, but don’t yet understand writing in case; they can also write some simple words, and even tell very short stories, though these may not be fully clear.
Why are alphabet toys an important developmental tool for young children?
In order to learn to read and write, children must first master the alphabet, and it’s better to start learning before they enter preschool or kindergarten.
Their learning style and attention span require toys that they can enjoy in short bursts, and that captivate their attention with sensory stimulation such as bright colors and satisfying textures.
A pencil and paper simply won’t be sufficient to teach a toddler the alphabet, as it won’t hold their interest.
Children need to be engaged on their level; they seek to play, they need stimulus, their focus is limited, yet they genuinely love to learn and please us with their accomplishments.
If we offer them alphabet toys that not only provide opportunities for learning their ABCs but also to play and reap other developmental benefits, we can be sure they’ll gain age-appropriate knowledge that can point them towards scholastic success.
Our best picks for the best alphabet learning toys
Vtech is all about combining technology with kid-friendly learning that’s not overstimulating, and they click all the boxes with this VTech Touch & Learn Activity Desk (check price on Amazon) that goes far beyond just teaching ABCs.
The desk can transform into a chalkboard or easel, and even has a side station for storing your child’s art supplies when not in use.
Kids can switch between five activity pages, one of which prompts them through tracing letters, numbers, and basic shapes, as well as paring letters with like-named objects like apple, book, cat, and others.
They’ll learn over 100 new vocabulary words, work on more than 20 educational activities, and sing and hum along with a number of tunes and melodies.
Parents should note that this powerhouse desk is powered by 4 AA batteries (not included).
At a glance
- It’s an interactive toy devoted exclusively to learning, with alphabet, number, color, and shape lessons as well as new vocabulary words to master
There’s a lot to love about this alphabet-themed DUPLO set, an ideal pick for encouraging hands-on interest in young learners.
The LEGO DUPLO Play Set (check price on Amazon) stimulates fine motor development, spatial reasoning, problem-solving, and creative play, plus the bricks can be combined with other bricks and sets in the play system, creating a whole world of fun for young builders.
This set combines a block for each letter of the alphabet, a buildable house front with two opening windows, a movable wheeled cart, plus DUPLO child and cat figures that are perfect for storytelling play.
What we love
- Building their own creations while they learn is made easy by the blocks’ simple connectors, while it's a perfect toy for facilitating early imaginative play
- All the letters are capital, except the I, which is lower case — not terrible but definitely unusual
Our third choice
When it comes to learning the alphabet and early language concepts, not much beats regularly reading with your child as a teaching tool.
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom (check price on Amazon) is a classic alphabet learning book that many parents may recall from their own childhoods. In this Caldecott award-winning book, all the letters of the alphabet hurry to make their way up the colorfully illustrated coconut tree.
Rhythm and rhyme captivate children as they read through the irresistible, memorable text with their parents, making recalling letters by name (and in order) easier with repeated reading.
At a glance
- Reading with your kids is important to their language development, and this is a classic book for alphabet memorization
Best wooden alphabet toy
In the 1400s, Johannes Gutenberg invented movable type, the technology that facilitated the printing press and made books accessible to the masses.
The similar, though wooden, Montessori Movable Alphabet (check price on Amazon) is seen here in a classic toy that encourages children to learn consonant and vowel sounds, then assemble words with these sturdy, colorful letters.
The set includes five of each consonant, as well as ten of each vowel, so they can build multiple words at once. It’s great for hands-on learning, allowing children to observe each letter independently and to experiment with word-changing by adding and eliminating letters.
What we love
- It’s a unique, well-crafted, Montessori-supported toy, with emphasis exclusively on alphabet learning
- All letters are lower case, so kids can’t learn capital letters with this toy
Our fifth choice
We think the self-correcting Alphabet Letter Puzzle (check price on Amazon) from Melissa & Doug is a great example of a well-rounded alphabet teaching toy.
It combines large, legible upper and lower case letters with same-letter objects (a for apple, b for butterfly), including bright, solid colors for color memorization.
For even more developmental benefit, each letter/color and object combo is broken into a two-piece puzzle with unique connecting pegs. This means that only similar pieces can be matched, presenting children with a clear goal to work towards.
Assembling the pieces is great for their critical thinking abilities and fine motor skills, and the toy is ideal for teaching tots about ABCs, colors, and common words.
At a glance
- It’s a triple threat, combining ABC, color, and word learning with fine motor skill development and opportunities to develop critical thinking
Our sixth choice
This is an alphabet toy that thinks outside the box and gets learning in the bag. Alphabet Bean Bags (check price on Amazon) are cheerful, yellow square toys made of washable felt.
There are 26 bean bags (one for each letter of the alphabet), with an upper case letter on one side and its lower case partner on the reverse. Consonants and vowels are easily identifiable through the toy’s color-coding system, with vowels in red and consonants in blue.
The bean bags can be used to play games that incorporate both physical and mental elements, and tossing and catching them is an age-appropriate exercise that stimulates their gross motor skill development.
At a glance
- Even though these are for alphabet learning, they’re not just a toy for sitting still; they’re durable enough to be tossed around, can be incorporated into physical learning games, and are machine washable
Our seventh choice
The letters in this cute little soup bowl might not be edible, but they’re certainly educational, offering kids opportunities to improve their letter recognition, sorting abilities, and fine motor skills.
The Learning Resources Alphabet Soup (check price on Amazon) includes a white plastic bowl rimmed with colorful polka dots, a large-handled ‘spoon’ that’s ideal for small hands, and 26 letters in red, green, pink, yellow, and blue.
Kids can build words, sort the pieces by color, identify letters by shape, and improve their memory and recollection skills while playing with this quirky, fun toy — parents should make sure it doesn’t sneak its way into the play kitchen, though, as the 1″ letters are choking hazards for kids under 3 years.
What we love
- It’s a quirky-but-highly-functional spin on traditional alphabet toys, also offering opportunities for kids to improve their fine motor skills, color identification, and sorting abilities
- The 1″ letters are choking hazards for kids under 3 years
Our eighth choice
These colorful, wide-eyed dinos aren’t just a fun addition to creative play, they’re also an alphabet puzzle that stimulates critical thinking and can function as a color-teaching and sorting tool.
The Boley Literate Dinos (check price on Amazon) is a 26-piece set, with each dinosaur separating at the middle for a total of 52 pieces. The front of each dinosaur features a capital letter, while the rear features a matching lower case letter.
The pieces are easy for toddlers to take apart and put together, ideal for their small motor skill development.
Kids use problem-solving, color, and letter-identifying skills to figure out which pieces go together with this safe learning tool, a great, first alphabet-learning toy; and even when the dinos are separated, the pieces don’t pose a choking hazard.
What we love
- The cute dinos make a fun addition to toddler pretend play, and kids can practice sorting, color and letter-identification, along with fine motor skills
- It’s not a great pick for spelling out words, making it better as an early teaching tool
Our ninth choice
Soft, squishy, and colorful foam mats create a comfortable place for kids to play when they’re designed as puzzles such as the ProSource Alphabet & Numbers Play Mat (check price on Amazon).
They also stimulate problem-solving skills and encourage fine and gross motor development. This giant foam play mat features letters from A to Z and numbers from 0 through 9 in a variety of bright colors.
Each individual letter or number tile in the puzzle mat can be removed from its square, allowing your toddler to focus on the shape of the letters and begin to build words easily.
The mat also features 24 border pieces that snap easily into the perimeter of the mat’s outer tiles, bringing it to a full 6′ x 6′ in use.
What we love
- It’s not just a safe and comfortable play mat, but also has removable letters for teaching the alphabet, encouraging gross and fine motor skill use, and promoting color and number identification
- There are no lower case letters on the mat
Our tenth choice
Alphabet Blocks (check price on Walmart) has become an iconic childhood toy with good reason, providing natural opportunities for teaching letters and words as well as facilitating play that benefits toddlers’ fine motor skills.
Parents can count on Melissa & Doug, who are well known for their age-appropriate, developmentally beneficial toys that eschew overstimulation and electronic features in favor of independent, creative play that promotes cognitive development. This wheeled wooden cart and block combo are no exception.
The blocks, which feature a colored, embossed letter on one side, are also decorated with the same outlined letter as well as familiar objects to identify.
The blocks store neatly into a natural wooden cart with pinch-free wheels and a pull string that makes it safe and easy for tots to improve their gross motor skills.
At a glance
- In addition to being an excellent toy for teaching the alphabet, these blocks and their storage cart also encourage fine and gross motor skill improvements
Our eleventh choice
While alphabet blocks are a great teaching tool, and also fun to play with, parents and kids are all too familiar with how easily a towering creation can come toppling to the floor.
This can be frustrating for little ones, and these easy Stack ‘n Learn Alphabet Blocks (check price on Amazon) from Fisher-Price tackle the quandary quite neatly by adding connector elements to the tops and bottoms of each block, allowing them to attach and detach easily while remaining vertical, with less chance of toppling.
Brightly colored in rainbow hues, the blocks each feature a letter of the alphabet and an object that begins with that letter, ranging from apple to zebra.
Kids can stack, spell, sort, and learn with this set, which also features colorful divider blocks and a chunky Little People dog figurine that can attach to a block.
What we love
- Unlike regular alphabet block sets, they won’t topple over quite as easily, and can remain stacked if they do
- The balancing that traditional alphabet blocks encourage is an aspect of small motor development, and the addition of connectors removes it from the equation
Our twelfth choice
Who said alphabet blocks have to be ‘business as usual’? This unique set of cardboard Nesting and Stacking Blocks from Melissa and Doug (check price on Target) features 10 blocks, ranging from large to small.
They incorporate the entire alphabet as well as vivid, detailed illustrations of objects and scenes familiar to toddlers. They’re a good pick for helping tots improve letter and word recognition, practicing sorting, and exercising their developing fine motor capabilities.
The blocks all nest inside one another to store in a cube, so take up very little space, and their cardboard construction is durable and will withstand repeated ‘tumbling tower’ scenarios!
What we love
- They’re a great twist on traditional alphabet blocks, adding a spatial reasoning element and bright illustrations for extra learning opportunities
- There’s not a block for every letter, so this set can’t be used for making words
Our thirteenth choice
With this pocket-sized pick, kids can improve their letter recognition, engage in creative play, and learn about new animals.
The My Own Leaptop from LeapFrog (check price on Walmart) can even spell out your child’s name once you’ve customized it to do so, encouraging them to repeat the sequence, examine the letters, and practice the sounds.
They’ll hear over 15 songs and melodies, learn animal names, and, of course, study the alphabet from A to Z on this portable toy with a handle that makes it easy to carry around.
They can also check and send pretend ’emails’ with one of the laptop’s features, adding to their imaginative play.
At a glance
- They can learn the alphabet, listen to songs and music, and even see their own name spelled out, once parents have customized the device
And our winner is…
A toy that can inspire kids to learn, imagine, and create is what’s in store when they sit down at this Deluxe VTech Touch & Learn Activity Desk (check price on Amazon).
It’s packed with developmental opportunities disguised as fun games and follow-along activities that are easy for 3 to 4-year-olds to grasp.
We especially love the personalization element — you can program your child’s name into the device, and they can see it spelled out on-demand, learning to recognize and say the letters.