Teach Your Child to Read in 5 Simple Steps
Teaching your child to read can be easy and fun, especially if you start when they are young! If you provide a language rich environment filled with lots of oral language and vocabulary development, teach the ABCs really really well, make reading fun and read often, teach them how to sound out three letter words, and introduce them to the tricky bits of our English language, you will be amazed to see your child read easily, naturally, and as if by magic. My fifth child is about to turn 3, and I am blown away to see him reading signs, peoples names, and words in books that he has never seen before.
In this blog, I will share my reading resources that I have created over the last ten years while teaching my own children to read to help any parent (or teacher) teach their child/children to read in a fun and back to basics kind of way. If you start when your child is young and follow these steps, you will be amazed at how easily your child will learn to read.
How to Teach Your Child to Read in 5 Simple Steps
I will be covering these steps in more depth throughout the blog and include both resources as well as tips and tricks along the way. I tried to keep things as simple and basic as possible in this blog, but if you’d like a more in depth look at how to teach your child to read with explanations from science, research, and my own observations as to how children best learn how to read, then check out my blog series: Teach Your Child to Read.
- 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 other 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.
1. Language Rich Environment (Oral Language and Vocabulary)
Surround your child with learning opportunities by creating a language rich environment. Place developmentally appropriate toys at their level so they can choose to play with them. Show them how to interact with new toys so that they have options for how to play with them. Choose educational toys that foster language development, especially toys that teach letters, colors, shapes, numbers, letters, words, fine motor skills, and encourage problem solving. This Montessori approach to learning encourages children to be independent and self directed with their learning.
Oral Language Development Tips and Tricks
Oral language development begins before babies are even born! When babies are born, they recognize the cadence and prosody of your voice, then they coo and have conversations with you, and before children start speaking, they are listening to everything you say. Read more about how oral language lays the foundation for reading here and more about how to engage your baby or young child with reading here.
- Speak slowly and clearly using simple words they can understand.
- Use lots of short repeated sentences.
- When they start speaking, repeat back to them what they are saying sometimes adding more words into the description.
- Ask questions all the time that are simple and relate to what they are doing. (Say, “What’s in your hand? Is that a ball? Can you throw me the ball? Good job!”).
- Talk about what you’re doing and have them help you. (Say, “We’re going to have hamburgers for dinner. First, I need to squish them up and make patties. Can you help me?”)
- Get down on the floor and play with your child! Encourage them to play imagination games and provide problem/solution scenarios that they can carry out independently.
- Sing songs, especially ones with hand motions. Make up songs about what you are doing.
- When you are out and about, talk to your child about everything you see and are doing.
Vocabulary Tips and Tricks
As adults, I think we take for granted all of the background knowledge we can access subconsciously. Being intentional and teaching children how to memorize specific vocabulary words to describe the environment they’re in, helps children to understand what they are doing at a deeper level. Click here for a more in depth look at vocabulary words. Also, to learn how memorizing words while learning the alphabet makes learning how to read a breeze here.
- Tell them the names of things that they are interacting with and touching. (Say, “You are holding a spoon. You put the spoon in the bowl to eat your soup. Good job using your spoon!”)
- Vocabulary Posters: Put vocabulary posters on the wall at their eye level and up towards the ceiling. Encourage them to point to and interact with the posters. (Say, “Can you find the circle? What color is it? Let’s find the word wave. There it is! Can you wave your hand? Look, we are waving our hands!”)
- Vocabulary Flashcards: Use flashcards to teach specific vocabulary words. Wait until they are fed and happy. (I usually give them food and snuggles while doing flashcards.) Know that their attention span will not be very long at first, but will gradually extend over time. As they become familiar with the flashcards, ask them, “What is this?” while pointing to the flashcard. Allow for a little wait time and say the answer if they don’t know it. If they say the wrong answer, tell them the right answer quickly and without any disappointment in your voice.
- Vocabulary Videos: Use educational videos to reinforce vocabulary. Watch the videos with your child and interact by pointing out things you see and asking questions. Make a YouTube playlist so you can have educational videos ready to go when your child needs a little distraction. I have found that mealtimes are great for watching educational videos. (As children get older, I do like having conversations at mealtimes, but when they’re little, it’s too abstract, and I just want them to eat! We’ll save the conversation for playtime.)
2. Phonemic Awareness (The Alphabet)
Phonemes are the individual sounds in our language and phonemic awareness is being able to distinguish those sounds. There are 44 sounds in our English language, but to start with, children only need to learn one sound for each letter. I have found that if you teach children letter names and letter sounds really really really well, it makes learning how to read a breeze.
What Makes My Flashcards Different
There are many different features that set my flashcards apart from anything else I have been able to find on the market. When I was a 3rd and 4th grade teacher, I found that many students with reading difficulties lacked phonemic awareness (the ability to distinguish and identify all of the letter sounds). As a parent, I wanted to create something that would accurately teach my children the letter names and sounds giving them a strong foundation for learning how to read. These are the features that make my flashcards unique.
- They have both the upper and lower case letters on each card. This is so children can learn that they mean the same thing simultaneously.
- Letters are shaped how we print them. I created my own font and made sure each letter was formed the way we teach children how to print them.
- Each flashcard has a simple, interesting, and easily identifiable picture. Many flashcards use words like “ape” for “a” where kids might get confused thinking it was a monkey. I also tried to keep the images related to things children would be familiar with.
- The letter and sound combination makes sense. When flashcards use the word “eye” to teach the letter “e” or the word “shoe” (which has a digraph) to teach “s”, it can be very confusing for children. My flashcards do not do this.
- Short vowels and the hard g and c are used. When children are just starting to learn their letters, these are the easiest versions to begin with, and it’s best to keep things as simple as possible in the beginning.
- There is a printed word below each picture. I have found that it’s important for children to learn that letters come together to form words and that words have meaning. When children memorize the shape of the letters, the image, and a word it really solidifies their understanding of the alphabet.
Tips and Tricks for Teaching the Alphabet
Follow these tips and tricks for teaching your child letter names and letter sounds and check out my blog to see my favorite ABC resources. Also, for a more in depth look at how learning the ABCs lays the foundation for learning how to read with tips and tricks as well as tons of free resources, check out my ABC blog here.
- Start young! I started when my children were 6-8 months old, and it took until they were about 15 months old to show that they knew their letters. You want to at least start before children are 3-4 years old because that is when synaptic pruning occurs and the foundation for the brain has already been laid.
- ABC Toys: Get ABC fridge magnets, foam bath letters, puzzles, and more so that your child can have fun playing with the letters. Talk about the letters and the sounds they make while playing.
- ABC Posters: Use my posters to surround your child’s environment with the ABCs. Put posters on the wall in their room, by their bed, by the changing table, at their eye level, and near the ceiling. Interact with the posters by pointing to them and asking questions.
- ABC Flashcards: Do flashcards when they are fed and happy. Ask them questions about the flashcards and give wait time. If they say the letter name, sound, or word for that letter, those are all the right answer! Use the chant, “A is for apple, a, a, apple, B is for ball, b, b, ball,” from my ABC Video.
- ABC Video: Watch the video with your child until they are familiar with it. Interact with the video by pointing out things that you see and say the chant along with the video. Know that their attention span and love for the video will grow over time as they become familiar with it after repeated exposure.
- Starfall: Starfall has so much of its content for free! I especially like the interactive alphabet resource.
3. Phonics (Sounding Out 3 Letter Words)
Phonics is understanding that letters make sounds and those sounds come together to make words. Once children are really really really familiar with letter names and sounds (one sound for each letter and short vowels for now), you can start showing them how to tap out sounds to make words. Sounding out words is also called decoding. Start with three letter word families, and when children are pretty comfortable decoding these words, you can start decoding four letter words and blends. I have found that 2.5-3.5 years of age is a pretty good time to start with these activities.
Tips and Tricks for Decoding Three Letter Word Families
- Muffin Tin and Magnet Letters: Flip over a 6 cup muffin tin and use magnet letters to spell three letter words. I really like this classroom magnet letter kit because the vowels are a different color than the consonants and there are multiple copies of each letter. Spell the word and point to each letter saying it’s sound, c-a-t, then slide your finger underneath all of the letters from beginning to end and say the word “cat”. Switch out the beginning sound to spell the next word in the word family.
- Word Families Letters: I created these letters so that you wouldn’t have to buy the magnetic letters. I recommend sorting the letters according to the word families and storing them in small plastic baggies.
- Word Families Flashcards: Use my flashcards as a guide while spelling three letter words or use them to help your child practice reading three letter words.
- Word Families Videos: In my videos, Julian and I model several hands on strategies for learning three letter words such as writing words in shaving cream on a baking sheet or writing the words on the pavement using sidewalk chalk and jumping on them. Use letters to build words with us while you watch the video!
- Coloring Over Words: Have your child watch you write three letter words and then have them color over your words. This is a really simple activity, but has profoundly helped some of my children (especially Julian) to become good readers.
- Starfall’s Word Machine: Starfall is an amazing resource and a lot of the content is free! This three letter word machine activity is interactive and fun.
4. More Complex Phonemic Awareness
The ability to hear, identify, and manipulate all of the sounds the letters make is known as phonemic awareness. Each individual sound is called a phoneme, and we have 44 phonemes in the English language. After children have learned one sound for each letter of the alphabet, they are ready to start learning about the remaining sounds.
I have found that the best way to teach these sounds is to point them out while reading quality literature and to draw attention to the rules when your child struggles to sound out a new word. I also have flashcards, posters, and videos to help you teach your child these remaining sounds.
The Remaining Sounds
- Long Vowels – In addition to teaching children about the 5 long vowel sounds, I also want to introduce them to common spelling patterns.
- Digraphs – Digraphs are two letters that come together to form one single sound.
- Other Vowel Sounds
- R Controlled Vowels – When a vowel is followed by an r, it makes a different sound.
- Long and Short oo (Vowel Digraphs – Two vowels that come together to make one sound.) – The oo in moon is long, and the oo in book is short.
- Diphthongs – These gliding vowels start with the sound of the first letter and glide to the next.
- *Consonants with More Than One Sound – Although children may be familiar with the other sounds these letters make, it is a tricky concept that some consonants make more than one sound, so I have included it here, but feel free to introduce this concept earlier or later based on the interest and needs of your child.
5. Reading Comprehension Strategies
Create a love of reading with quality literature, interact with books, and ask questions before, during, and after reading. Click here to learn more about how to support your child’s understanding of reading comprehension strategies here. Also, connecting reading with writing will continue to increase your child’s ability to read.
- Read Words and Sentences with Quality Books: Point to words you are reading so children can learn one-to-one matching. Leave off the last word (or a word your child may know) and pause asking, “What’s this word?” Do this with increasing frequency until your child is able to read full sentences. Gradually release the responsibility of reading to your child when they are ready; don’t force it!
- Ask Questions Before, During, and After Reading: Start with simple questions like, “What color is that? How many do you see? Can you point to the _____?” Then progress to questions like, “What lesson did the main character learn? Did you like that story? Why or why not? Did you ever feel like the character? What if that happened in your life, what would you do?”
- Independent Readers: Once children have all of the skills needed to read, it’s time to set them loose! Teach them how to use the library to find books that match their interests and go often! Do whatever it takes to help your child develop a love of reading.
- Don’t Stop Reading with Your Child: Once your child become an independent readers, make sure you still find time to cuddle up and read! Read picture books, nonfiction books, chapter books, and more together. Listen to books on tape, research their interests on the internet, follow recipes together, and more. Make reading fun!
With each of my children, I created a language rich environment at a young age with lots of opportunities for oral language development. I started introducing flashcards and videos for first words, colors, shapes, numbers, and the ABCs starting when they were about 6-8 months old. I did a little bit over a long period of time. Sometimes months would go by and we wouldn’t do anything but play and read books. When they were between 2.5-3.5 years old I started teaching them how to sound out three letter words.
After that, I started pointing out the remaining sounds (long vowels, digraphs, other vowel sounds) while reading quality literature whenever they would stumble over a new word. All along the way we have LOVED going to the library, checking out stacks of books, and reading together. When we read together, we are always discussing the books we read (what we liked and didn’t like, what was funny, how we can relate, etc.) and asking questions before, during, and after reading.
Now, my oldest daughter is in 5th grade and testing at a 13th grade level in reading, my oldest son (who I didn’t actually start doing flashcards with until he was 3 almost 4) is reading at a 6th grade level in 3rd grade, my 1st grade daughter is reading chapter books, my preschool son loves reading any level of picture books, and my 2.5 year old son knows all of his letter names and sounds, colors, shapes, numbers, first words, and is starting to sound out words and reads new words all of the time including signs and people’s names. Here’s a video of me taking turns reading with 2 year old Ophelia.
As a 3rd and 4th grade teacher and ESL coach/teacher, I saw many many struggling readers. Even though my team and I worked tirelessly to help our most struggling readers advance often with two or more years of growth, it was still not enough to bring ALL students to proficiency. Today, there seems to be a bit of an epidemic where only 35% of 4th graders are proficient according to nationwide tests. and many states are passing laws to retain students not reading at grade level by the end of 3rd grade.
Now that I’ve seen from a parent’s perspective just how easy it is to teach children how to read, I am hoping to share what I’ve learned and created to help other parents (or teachers) who want to to teach their children how to read. By providing a language rich environment filled with lots of oral language and vocabulary development, teaching the ABCs really really well, making reading fun and reading often, teaching how to sound out three letter words, and introducing them to long vowels, r controlled vowels, and vowel digraphs, children can learn how to read easily and naturally the way my own five children have. Please use, share, and enjoy my free reading resources as you teach your child to read! Have fun reading!
More Videos of Our Kids Reading
3 Year Old Ophelia Reads Ranger Rick
4 Year Old Ophelia Reads Flat Stanley
3 Year Old Ruby Reads to Elliot
4 Year Old Ruby Reading About White Blood Cells
5 Year Old Ruby Reading a Chapter Book
6 Year Old Ruby Reading Little Women
5 Year Old Elliot Reading That is Not a Good Idea by Mo Williams
6 Year Old Elliot Reads Captain Underpants
Reading with 18 Month Old Julian
20 Month Old Julian Oral Language Development
21 Month Julian Looking Through His Books
For More Information
You’ll find everything you need to teach your child to read on my teacher’s pay teacher’s store that has flashcards, videos, posters, and more! If you’d like a more in depth explanation for how to teach your child to read, please check out the following blog series.
Teach Your Child to Read Blog Series (Digging Deeper)
- #1-Oral Language Development Lays the Foundation for Learning to Read
- #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
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