While teaching my own five children how to read, I have discovered that memorizing words before learning how to sound them out is a HUGE (and often overlooked) part of learning how to read.
When children memorize words, they learn that letters come together to form words and that these words have meaning.
How I Discovered the Importance of Memorizing Words
When my daughter Ruby (my first of five) was 6 months old, I started showing her the Your Baby Can Read videos (They are now called Your Baby Can Learn because people got mad about the claims that babies could read and so they had to rebrand themselves). They were simple, engaging, and effective. While watching the videos together, she was always engaged, but she never vocalized anything until after about 10 months. (This is the silent period of language acquisition where children are little sponges taking everything in, but not yet speaking.)
Then at about 12-14 months old, she expressed an explosion of language! She started out by saying the beginning sounds of the words and eventually words by the dozen. By the time she was 15 months old, I would write down words from the video and she would read them! Then I started adding more words pertaining to things she liked: cat, walk, moon, mom, dad, Ruby, etc. and after repeated exposure, she would read those too.
People who saw her do this would be blown away, but they would say, “She’s not reading those words, she just memorized them.” And I would say,
“YES, MEMORIZING WORDS IS A PART OF READING!!!”
We are so trained to think that words need to be sounded out, and yes, that is a part of reading too, but once a word has been sounded out over and over again, it becomes MEMORIZED.
Age to Start
The ideal time to start teaching children to memorize words is between 6-10 months of age and ideally before a child is 3. (If your child is older than 3, don’t worry! He or she will follow the same progression just with certain modifications.) At 6-10 months of age, neurons in the brain start to form connections that will lay the foundation for how the brain is organized. By the time children are 2-3 years old, they have more neurons than they will ever have in their entire lives. After this, synaptic pruning occurs as the brain becomes more specialized based on the child’s environment.
First Words Flashcards
I selected words for my flashcards that would be useful for a baby or young child to know. Words like clap, wave, hug, and kiss are actions that little ones like to perform. Simple nouns like ball, cup, cat, and dog are things that young children are likely to be familiar with and see in their every day environments. I also included these same words with suffixes so that children can build an understanding from a young age that words with suffixes may look different but still carry the same core meaning.
The words for the flashcards are written in a font that I personally created. First of all, I wanted to create a font that is representative of how we teach children to write. I also wanted to be able to fill in my letters with simple bold colors that would create a pleasing image.
I purposefully do not include images with these words because I want children to memorize the shape of the word as if it were an image itself. By showing children the video along with the flashcards, they will learn what the words mean while still keeping the focus on the shape of the word.
Materials to Make My Flashcards
You can certainly just print these flashcards out on card stock and use them as is, but babies love to chew on things, and laminating them and putting them together with some rings will ensure their durability. *Before and after laminating, I cut the corners so they are rounded.
- Printer – A good basic printer like this will do the job, but if you’re going to be doing a lot of printing, I would recommend something like this.
- Card Stock – I like to make sure I always have plenty of this around for all of my flashcards, posters, and other needs.
- Laminating Sheets – I like having this in stock at all times because not only is it great for laminating flashcards, but for making favorite things books and saving favorite pieces of art work.
- Laminator – I have a basic laminator like this, and it works great for all types of paper and projects. When laminating, you want to leave at least an eighth of an inch of laminate around the edges so it won’t peel.
- Paper Cutter – You will LOVE having this around for cutting school pictures and so much more, but it’s great at cutting 4-5 pieces of card stock and 3-4 stacks of laminated card stock.
- Three Hole Punch – This hole punch is really sturdy and can handle a whole stack of paper. I like angling my flashcards so I get right in the center of each of the top corners.
- 1/4 Inch Rings – When making flashcards, I have found it’s best to use two rings on top to keep everything organized and easy to flip through, and this size is best.
First Words Video
I highly recommend printing out my flashcards to use while watching my First Words Video. In the video, I repeat each word three times and allow pauses so that children can have a chance to say each word the second and third time. After each word, I have video clips showing my children acting out the meaning of each of the words. The video is 30 minutes long and and loops through all of the words three times with videos of my children singing a song inbetween sets.
Android Words Explorer App
My husband brought my Words Video to life in a new format. Children can click on a menu featuring each word to the the corresponding video. This is for Android devices only. Get the Words Explorer App here.
How to Teach Your Baby or Toddler
I recommend starting to use these resources when your child is between 6-10 months of age and to do so while they are learning their ABCs. You will see the most dramatic amount of growth if you can start before the age of 1, and by the age of 3 at the very latest.
- Start with the video first. I have found that the best time to show the Words Video is while my children are eating. As you show your child the video initially, he or she might not show a tremendous amount of focus and attention, but as the video becomes familiar, you will notice it holding your child’s attention for longer periods of time.
- Add the flashcards. After your child is familiar with the video, start introducing the flashcards. Try to get through as many as you can but don’t force it. You may find that your child has favorite words and it’s okay to only include those favorite flashcards in the pack.
- A little bit over a long period of time is best. Don’t try to cram everything into one day creating the “perfect lesson”. Doing a little bit over a long period of time is the best way to get something committed to long term memory. Keep little baskets around your house with flashcards so that when the moment is just right, they’re easy to grab.
- Show the flashcards while watching the video. Once your child is familiar with the words and video, use them together!
- Use wait time. In my video I ask, “Can you say____?” and “What does this say?” After each question, I pause to give children a chance to say the word. When you do this with your child using the flashcards, make sure you allow just the right amount of wait time. If the pause becomes really long, just say the word and move on.
- Point out these words in daily life. Remember some of your child’s favorite words and use them often during the day. Words like kiss, clap, wave, and ball should be easy to incorporate throughout the day.
How to Teach Preschoolers and Older Children
If you have children are 4+, and you haven’t started to teach them how to read yet, don’t fret! It is still possible to use these resources to teach children them how to read. The approach will just need to be a bit different and focus on more engaging and hands on activities in order to make it interesting and appealing.
- Have the video on in the background. An older child may not be as motivated to sit down and watch this entire video, but you can play it in the background while they are playing. Wait until your children are building with legos, doing puzzles, or drawing, and then have this video on in the background so they can at least hear it. You may find them pausing their play to watch the video here and there and that’s perfectly fine. You could also have it on during meal time.
- Teach a younger sibling, friend, or even stuffed animal. If you’re teaching your one year old and your four year old at the same time, you can pretend like both you and the four year old are really just teaching the one year old. You could also pretend that you’re teaching a stuffed animal who doesn’t know how to read words.
- Write and wipe. Kids LOVE using dry erase boards and markers. You can write the word and have them erase it, of have them copy the word from the flashcards and write it down.
- Flashcards timed. Show your child the flashcards repeatedly until he or she can say most words correctly. Then time a first read through, making sure it’s nice and slow. This will motivate the child to beat his or her original time.
- Loose cards and pocket chart. Take the flashcards off from the rings and hand one card at a time to your child. Have them place the cards into the pocket chart while trying to sort them in some way (by color, by type of word…is it an action? verb or is it a thing? noun)
- I spy. Spread all of the cards out on the floor and say, “I spy with my little eye a yellow word that starts with the letter c.” If they don’t get it, give another clue by acting out the word (like clapping your hands for clap) or giving another clue (like meowing for cat). They can either gather the words they find in a pile or put them in the pocket chart.
- Make a Path. You can spread out the words in a long line in any order. Then pretend that the floor is lava and tell your child that the words are stones that will save him or her from the lava. As he or she hops from word to word ask him or her, “What word are you on now?” or “What word will you be stepping on next.”
- Charades. Hold the flashcards away from you so you can’t see the word but your child can. Then tell your child that he or she must act out the word and you will have to guess it. You can make a rule that words can’t be used but sounds can. And of course they can use props from around the house or even draw a picture!
- Point out words while reading. The best way to teach children how to memorize words is by reading quality literature. You’ll notice that your child may have favorite words that you can point out while reading. Feel free to make your own set up flashcards based on your child’s individual favorite words.
Children will memorize words that they see over and over and over again. This is best done through repeated reading. Here are some of the books I have enjoyed reading repeatedly with my little ones. I like making reading part of my routines like going to bed, morning reading, and reading before rest time.
- Baby’s First Words – I LOVE how this book is thick, has a sturdy puffy cover, and has simple images surrounded by white with one word below to describe it. This is great for building vocabulary and teaching children new words. The Hinkler company is amazing and everything they make is great.
- First 100 Words – This book has an array of boxes on a page with many pictures with a word underneath falling into a variety of different categories. It’s a great tool for teaching the names of things.
- Let’s Talk – Children will love pressing the buttons that make sounds for the corresponding pictures. It’s a great way to bring these basic words to life.
- Tails – This is one of my favorite books of all time. It is SUPER sturdy and every page is brightly colored, flashy, and has some sort of movement you can facilitate. What a great way to teach words! There’s also a similar book called Heads that is equally amazing.
- Bard’s Rhyme Time – Finding books with a rhyming pattern makes figuring out the last word super easy. I love the flaps in this book and pausing before the last word to give my little one a chance to say it.
Bedtime/Morning Time Books
- Pajama Time – Anything by Sandra Boynton is great for babies. I love turning this book into a little song. All of our kids have LOVED this as part of their bedtime routine.
- The Going to Bed Book – This is another Boynton book and another family favorite.
- Maisy Goes to Bed – This book is interactive and very cute. There is also a Maisy cartoon show which helps little ones to become even more familiar with the books.
- Bedtime Peekaboo! – This board book is very short and simple with pages that fold out. I love reading it at night with my little ones.
- 10 Minutes till Bedtime – This is another all time favorite book. There is minimal text, but so many details to point out in the pictures that make it a different experience every time we read it.
- Hey! Wake Up! – This Sandra Boynton book makes a great morning routine with it’s cute characters and rhyming text.
Sight Word Videos
I love how these videos personify each word by making it come to life and act out the meaning of the word, which is the most important part. Get the entire collection of Preschool Prep videos here (I can’t recommend these enough!).
I LOVE Usborne books! The pages are super durable, the stories are interesting, the vocabulary development is phenomenal, and the people and Usborne GET reading. They know that children should start young…I’m talking babies…and provide PLENTY of resources to get your little ones interested in reading.
- My First Word Books – In this collection, there are books about words, farms, food, about me, and things that go. Each book features 270 words with simple and engaging pictures.
- Learn Words with Little Red Penguin – Little ones will love this cute board book while they lift the flaps to learn about first words.
- Lift the Flap Words – This bright lift the flap book gives children lots of practice naming basic words in a fun and engaging way.
- Very First Books of Things to Spot – There are three books in this series. The first one is in general, the next is at home, and the last is out and about. There are no words, only pictures, but it’s great for oral language development.
- Lift and Look Board Books – This series features books about constructions sites, dinosaurs, planes, tractors, trains, and under the sea. Children will love lifting the flaps in these sturdy books.
Memorizing words is a very important part in the first stages of reading because children need to see that letters are used to make words and that words convey meaning. In addition, memorizing words is a much bigger part of reading than people think. Once children memorize the first set of words from my flashcards and video, they will be ready to memorize additional words and “read them” in the context of quality literature.
If you read rhyming text, do repeated reading with the same books over and over, point to words occasionally as you’re reading with your child, pause to let them fill in the words they know while pointing to them, and make reading fun and part of your daily routines – your child will memorize words and be on their way to independent reading!
For More Information
You’ll find everything you need to teach your child to read on my FREE READING RESOURCES page which includes flashcards, videos, plus more tips and tricks.
How to Teach Your Child to Read in 5 Simple Steps (Keeping it Simple)
- Language Rich Environment: Use oral language at the child’s level (Get down on the floor and play together!) and help them memorize vocabulary words. (Tell them the names of things!)
- Phonemic Awareness: Teach one sound for each letter of the alphabet. (Start with short vowels.)
- Phonics: Tap out sounds in three letter words to teach how sounds come together to make words.
- More Complex Phonemic Awareness: Introduce long vowels, digraphs, other vowel sounds, and complex consonant sounds.
- Reading Comprehension Strategies: Use quality literature to interact with books and ask questions before, during, and after reading to make sure your child is understanding what is being read.
Teach Your Child to Read Blog Series (Digging Deeper)
- #1-Oral Language Development Lays the Foundation for Reading
- #2-How Engage Your Baby or Young Child with Reading
- #3-Learning How to Read Begins with the ABCs
- #4-Memorizing Words (Before Sounding Them Out) Leads to Reading
- #5-Building Vocabulary with Numbers, Colors, and Shapes
- #6-Teaching Phonics with Three Letter Word Families
- #7-Unlock the Final Stages of Reading with Advanced Phonemic Awareness
- #8-Reading Comprehension Strategies Lead to Independent Readers
- #9-Reinforcing Reading with Writing