Teaching a child to read begins at birth with the reinforcement of pre-reading skills. As soon as your baby is born, they are exposed to words in verbal form. Reading books to your baby during these early months has many benefits – it supports their social and emotional development, develops fine motor skills and is a great way to bond with your baby.
Although most children will only learn to read somewhere between the ages of 5 – 7 years old, children can learn to read as early as three years old.
As no two children are the same, each child will master reading in their own time and at their own pace. Reading milestones will vary by child. Although there are milestone guidelines by age, these are guidelines. It is more about your child’s readiness to start teaching them to read than their age.
Reading also impacts writing ability as your child develops familiarity with complex sentence structures to express themselves. Reading is a crucial skill that will serve them in all areas of the curriculum: English, social studies, math, etc.
An Overview of How to Start Teaching Your Child to Read
The best way to start teaching your child to read is to teach your child the sound that each alphabet letter makes. Once they know the sounds of the alphabet, they can use this knowledge to decode (sound out) words.
At the same time, you can start to introduce sight words (also known as high-frequency words) to your child. These are words that appear regularly in text, and therefore the more of these words your child can memorise, the easier it will be for them to read. Although some sight words can be decoded (sounded out), many cannot. Being able to recall the word from memory will help your child become a more fluent reader.
As your child's reading skills develop, they will recognise more sight words and start to read silently instead of reading aloud. Their ability to recall sight words makes them quicker, more fluent readers who also have better comprehension skills.
Your child's comprehension skills are excellent when they fully understand what they're reading. They can visualise, question, predict and interpret the text. Your child is also able to form opinions about what they're reading.
Before teaching your child to read, they must have some pre-reading skills.
Look for and encourage the following:
- Print Awareness – Does your child have an awareness of print on signs, buildings and labels? Children will often know what signs say before they can read the letters, for example, the word “STOP” on a stop sign.
- Sound Manipulation – Can your child swap sounds to make other words even if those words do not make sense, such as cat, bat, dat, wat, sat etc.?
- Rhyme Awareness – Can your child rhyme words – again, the words do not need to make sense? It is more important that they recognise that the ‘words’ rhyme?
- Recognises Letter Sounds in Words – Does your child recognise when two words start with the same sound, for example, “The rat sat on the rug.” Rrrrat …. Rrrrug … these words start with the same sound?
- Print Concepts – Does your child know which way to hold a book? Do they know that you turn pages one at a time and always in the same direction? As you read, use your finger to run under the words so that your child starts to realise that you read from left to right.
Once your child demonstrates these skills, they may be ready for you to start teaching them to read.
Steps to Teach Your Child How to Read
Step 1 – Teach Your Child the Sounds of the Alphabet
Teaching your child the sounds the letters make is an essential first step in teaching them how to read. This lays down the foundation for your little one's reading skills. Once your child knows the sounds of the alphabet, they can decode (sound out) words when they start reading words. Consider using flashcards, magnetic letters or foam letters that you can use in the bath to make this a fun activity.
Step 2 – Teach Your Child the Letters of the Alphabet
Once your child knows the sounds of the alphabet, you can now start to teach them the letters of the alphabet. Start with lowercase letters first and then move onto capital letters.
Step 3 – Teach Your Child to Blend Sounds
Once your child knows the individual sounds and letters, it is time to start teaching them to blend the sounds to make words.
Start by using two or 3-letter words. Sound out each letter of the word, then start back at the beginning of the word, running your finger under the letters as you say the sounds and blend them back together to make the word.
Step 4: Introduce Sight Words
Sight words or high-frequency words are words that are found frequently in the text. Some sight words can be sounded out, but many cannot. For your child to become a more fluent reader, they need to memorise these words and recognise them on sight whilst reading.
Start with just a few words at a time until your child is confident with those words. When teaching sight words, only the word should be on the flashcard – do not include pictures. You want your child to recognise the word, not to use the picture to determine the word.
Repetition is key to your child confidently learning sight words. Introduce games to keep your little one engaged and prevent them from seeing learning sight words as a chore.
Step 5: Teach your Child Word Families
Once your child can read the word ‘cat', then teach them that they can now also read the words “bat”, “rat” “sat” etc. or once they have learned “cap” they can also read “map”, “tap” and “lap”. This way, you increase the number of words your child is learning to read by showing them that they can read an entirely different word by substituting one letter.
Step 6: Teach your Child Diagraphs
A digraph refers to 2 letters that make one sound. There are consonant and vowel diagraphs. For example, “ch”, ”th”, “sh” or “ow”, “oo” or “ew”. Start by pointing these out to your child as you read books together.
Step 7: Develop their Phonemic Awareness
There are four skills necessary to achieve Phonemic Awareness:
- Segmenting – This is the ability to separate words into phonemes
- Blending – This is the ability to put sounds together to make a word.
- Isolation – This is the ability to recognise individual sounds in words.
- Manipulation and Substitution – This is the ability to manipulate a word by changing one sound.
There are plenty of fun games and activities you use to make learning these essential skills fun and exciting.
Step 8: Encourage Active Reading
Encourage active reading by asking your child questions about what they have read or about a story you are reading together. When your child is learning to read, they are very focused on each word and may struggle to understand the story – this is entirely normal. As your child gains more confidence with their reading, you can start to ask them questions. Start with simple questions, for example, “What was the name of the xxx?”
There is no shortage of reading resources, from apps to reading programs to resources such as flashcards etc.
If you are looking for a reading app, we recommend Homer – this is a great online resource covering reading, math, creativity, thinking critically and social and emotional learning. The app is suitable for 2 – 8-year-olds.
For both free and paid resources to help teach your child to read, head over to This Reading Mama. This site is jam-packed with free games and activities and many great paid resources to help teach your child to read, including – phonics packs, blending sounds, sight words and more.
Summing it all up
Remember, reading comes with time and practice. Practising every day, introducing games and activities that encourage reading and helping your child develop a love of reading will ensure that your child starts their reading journey with confidence and enthusiasm.