Many parents might feel intimidated by the idea of teaching their kids to read, especially knowing that it’s one of the most important skills a child will ever learn. But the reality is, once you know the basic tools, reading can be pretty easy to teach your child.
There’s an ongoing debate surrounding the appropriate time for a child to start reading. Parents are increasingly pressured to make sure their children read at younger and younger ages. In fact, social media is full of parents boasting how their child can read at two or three years old.
However, throughout the process it’s important to remember that this will take time. You’ll see your child progress over months and years. Different strategies work for different kids, so always be patient and listen to what works best for them. Kids learn at different paces, and the best you can do is support them with the right environment—one that’s encouraging, not constantly comparing them to their peers.
How to Teach Children to Read
With that in mind, the following steps can help your child make steady progress whenever you’re both ready to start trying.
1. Start with letter sounds.
Because letters in the English language do not make sounds of their given names, it’s always wiser to teach children the sound that letters make before teaching them their names.
This is sometimes made difficult when children are introduced to letters through the ABC Song, which uses their names.
But using flash cards, you can easily introduce the letter sounds to your child. Focus on the lowercase letters first, because these are the most common ones that your child will encounter in written print.
With just a few minutes a day, show them one letter at a time and say the sounds for them. Then, have them repeat the sounds. Consistency is key to helping them memorize.
The Montessori approach associates letter sounds with small items representing objects that begin with that letter, collected in what is called an “alphabet box.” Each drawer contains a collection of items that begin with that letter sound.
For example, for the letter C, you might have a toy cat, car, and castle. You can do the same for all the other sounds.
Based on research, the most common consonants are introduced first, in roughly this order: m, s, c, t, n, f.
2. Teach the short vowel sounds.
After teaching the child the first few consonants, introduce the short vowel sounds: a as in apple, e as in egg, i as in igloo, o as in orange, and u as in umbrella. Begin with the a sound.
3. Teach the child to blend.
Once the child knows all their letter sounds, you can start teaching them to blend the sounds. Start with a three-letter word with a in the middle, such as:
mat cat rat
You start by writing this on an index card:
Prolong the a sound so that it blends into the t sound. Point to the letters as you do so, and have the child repeat after you.
Once the child knows how to blend the “at” sound, you can write the beginning sounds on a separate index card and start to combine them one at a time to form:
mat cat rat sat
and other combinations.
4. Teach sight words.
After the child has a strong grasp of phonics, you can start to introduce sight words. Sight words are common words in the English language that you cannot sound out.
5. Practice reading short sentences.
At this stage, your child will be able to read short sentences. You can start by writing out sentences for him in large letters, or you can also purchase books designed for beginning readers.
One of the most popular options is the Bob Books series, which are leveled and use only the words that the child is familiar with per level. This helps builds a child’s confidence as he starts to read whole books himself.
Emerging Readers Books
To encourage your child to keep reading, invest in readers that also tell a good story. Some of the best readers include:
Books by Arnold Lobel:
- Frog and Toad
- Owl at Home
- Mouse Tales
- Mouse Soup
- Grasshopper on the Road
Books by Else Holmelund Minarik:
- Little Bear
- Little Bear’s Friend
Books by Millicent Selsam:
- Terry and the Caterpillars
- Seeds and More Seeds
- Egg to Chick
Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish
Books by Clyde Robert Bulla
- The Chalk Box Kid
- Daniel’s Duck
Read with Your Kids
Once you’ve taught your child the basics of reading, it’s important that you continue to keep them interested in books.
Make time to read together every evening. If you need a little help building up that excitement, check out our tips on how to get kids to read.
Do you have any tips or tricks for teaching children to read? Share them with us in the comments below!