As tomorrow is Read Across America, I thought I’d share a few thoughts about teaching your child to read. I wrote up most of this post last year in a two-part series, but I decided to combine it and edit it slightly.
I’m passionate about reading! As a former teacher, teaching kids to read was one of my favorite parts of the job. Now that I’m at home, it’s been so fun to see my own children move from non-readers to readers!!
Here are seven tips to set your preschooler on the road to reading:
1) Read aloud to your child. Often.
Probably not what you expected for my top tip, huh? However, this is absolutely the most crucial part of teaching your child to read. They must be immersed in books! And it needs to be often throughout the day. A token book before bed is not what I’m talking about here (although I’m guilty of this sometimes)! Chunks of time devoted to reading aloud throughout the day are going to make reading come alive for your child (you should even read to your babies and toddlers – I used to read to the girls while they were in their high chairs)!
One of my favorite books about how and why you should read aloud to your child is The Read-Aloud Handbook from Jim Trelease. Equally inspiring is Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever by Mem Fox.
2) Read beside your child.
Do your children see you reading? You can’t expect them to embrace something you don’t model!! Even if it is just 10 or 15 minutes reading a chapter from a book, your children can see that reading is important to you. They are watching you.
Here’s how we do it: Our Bible time in the morning consists of me reading my Bible and the girls “reading” their Bibles right alongside me. We also have a quiet time in the afternoon where we all read our own books.
I also really want to encourage dads here! Please, read in front of your children. Little boys especially NEED to see you reading and to hear you read aloud to them.
3) Fill your home with print.
A “print-rich” environment is correlated with academic success, so fill your home with books, magazines, and newpapers! Even when my girls were babies, I had a basket of board books in the living room and baskets of books in their bedrooms. Now, each girl has her own bookshelf filled with books.
You may not have a lot of room, but even just a box of books under the bed is an excellent start! If money is an issue, look at garage sales, used bookstores, or an online service like Paperback Swap.
4) Get a library card!
Not only can you find an amazing variety of books at the library, you can also take advantage of story times, activities, and whatever else your library offers! Visits to the library give your child a chance to see that reading is important — not just to you — but to many others, as well.
Sometimes it can be overwhelming to figure out what books to check-out. Your librarian is very knowledgeable in this area, so be sure to utilize his/her help. I have also found these books helpful in selecting classics and picture books to encourage a love of literature:
Read for the Heart: Whole Books for WholeHearted Families: This is one of the most-used books on my shelf, and I cannot say enough about it! Not only does it share lists of books to read with your child — it shares why and how you should read to your child. Broken down into several categories, this book will guide you to noble, moral, and wonderfully-written books based on age level. Truly, you should definitely consider this book if you are overwhelmed by the choices out there or just want to make sure your child’s reading material is more than “twaddle”! It will inspire you!
Honey for a Child’s Heart by Gladys Hunt: This book is also one of my go-to books when I’m wondering what we should check-out from the library next. This book is broken down into a few more categories, and I especially appreciate the section for beginning readers.
5) Teach lower-case letters first.
When you begin to do alphabet activities or read picture books about the alphabet, consider teaching lower-case letters first. You will encounter a much higher percentage of lower-case letters than capitals in your reading!
6) Worry more about letter sounds than names.
While it’s great your child can sing the alphabet song, it’s not really that helpful!! Let me clarify that a little bit more: Eventually your child will need to know the names of the letters, but it is much more advantageous to teach letter SOUNDS first. When your child sees a b, you want him to say “Hey, look, a /b/” (letter sound) instead of “That’s a b” (letter name).
Some children are able to memorize the name and sound at the same time, but it is too much information for others. It may feel a little strange at first to read through your favorite alphabet book identifying each letter by sound, but I believe it makes so much more sense!
Once your child knows her letter sounds, I recommend the book Mommy, Teach Me to Read: A Complete and Easy-to-Use Home Reading Program. If you’d like a complete curriculum, we are currently using The Reading Lesson: Teach Your Child to Read in 20 Easy Lessons. A complete and sequential (but still quite hands-on) approach can be found in All About Reading Level 1.
7) Don’t push too hard.
Especially with your first child, you probably have a tendency to push a little more (I’m guilty sometimes), but your child doesn’t have to read by the time he is three….or four…or five..or even six. My oldest knew her letter sounds when she was four, but I didn’t push her to read. We started some phonics and easy readers when she was five, and she was reading about grade level. She turned six and in a span of about two months, she went from reading on a first grade level to a fifth grade level. I’m currently working with my middle daughter (she’s five), and she is just now beginning to blend three-letter-words. My almost four-year-old can remember her numbers, but her letter/sound recall is still spotty. Am I worried?!! NO!!
EVERY CHILD HAS HIS/HER OWN UNIQUE TIME TABLE!!
I share about my own children only because I want you to see that your child doesn’t have to read when he is three. Don’t get hung up on what the other kids your child’s age are doing. Trust yourself a little bit more — you know your child! Sure, if they show readiness signs, I’m all for it. But if not, just let them play — and build — and sing — and play some more!!
Though these tips may seem basic, I hope they have inspired you and will help you in your journey to raise a reader. I truly believe you can teach your child to read!