Number and letter recognition

March 3, 2015 Published by

At Fundamentally Children we always encourage parents to get in touch with their questions about child development. Recently one of our team had a question about number and letter recognition:

“My son is 5 and is learning to read. He finds it very difficult to distinguish p, b and d. This is really holding him back in phonics. Similarly he can’t distinguish 6, 8 and 9. What strategies can you suggest to help him?”

We were really pleased to hear that our suggestions helped, so we decided to share this case study.

Here was our advice:

  • It’s extremely common for children to mix up letters when they’re learning to read and the letters that your son is mixing up are very similar!
  • At age 5 it is too early to diagnose dyslexia, but it is important to monitor these number and letter recognition problems. When they are accompanied by other characteristics, they can be an early symptom of a longer term learning difficulty.
  • If you haven’t already, discuss with his teacher the school’s strategies for supporting children’s letter and number recognition. They will have experience with children of all abilities – don’t be afraid to ask them for extra help!
  • There are a lot of free ideas and resources available online – we’ve rounded up a few of our favourites that might help.

Put the Pig under the Bed

Here’s a fun suggestion from Come Together Kids to practice b, d, p  and g. They suggest a visual technique where a child makes the shape of the letters with their hands and imagines the words pig and bed to remember which way the four letters point. Using an easy to remember saying (put the pig under the bed) as shown in the picture below is a really useful prompt to help children while they’re reading and writing.

Easy way to remember b, d, p and g


6 Sits on its Bottom, 9 Stands Up

Visual aids can be extremely effective for remembering the orientation of numbers. We found some advice for distinguishing 6 and 9 on this forum– they suggest describing the numbers in this way: 9 is bigger than 6, so 6 sits on its bottom, 9 stands up. We’ve had a go at drawing it out!


6 and 9 are easily confused


Make the letters or numbers look different

With the exception of one font specially designed for dyslexic readers, other fonts (including the one we’re writing with!) make 6 and 9 look so similar. It is useful to teach 9 with a straight leg (like an upside-down b) and 6 a curve, making the numbers sufficiently different and easier to remember. To see more typefaces designed for dyslexic adults and children, click here.

Try making a picture of the number with the quantity included – i.e. 6 has six dots along the curve, 9 has nine. The act of designing the two numbers to look different stimulates the visual memory and helps create a long term memory, which will aid recognition.Designing numbers to be different stimulates the visual memory and helps create a long term memory of how they differ

Rhymes to Help Number and Letter Recognition

The Communication 4 All website is full of visual and interactive resources to support primary school children. These rhyme cards help children remember how to form and recognise numbers.

  • Learning to write the number 6Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 02.20.48Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 02.21.03











Toys and Apps that might help

We have reviewed a lot of games and apps that support literacy.

Games such as Zingo Bingo and the Jungle Number Line could be particularly useful for number recognition and there are an ever-increasing number of apps, which can support number recognition and early maths skills. This dot-to-dot number and letters app offers various levels of difficulty to help with numeracy and literacy throughout Key Stage 1.

You can read more about learning to write using apps here.

The best thing you can do to help your child is to try and make number and letter recognition fun.

Has your child encountered a similar problem when learning to read? What helped them?

If you have a question for our experts, please get in touch!


Image Credits: Bev Evans  and Come Together Kids



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This post was written by Anna Taylor

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Games, Toys and apps that may help number and letter recognition