Alphabet blocks like Land of Nod's Nod blocks can help in teaching not only letter names, but phonemic awareness and letter-to-sound correspondence. Children need numerous exposures to print and letters in order to lay the foundation for reading. Alphabet blocks are one way to expose children to alphabetic concepts and phonemic awareness. Each block also helps to reinforce the concept that one letter represents one sound.
Here is a simple and quick activity you can do with your preschooler who is starting to learn the alphabet and letter sounds. Put some stuffed animals, animal figurines or pictures of animals in a bag and have the alphabet blocks ready and off to the side. Have your child pull out an animal from the bag and then place three letter blocks, one being the actual letter that the name of the animal starts with and two other random letters. For example, if your child pulls out a cat, you say, "What letter does 'cat' start with? C-c-cat. C, N or E?" Have your child choose the correct letter (with help if needed). Later, spell out the whole name of the animal and read it with your child so that s/he can get used to what that word looks like and also so that your child can start to learn that one letter stands for one sound. You can repeat these steps with the other animals. Later, you can use alphabet blocks to help teach blending and segmenting (pre-reading skills taught in kindergarten). There are so many good uses for alphabet blocks! They are an essential tool for play and learning in these early years.
Joint writing on a regular basis is also very important for early literacy development. You and your child can draw simple pictures of animals and write words below.
Two engaging and fun iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad apps for learning letters and phonemic awareness are Duck Duck Moose Reading and Endless Alphabet. Another good resource is KinderTown, which is an app that reviews and recommends educational apps in different areas. Their Power Packs are "mini" lesson plans that provide ideas for activities and games in various subjects, such as these: Getting Ready for Kindergarten and Letters and Sounds. Also, for a limited time, KinderTown is offering a 30-day free trial of their Power Parent membership, which gives you access to their Power Packs and other useful features of KinderTown. Lastly, some great phonological and phonemic awareness activities to help your child get ready for reading can be found on this website. Have fun with the process of learning to read!