My step-child is struggling to retain letters and numbers: How can I help him?

I am currently taking on the role of “mommy” to two boys, 9 and 5. Their mother, my boyfriend’s ex-wife, is in prison for multiple counts against her through CPS and some felony charges. My boyfriend is in the Army, so he doesn’t get to spend a lot of time at home. Therefore I’m pretty much the primary caregiver. I get them to and from school, make their lunches make sure homework gets done, etc. Anyway, The 5 yr old started preschool this year. I am trying sooooo hard to help the teachers out bc he’s not “retaining” letters and numbers. He doesn’t even recognize all of the letters in his name. With my experience with children, parents would teach their children these things before they’re enrolled in school. Anyway, what can I do to help him learn? Another thing, he thinks its funny when I try to teach him like its a joke or something. I don’t know what to do. I’m so frustrated. Is this normal!?? Or should I get him tested to get more help? I’m open to any suggestions. TIA!!!


Get him tested for more help but be patient with him while you teach him . You can make a game out of it so it will be fun

Have you tried any games? My kids love flash cards. I would really talk to his teacher and see what they recommend. Those things are normal for them to learn during preschool.

I would get him tested. I have an 11 year old who is autistic. Although he may not look it, he definitely is. He has an IEP in school and a one on one aide (he’s had this since 3 years old), he STILL to this day can NOT write has name correctly.

1 Like

My son has adhd and a learning disability he didn’t learn these things until around 1st grade I only remember because my husband and I considered holding him back if he didn’t get it figured out by the end of the year. He’s now in sixth grade and isn’t totally where he should be but he can read for the most part and is doing very well. Some kiddos it just takes a little longer. Keep trying after school and see how it goes if you don’t see improvement within like I dunno id say a month or two maybe talk to your child teachers and see what they think and if they feel the same way you do maybe schedule a iep meeting from there.

My son is this way he’s in first grade this year he still doesn’t retain numbers I fought to get him tested in kindergarten I had him held back so he completed a second year of kindergarten and again I fought for testing they finally did and he tested for mild intellectual disability and now that he goes to a special classroom everyday for two hrs he’s starting to catch up to the other kids and brings home all As on his tests

You may suggest a testing for dyslexia. We had that same problem.


Flash cards are really helpful, also i heard is really awesome for helping with school stuff for little kids before school

1 Like

Does the 5 year old like watching tv? Leap frog letter factory and phonics farm helped my kids learn their letters and all the sounds they make. They have number ones too. Great use of screen time. Children also learn best in the morning

I used games with my son. Put a magnet on a string/stick(fishing pole style) and then put letters on floor with paper clips. Magnet sticks to paper clips. Let him go fishing. Deal is, hes only allowed to pick up the one u tell him too. Talk to the teachers before rushing to get him tested. U may piss off bf and/or baby mama.

figure out how he learns do it his way I had the same problem with my adopted daughter after I figured out how she learned I changed the way I taught her

Like others suggested, games. He is 5, most 5 year olds dont understand body language and that we are being serious, also they just dont have the same capacity to sit still. I would try making matching cards, maybe even make a “hide and seek” type game where you can post like 2 of all the lets in different locations and have him find the pairs. Kids will retain anything if its delivered in a fun form, that’s why kids will copy things they watch, and behave how they see other kids behaving. Dont make learning one big, long, sit down event. Just make little 5-10 minute games and maybe do one before dinner and one before they start bed time routine? That’s 20 minutes of learning and he would probably be better at learning the info that way. Also start small, teach 3 or 4 letters at a time!

Also maybe get his vision checked.

1 Like

My daughter went into kindergarten not knowing all of her letters. What they need the most is social skills. Anything on top of that in preschool is just extra.

1 Like

Sis, 1. You ain’t a step mother until you become wife cause anybody else can replace you in a deep breath!
2. This child needs counselling and help.


I understand the struggles my daughter was having issues with this aswell and when I tried to help with all the papers the school would give out she would laugh or even cry to get out of learning. It’s hard as a parent to see your little struggle. She went through kindergarten all the way and we decided to hold her back for a second year but in the meantime I made learning into games like matching the upper case and lower case together or even matching upper to upper, lower to lower, same idea with numbers also get your older child involved younger siblings will follow in the older ones footsteps. I just learned to make it fun and not like “work”. Good luck and just stay positive and keep up the good work.

Make up games? Get hula hoops like 3 to start lay them on floor and make him jump from each one counting. When outside make a tiny pile of leafs and count them. Flash cards… I even heard the website ABC MOUSE really does help. I don’t no bout it personally tho.

1 Like

Flash cards help , also help them make the numbers & letters out of felt or beans, buttons or Lego’s something that they can associate with creativity which stimulates their memory of each one! Break down their learning into smaller time restraints, maybe 10 or 20 mins. at a time for each step taking a small 5 minute break if they become restless. Anything that makes learning it fun,write a jingle & sing it…etc.

1 Like

Youtube homeschool pop, work books for age group for practice, read and practice

look up mathematics dyslexia . The tricks,lay out powered pudding, let child trace letters, numbers. They can lick fingers. Print out recipe for pretzels . Let child mix mesure and bake into numbers and letters. He can eat what he gets right. Empty egg cartons numbered inside. fill with marbles . you can teach adding,skip counting. Old calendar cut up to play with numbers. Tape measure are fun to measure . It may sound dumb but crawling help the brain.

The best thing you can do is stay involved with the school. Insist on testing, he may have a learning disability. He could qualify for a tutor or other helpful things.

Further testing can definitely help. Therapy is also warranted given the situation with mum.

Choose children’s books that rhyme and use dramatic voices to make it fun.

So good to see someone stepping up, it sounds like you care for them and are doing your best to give them a loving home.

1 Like

My daughter is currently going through this, in kindergarten. She already started speech therapy and we are going to the next intervention level. Usually the schools work with you.
Anything educational is great. ABC mouse…private tutors, but dont get too upset…a lot of that is normal for kids up to the 2nd grade including writing letters backwards.

If he’s just now in preschool and hasn’t had a decent parent at home teaching these things until now, he’s fine. He will pick it up. He just need to catch up. If after a few months of school you’re not noticing any difference, speak to his pediatrician.

1 Like

Put the name of everything chair when you walk by say and spell chair stove the same. Taught my youngest with my ex laughing at me but he read by 2 years old! Looks who is laughing then!

Have him watch Letterland on YouTube. They have songs about letters and the sounds they make.

We do flash cards and make it game using my step son’s favorite candy to get him interested … if you have a tablet look up fun learning games we used a sesame street one which they can trace letters with their finger and the letter and sound is recited to them also has fun videos … does a picture game which you find the object that sounds like a certain letter… stuff like that helped us out dramatically


Your an amazing woman.


Use Letterland characters! That helped my daughter tremendously!

If he is only in preschool , do not stress and do not put stress on him about it. He is learning to be in school, have structure, follow directions, and get along with peers. If he doesn’t know letters and numbers by first half of kindergarten, then maybe look into an evaluation (even then, he may just need more time). Teach him to enjoy learning. Buy letter puzzles, number puzzles, learning games , read lots of alphabet and counting books. Make it a bonding thing instead of a stressor or a quiz. Be patient, he will get there :blush:

Request the school district conduct a special education evaluation- once you know the issues you can figure out how to move forward. Also call military one source for referrals for education advocates. Cps should also he able to make referrals.

1 Like

Well done mumma for being there for those children.


ABC mouse .com. done amazing with my daughters. It taught them so much and done amazing for them before school started

I used flash cards and abc mouse

First off, get him to sing the ABC’S with you on YouTube every day. Same with counting. You have to be consistent even if it drives you nuts. Get him to trace letters every day, get him to make the sounds of those letters, use flash cards. If he needs extra help at school, then get it for him. The sooner you get someone to help him at school the better. You have to make it fun for him. Stop getting angry because he isn’t going to want to learn that way. He’s just going to see you’re getting frustrated. Also give him a sticker chart so when he does some of these things he gets a sticker. Get him books that have the alphabets/numbers in it and read to him. You have to engage and make it fun so he takes an interest in it.

  1. This child may be dealing with the aftermath of trauma of mom is in prison for abuses? If dad hasn’t been around a lot and it was mom, they are likely dealing with issues related to her being gone as well. I would be focusing on emotional and mental wellbeing at this point. Also, hes only 5. Studies have not shown early education to be beneficial to children, and what hes doing is actually age appropriate. Look up milestones. Hes on target.

Its normal, thinking it’s funny. Especially in kids that come from a complicated upbringing.

Try games, food association, music association, and some of the tv shows. Word party is good- a little annoying- but good.

People learn differently. How it is being taught just may not be how he recieves. But try a mix of things, and when you see improvement or change

Ask what he likes and what makes him remember better. He may answer, he may not. But if he does, it helps. And if it doesn’t, you know you can keep up a mix of things and know that it is working.

Oh and color association. Some people learn through color.

He could have a learning disorder, or he could just he 5 needing to figure out how he learns best

1 Like

There’s lots of kid friendly apps and videos. Search for educational toys for the holidays too. Get magnet letters and numbers and play with them on the fridge.

The app our school and occupational therapist use with my son is (handwriting without tears) my son has autism and has trouble with retaining the same info and or doing them backwards and it has helped a lot.

Letter and number magnets. Let him “write” stuff on refrigerator.

1 Like

Look into alphablocks on utube and phonics videos. Satpin are the first letters to learn as you can build a lot of words from them. Play games, he’s 5.
Make a gameboard with letters, roll the dice and whatever letter you land on you say the sound/letter/word starting with.
Write the letters on concrete with chalk.
Play hopscotch with numbers, whatever you land on say the number.
Any board games that use a dice.
Roll 2 dice and add them together.
Get a couple of fly swatters and put all the letters out on a table. Say a letter the first one to swat it wins that letter. You can also do this while standing and the first to stomp on the letter wins.

Have him tested for learning disabilities

1 Like

Number and letter puzzles kids learn through play and it is really important to their all over development

My sons is almost 4 and doesn’t know crap. He’s just not into it, and I try so hard

1 Like

Depending on how you feel about screen, and I’m not sure of he’s too old, but Blippi has a letter video. It’s like 40 minutes long. My son watches it almost every day and he’s learned all but 2 or 3 of his letters. He just turned two. Or just find an alphabet video with something he loves. I believe they also make alphabet matching games that could be a fun way. Maybe involve big brother if he is willing.

Make fun flash cards and tape them up ALL over the house. All the letters and numbers 1-10 is fine for this age. Point out the letters and numbers through out the day. Say them for him first then let him repeat you. Start counting EVERYTHING! count while washing hands…while getting dressed…while brushing teeth. Make little songs of how to spell his name… S O P, H I E, thats how you spell Sophie! (Thats my daughters name song) try to spell out sight words with whatever letters you’re closest too. Consistency is key. If he doesnt know a number or letter, tell him its ok and tell him what it is. Getting frustrated won’t help. Be patient and forgiving! Hoping things work out for you!

Hire a professional tutor, could be developmental or maturity. Here in Texas we can test kids as young as 5 for learning disabilities.

I am sorry but he is 5… My boys didn’t retain that stuff at that age. They don’t have learning disabilities. My 3 yr old though is learning and retaining because his older brothers are in school and he wants to be like them.

1 Like

Make a game with the letters… and number show him letter and number songs, color book with letters

If know one has worked with him how would he know them? Look at what he does know and go from there .

Good for you for being mom to them both

As a mother of a daughter with learning disability’s including adhd, dyslexia and seizures I completely understand how you feel and what you are going through

Both my daughters teachers and her Neurologist have suggested flash cards with her abc’s and numbers, they also recommended abc mouse

If he likes music google Jack Hartmann
He’s all about fun learning songs

It helped my daughters who are 7

First off, stop getting frustrated. When you get frustrated, the child can sense it and you’ll get a negative response. Repetition is key and find unique ways of learning. like using their favorite cereal and using those letters like “L” is for Lucky Charms. Find some learning toys. Kids like that kind of stuff and eventually it will stick, just have to be patient.


I had my 5yr old bonus son evaluated bcuz he had the SAME problems. Found out he has ADHD. So we just do very short brief learning sessions. He cant start school till next yr bcuz of his birthday. Do something fun. Count cars, candy etc

I would suggest having him evaluated for learning disabilities or maybe behavioral issues.
Its a good starting point to getting answers and finding the best way to help him.

Talk to his pediatrician or his school about getting him some developmental therapy maybe? I don’t know what there is for 5 year olds, but when my son was around a year and still not babbling his doctor recommended speech therapy but gave us the option to wait til 15 months and see if we saw any change. We waited and still no babbling so his doctor referred him to speech therapy/early intervention, they came to my house and worked with him until he was 3 ( he just turned 3) he has made SO much progress in this time and finally started talking at 2 and a half! He knows his ABCs and his 123s and colors and shapes and just started special Ed preschool, as he was diagnosed Autism Level 1, he will also be getting ABA therapy outside the classroom. Our situations are not entirely similar but I would talk to his doc and the school and see if there are programs like the one my son was in for your son. I am so immensely thankful to have been referred to speech and early intervention at such a young age, it has helped my son beyond words and I learned so much from his therapists. I guess maybe even a tutor could help you? Someone who specializes with children who have delays or are just behind. He may need just a little extra one on one time. Some things I learned thru my son’s therapy are “parent directed play” does wonders. Like take an activity, could be a game, could be flash cards, a puzzle, a sticker book literally anything and have them sit down and play it with you, with eye contact and focus. Flash cards and great as well. It sounds like maybe he hasnt had the best start in life to no fault of his own, what he needs most from you now, is love and patience, you can do it.

Testing would be a great start. If mom had run ins with CPS im sure there can be some lingering damage to their psyche/mental health from potential abuse or just losing “mommy” in general.

My son I had a nasty custody battle with and he was not well taken cared of and he has massive learning curves from his separation from me early on, then to boot he has adhd, school has been a MASSIVE challenge and without testing and being in constant contact with his teachers, I’m sure CPS would be knocking on my door

I have 6 children. I had no issues with any until my youngest. She had issues retaining anything we would spend hours working on her letters and name next day we were lucky if she could remember 1/4 of them. She was diagnosed with processing issues. She has an IEP and is now 16 but she has to really apply herself. Her IEP allows her extra time for tests, projects and papers. And allows her to be asked for a separate room to take her tests in. She tries very hard to never use them but I made sure they are in place if she does need them.

1 Like

Way to go mum for stepping up!

He needs to be tested through the school system for a learning disorder. And I’d suggest play therapy for the boys.

1 Like

I highly recommend 4 weeks to read through learning Dynamics. My daughter was so behind her class even though we worked with her almost every day. She just wasnt fully grasping the concept. But the program was a life saver. They send you a ton of books and a workbook, flashcards and every you need to get them reading.

My daughter is 5 and is in kindergarten I worked with her so hard this summer to get he to recognize anything she just learned how to write her name by herself. There little rebels at this age I know the feeling. But just sitting there and helping him he will get it

Make it fun. I have index cards with individual letters and sight words. As well as their names, my me and our address broken down. We play racing games (taping some of the flash cards to the wall, I’ll call out a letter or a word and between my two kids and myself we try to reach it first), bingo with homemade bingo cards, etc. I call out letters and my kids have to contort their body into the shape of the letter.

Also, put their names EVERYWHERE. Label their drawers, their closet even if it’s just their side of the closet if they share. it’s cold, although I don’t know if it is where you live. If they have a hook or something that they hang their jackets on, or their backpacks, put their name above it. and don’t just do it for the younger one. Do it for the older one as well. But it will benefit the younger one.

1 Like

Theres many games to help but 1 that we have recently upgraded is write all the capitals on a beach ball and toss it. Whereever his index finger lands thats the letter he says. Repeat with lowercase. Then get him hunting to match them. For matching i bought lime green spoons from dollartree and clear spoons as well. Write the letters on it an stack and them matching together keep all in a bag in your purse for on the fo learning . the ball game had to be upgraded to sight words and puzzles for his name on popcicle sitcks

It may not really be funny to him but his way of dealing with the stress of it and the only real way to get it is repeat, repeat, repeat and yes getting him tested and getting him the extra help he needs at school will help. My fourth child has always had trouble with comprehending what he reads and went all throughout school with special help. He did graduate and hold down a steady job and loves on his own so it’s not a lost cause but help us definitely needed and patience in your end.

Patience is hard but necessary . Maybe he just takes longer to learn since no one has been teaching him be a bit. Have him tested for speech and learning delays. It could also be a reason wont know till he gets tested.

1 Like
1 Like

He may not be ready for school. If he has a late birthday you might want to consider that. Our son was late July and an extra year sure helped him. Gave his confidence.

Feel free to ask me anything and follow me. I have everything from make ahead lunches to teaching aids hope that helps. Hang in there and stay strong that can be a trying age.

1 Like

so make it fun! Everything around you is a learning experience! Count when you set the table at breakfast & dinner, say colors when in the bathtub, sing & dance & say the abc’s, read bedtime books with numbers, letters, shapes. Get a leap pad that talks to him while he uses a wand or pen.
If things need picked up, tell him pick up 5 items that start with a certain letter. Get a bag & collect certain letter items thru the week. Make it fun & he will learn!


Okay he is five. He is not going to be einstein right out the gate. Get him abcmouse. Most five year olds are barely learning to tie there shoes and wash properly. Quit stressing make it a game. Almost all five year olds think everything is funny. Short sessions attention spans are quite short at that age. Put letters on the fridge in the all on the walls everywhere. Point them out say the letter and sound it out. Get everyone in the house to do the same. Gold stars to all the ones he gets right. After a set amount give a treat icecream or cookies.

It sounds like his mom never worked with him and he didnt have early pre school so he may be behind. My daughter is almost 4 and has known her letters and numbers for a while now, and has been able to spell her name for at least a year, but shes been in daycare and now in preschool and I have worked with her as well. Maybe some extra tutoring is needed through the school to get them caught up ? Just keep being consistent. They may not catch on for a bit.

Do get him tested and try teaching him to sing or rhyme the ABC’S and 123’s my son is ADHD and did the same I got him tested and then thought him through singing it helped alot

Possibly signs of dyslexia.

Request an iep from the school , they can help

Repetition, make it fun, hands on, make songs out if it. Do hide and and seek with toys and he has to count out loud how many there are, flash cards

Please don’t use any apps, kids this little learn more through person to person then a face in a screen. No diss to screens or app cause I do use them. But hands on, making games or creating activities will have them better retain the information.

My daughter thought it was a joke too. So I made it into a game. I got flash cards with the alphabet on it and made it a matching game, sometimes a quiz game, she learned it with out even realizing it was a learning. She now reads at 2 grade levels ahead of her grade.

YouTube alphabet videos as TV watching time. Sing songs in the car.

When my child was in kindergarten when they did ABC they would say a then the sound and hold there hand up like eating a apple and so on ex A a a (sound) apple

1 Like

Its prek. I’d give it some time.


He needs trauma based therapy.


Kids also at that age make a joke out of things they are embarrassed about also, so don’t take it personally. My grandson is 2 and neither parent work with him but he watches all these learning kids shows and he knows all his colors, shapes and letters. Making it fun and not stressful

1 Like

So my daughters kindergarten class does communication through social media and the different games they play blow my mind to work on letters.

Make a sand board ( use sand sugar whatever you have and a tray ) can start drawing the letters. Try to get him to tell you the sound it makes as he writes. First start by guiding with pictures of what to draw then work your way up to him writing with you telling him letters.

Another thing was put letters on the wall and get a fly swatter and as you say letters he gets to find it and hit it. You can make this fun by pulling letters out of a hat or moving the ones on the wall around so he has to look for it

Our class started with trying to learn 3 to 5 letters at a time. They gave us a bag with wooden letters and pieces of paper with the letters to match. Have to pull a letter out of the bag say what it is and find a match

Have 3-5 letters on pieces of paper ( have 2 sets ) play memory game with the letters. Once get to know those letters start adding different ones to the mix

Sing the phonetics song "a is for apple ah ah apple " etc

Pick 3-5 letters and put on sticky notes and hide around the house. Pick a letter out of the bag and he goes on a scavenger hunt to find it

Put sticky notes with letters on things that start with those letters same thing go on a scavenger hunt ( maybe find each letter in order of the alphabet?)

Have a set of lower case and upper case letters repeat other games but match upper with lower case

Have a bin filled with sand and hide wooden letters in it and do an excavation to find them ( my daughter used q tips to dig and search lol )

And then we practice writing my daughter’s name 5x every night. Takes 5 min out of the night but has improved major.

Just remember you are doing great. Everyone starts with different opportunities and have different difficulties make it fun and try different things


Magnets and a cookie sheet. The have him match words. I usually write the words fun and colorful and the kiddos just try matching. Then we play find the letter too.

Use real world examples. When working on “A” associate it with an apple. Let him hold it, says it’s name, etc

hey he’s 5 this will all fall into place as his stability and love and trust grows, kids that have experienced or witnessed neglect/abuse even prior to birth and early newborn stages nearly always need that little bit of extra time I would re-access mid next year term 2 maybe and see where he is at then .

1 Like

Make it fun. Numbers and letter magnets for refrigerator. Songs etc

Is say he’s going through a lot right now for someone his age and it’s a lot to process for anyone at any age so maybe just be patient with him and give it some time! The school should do the same but maybe getting a tutor would help? Someone mutual, if he doesn’t take you seriously. Also flash card and some letter and number books you can get even at a dollar store would help so he can do those at home

1 Like

In my experience, my youngest daughter suffered from learning disabilities and ADHD. The school didn’t want to put her LD on her IEP(for speech delays). She was placed into the next grade for years. Rather than earn it. Every year, she would start over needing help, and struggling to understand. It was not until she was in 3rd grade, the school finally realized her ADHD was harming her academically. She has since then received a variety of services and is excelling. She still has a hard time reading and writing. If you get tested, it will make things easier. You might still have to keep an eye on the school to make sure he is getting everything, and I found teaching my youngest the same way at home that she was learning at school was important. I spent lots of time talking to teachers after school. :heart:

My Mom would put pudding on a cookie sheet and allow me to write my letters and numbers.

You can let him lick his fingers as he practices.

A reward system for him giving you a set amount of practice.

Get a timer so he can see the minutes dropping.

Lable things around the house, and put his name above him bed at home

Its old school but sesame street!

1 Like

Try abc mouse to make learning fun.

Maybe there’s is something my 7 year old is finally grasping all the sounds and letters, but he also has ADHD, ASD and a learning disability

I am going to talk about you… You sound like a beautiful person . I pray that you have patience with this children, because what is happening to this children it is not their fault , and to find a wonderful mother like you is a miracle. I pray that their father appreciate you . Please go to school , talk to the teacher and see if they have to test him. Maybe with time and your help he will get better. Again I pray for you and your family .:pray::clap::pray:


Dont give up on these kids. You should talk to the therapist at the school. They both probably need trauma based treatment.

These boys have PTSD and Trauma. They need therapy.

My middle son had a very hard time retaining letters and learning how to spell words… we used flash cards every single night before bed… he enjoyed the one on one time with me… we had to start practicing his weekly spelling words on Monday night & practice every night or he would not do well on his test on Friday’s… he’s very smart but he just had to work harder than his brothers did to do well in school…