I wouldn’t have thought it was possible unless I tried it with my own five children, but by starting when my babies were 6-8 months old and doing a little bit over a long period of time, I was able to teach them all how to read with very little effort and at very young ages. Two were reading at 2, two were reading at 3, and one was reading at 4. Not only have I seen it with my own children, but with others who have used my resources as well, and they’re just as shocked as me when their children start to read at such young ages and as if by magic.
Over the last ten years as a stay at home, I have created a set of resources that makes teaching your baby to read fun and easy. By starting with the ABCs while simultaneously memorizing words and teaching key vocabulary, children will learn letter names and sounds really really well while also understanding that letters come together to form words that have meaning and build background knowledge with key vocabulary which will lay the foundation for both decoding and comprehension. With this strong foundation in phonemic awareness and background knowledge, learning how to read is easy, natural, and fun!
Oral Language Development
Oral language development is one of the most important aspects of a developing young child’s brain and is what lays the foundation for learning how to read.
According to SEDL’s Reading Resources, oral language development is “highly correlated with later reading proficiency”. The research also shows that,
“Most language development occurs indirectly through language exposure rather than through explicit instruction,”
This means that as parents, we don’t need to teach our babies and toddlers specifically targeted language lessons, we just need to give them lots of exposure to quality language experiences. But what are quality language experiences? Does this simply meaning talking more or leaving the TV on? No!
Children are not just passive receptors of their environment. They want to engage, they want to be stimulated, challenged, and acknowledged every step of the way. Many people look at children as though they are not ready to learn until they are much older, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. They are ready to learn from birth, but it’s all about meeting them where they are and providing the language experiences that best fit their stage of language development. In the video above, Jack and I are having a baby conversation which utilizes the turn taking style of conversations and is a crucial stage of oral language development.
Best Age to Start Reading
I started reading with my babies when they were about 3-4 months old. At this point, they could hold their heads up, grab things, follow a moving object, and were more interested in shapes and patterns.
Starting at about 6 months of age, babies’ brains are exploding with the growth of synaptic connections. By the time they are 2-3 years of age, children will have more synaptic connections than they will ever have in their entire lives. Whatever is introduced during this precious window of time will become part of the very framework that lays the foundation for all future learning, and whatever isn’t used will start to be pruned away.
With most of my children, I found that they enjoyed starting at about 6-8 months of age, but my oldest boy never liked sitting still and always seemed to be driven by a motor and in his own world. He actually enjoyed learning in the background at 2-3 years old while I was teaching his 6 month old younger sister. Every child is different, every family is different, and every situation brings its own set of challenges and expectations. You know what works best with your family, so start as young as you can, but start where you are, do what you can, don’t stress out about it, and most importantly…have fun!
The Silent Period
This isn’t some miracle program that is going to teach your child to read overnight. You have to have faith in the process and know that by doing a little bit over a long period of time, you are wiring your child’s brain to be as receptive as possible for learning how to read.
Rest assured in the fact that you are creating special memories that intertwine learning and love while your children are cuddled comfortably on your lap, and that in due time you will reap the benefits of your labors. In my experience, it takes about 6-8 months until children are ready to start vocalizing while doing the flashcards and videos. At this point, you can start asking questions, pausing, and giving your child a chance to respond.
If you continuously use the flashcards and videos over the course of a year, you will be blown away by a seemingly sudden cascading waterfall of recognition. Not only will children start to accurately describe the flashcards and answer the questions, but they will start to point things out in their environment, read signs, and consistently amaze you and everyone you know!
The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) research has studied 10,000 children over the past 15 years and found that the one of the main reasons why children struggle with reading comes down to their inability to do one simple thing, and that is to connect letter names to letter sounds. The research shows that children need to be explicitly taught the letter names, the letter sounds, and how to decode words, and that these are not skills that children will just “figure out” on their own with exposure. Understanding the letter names and sounds from a young age is absolutely crucial to being able to sound out new words and add them to the memory bank of words. When this knowledge is solidified at a very young age, it makes learning how to read happen “as if by chance”.
Before you get started, set up a comfy learning station. I loved having a little table next to my comfy rocking chair. On the table I would have a little basket with my flashcards and our favorite books. Since this was also my nursing station, I would keep my breast pump, a jar of water for me, burp cloths, comfy blankets, and some snacks nearby.
When my babies were well rested, fed, changed, happy, and ready for cuddles, I knew it was the perfect time to do some ABC flashcards. When teaching the ABCs, I like saying a little song/chant for each letter that included the letter name, letter sound, and word associated with the letter, “a is for apple, a (short a sound), a, apple, b is for ball, b (b sound), b, ball,” etc.
When the flashcards are new, there won’t be much interest at first, so try to get through 4-6 flashcards in one sitting. Each time you show the flashcards again, their neural connections associated with the flashcards are strengthening, and it won’t be long until you can work your way up to doing all of the letters in the alphabet in one sitting. Babies LOVE learning, and they love to be loved and cuddled, so with a little persistence, I’m sure this will become a favorite activity for the both of you.
Once babies are familiar with the flashcards enough to anticipate and enjoy this special time, introduce my ABC video. Much the same way as the flashcards, you’ll have to start gradually to increase their viewing stamina. In the beginning, don’t just put the video on in the background. Watch it with your baby and talk about it together, say the chant with the video, ask questions about what you are seeing, and maybe even have a physical copy of the flashcards for you and your baby to hold and flip through. After watching it together several times, put it on when you’re feeding your baby, and eventually the video will hold their attention long enough that you might even be able to take a shower! 🙂
When your baby is old enough to start saying words, pause and ask, “What is this?” for each flashcard. Don’t point to anything in particular, and praise anything they say that has to do with the letter name, letter sound, or word/picture, “Yes! That’s an apple!” and then proceed to say the song/chant for that letter. If they say the wrong thing, don’t correct them with the word no, just say the chant and move on.
I also strongly recommend turning your house into an immersive learning environment. Put ABC flashcard posters along the ceiling above your baby’s changing table, place posters, rugs, magnets, books, and toys within your child’s grasp to make learning easy, natural, and fun. I have a blog titled: 10 Best Resources for Teaching the ABCs for additional suggestions.
I created my own ABC flashcards because I couldn’t find exactly what I was looking for on the market. So many flashcards out there use inconsistent and confusing words and images. For example, I’ve seen the word shell used to teach the /s/ sound when /sh/ is a digraph and shouldn’t be introduced as the beginning sound of /s/. I’ve also seen words like “ape” used for /a/, when it could easily be confused for a monkey. Not to mention that it’s much better for children to learn short vowels first in addition to the hard /c/ as in “cat” before the soft /c/ as in “circle and the hard /g/ in “guitar” before the soft /g/ as in “giraffe”.
- ABC Flashcards (4 per page)
- ABC Flashcards (2 per page) – These are my favorite!
- ABC Flashcards (1 per page) – These are great to put around the ceiling especially near the diaper changing table.
- Black and White ABC Flashcards (4 per page) – Have fun coloring your own set!
- Black and White ABC Flashcards (1 per page) – These would be fun for preschool age children to color.
- ABC Poster
- ABC Video
Memorizing First Words
Shortly after introducing the ABCs, teach your child to memorize these words. When children are learning about letter names and sounds, it’s important for them to see that these letters and sounds come together to form words and that these words have meaning.
When you show your child each flashcard, say the word…for example, “hi”, and then ask a question with that word in it, “Can you say hi?” Pause and wait for your child to respond and then repeat the word. Just as with the ABC flashcards, it will take some time to build stamina, so get through as many words as you can in one sitting. Eventually, your child will become familiar with all of the words and will love doing the whole set in one sitting.
First Words Resources
I chose simple words that use some sort of action and purposefully didn’t include a picture so that children will learn to memorize just the word. When your child is familiar with the flashcards, introduce the video. My video asks children to say each word, pauses, and then says the word. I have footage of my children acting out each word and include several songs throughout the video which also helps to nurture language development. I even have a section at the end for words with suffixes so that children can start to become familiar with the concept that word endings don’t change the core meaning of the word, just the way it’s used in a sentence.
- First Words Flashcards (4 per page)
- First Words Flashcards (2 per page)
- First Words Poster
- First Words Video
Teaching Basic Vocabulary
It’s hard for us to understand as adults just how much of a blank slate our babies’ brains are. They want so badly to learn about the world around them, which is what motivates them to crawl everywhere, get into everything, and put anything they can in their mouth (thanks teething). They will learn best about the world when we can tell them the names of everything. I can’t recommend enough how important it is to get on the floor to play with your babies and tell them the names of everything they are interacting with. By learning about colors, shapes, and numbers children are being given specific words to describe the world around them.
Before using these vocabulary resources, make sure your child has had time to become familiar with the ABC resources and First Word resources., They don’t need to have them completely mastered, just familiar. The main thing is that you don’t want to overwhelm your child with too many new things at once, and you don’t want to wait too long and risk them losing interest. By staying in their zone of proximal development, you’ll ensure that the learning is not too hard, not too easy, but just right enough for them to be engaged with learning.
Vocabulary Resources: Colors, Shapes, and Numbers
Learning about colors, numbers, and shapes gives children the vocabulary to describe many aspects of the world around them. Colors are the simplest and most universal descriptor, and I recommend teaching them first. Learning about shapes and numbers not only gives children helpful descriptive words, but it prepares them for future math concepts. The numbers flashcards encourage the one-to-one counting principal which lays the foundation for understanding arithmetic, and discussing attributes of shapes such as how many corners and lines shapes have paves the way for understanding geometry.
- Colors Flashcards (4 per page)
- Colors Flashcards (2 per page)
- Colors Flashcards (1 per page)
- Colors Poster
- Colors Video
- Shapes Flashcards (4 per page)
- Shapes (2 per page)
- Shapes Flashcards (1 per page)
- Shapes Poster
- Shapes Video
Next Steps: Teach Your Toddler How to Read
Once your child has mastered letter names and sounds, first words, and basic vocabulary, it’s time to start introducing three letter word families! Read my next blog: Teach Your Toddler How to Read when you are ready for next steps. I want to caution the importance of not diving into these resources too soon. You may model sounding out words during the context of reading a book together, but by saving these resources until children have mastered letter names and letter sounds not only will they be super engaged, but the learning will happen quite quickly. I’ve typically found that children are ready at about 2-3 years of age, but you know your child best so they might be younger or they might be older, just trust your judgement.
As a 3rd grade teacher, I remember working with a struggling reader (I’ll call him Bobby…not his real name), who was able to read chapter books, but struggled when sounding out new words that he hadn’t encountered before. After doing a phonemic awareness survey, I discovered that there were many phonemes (individual sounds) that he didn’t know. I worked with him extensively trying to reteach those phonemes, but it was too late. His brain had already made other pathways to help him read that were stronger than any new information I was presenting.
I can’t recommend enough how important it is to teach letter names and letter sounds really really well at as young of an age as possible. This is the foundation for learning how to read, and there’s no reason we have to wait until children are in preschool or kindergarten to teach them. All of my children knew how to read before they entered preschool, and believe you me, they still had plenty to learn and were never bored! My youngest reader who started reading at barely the age of 2, ended up skipping 2nd grade, and now is at the top of her class in 5th grade. She loves reading, she loves learning, and there’s no stopping her. When you start young and make learning fun, the sky is the limit!