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How can I interest my preschooler in the ABCs?
It is entirely normal for a child your daughter’s age to have no interest in learning the ABC’s or numbers. Her skill in putting puzzles together is unusual, and she deserves plenty of praise for that. And nothing nourishes creativity more than imaginative play—housekeeping with dolls, dressing up in your old clothes, talking with puppets, etc. When she is engaged in such activity, join her if she would like. You can sustain her interest and increase the creativity of the play by participating. If she hands you a cup of make-believe coffee, comment, “You know, this coffee got too cold. Would you mind putting it back on the stove for a little while?” If she is putting a doll to bed, ask something like, “Is your baby sick? Or is it just nap time?” If you interact with her in this give-and-take way, her play will go on for a longer time and increase in complexity. That sort of learning is the most important type for a 3-year-old.

Incidentally, the very best way to interest young children in reading is to read to them. Don’t let a day go by without reading her a story. She is old enough to enjoy trips to the library to choose and check out books. Most public libraries will issue a card to children her age. Having that, being allowed to choose a location to keep it in and being expected to remember its whereabouts can make a young child feel very much into the world of books.

So, every time you’re tempted to try to teach her the alphabet, suppress the impulse by asking her if she would like you to read to her. And compliment your friend about her son’s precocity in recognizing letters and numbers. Then say, “My daughter just isn’t ready for that yet, and I don’t want to turn her off by pushing her too much.”

Dr. Bettye M. Caldwell Ph.D. Professor of Pediatrics in Child Development and Education