If you're looking for a way to help your preschooler learn to read, we've got some great tips for parents out there about how best to teach their child reading before they enter kindergarten.
It's never too early to start teaching those little ones how to read.
Children who learn at an early age are more likely to become better readers later on in life, and it can help them do well in school when they're older.
But what should you do? How can you make sure your preschooler is learning the skills they need for reading success?
Your Preschooler Discovers Letters and Numbers
Literacy doesn't start only when your child starts school. From birth, babies and children are gathering skills they'll use in reading.
The years between ages 3 and 5 are critical to reading growth, and some 5-year-olds are already in kindergarten.
The best way to instil a love for and interest in reading is to read to your child. And yet, many parents don't. Reading gives you the opportunity for close bonding with your child, and it also provides a window into a world of literacy that your child is about to enter.
As your child goes from saying her first sentences to speaking in paragraphs, you will start to see exciting milestones develop with reading.
Your child will begin to recognise print on the street, stop signs, familiar store signs, and the address posted on your home.
Most Preschoolers Will:
Know the names of their favourite books; hold a book correctly and turn pages; recall familiar words and phrases infamous books, pretend to read books; know the difference between a random squiggle and a letter or number.
Some Preschoolers Will:
Recognise and write some letters and numbers; name letters that begin certain words, make up rhymes or silly phrases.
Some Preschoolers Might Even:
Predict what might happen next in a story, read and write their names and some familiar words, retell stories that they know.
How to Teach Kids to Read
Most people don't think about the process of learning to read until they decide to start teaching their children at home.
Contrary to what some people believe, learning to read is not a 'natural process that happens independently.
It's a complex one that requires the proper teaching of various skills and strategies, such as phonics (knowing the relationship between letters and sounds) and phonemic awareness.
The good news is that although reading itself is a complex process, the steps are taken to build these skills are pretty straightforward.
Try these simple and time-tested strategies below to teach kids how to read and make it a positive and rewarding experience.
Talk About Text
A text-rich environment for preschoolers lays the groundwork for reading success. It's not just about having books in the home, although that's a great start.
You can also start talking about letters, numbers, and words on packages and signs.
Would you please help your child see how text is already a part of his daily life? For example, please point out the name of his favourite cereal.
Show him the clothing labels. Show him the different parts of a birthday card or invitation.
When you are out and about, play games involving letter and number recognition.
Can your child tell you any of the letters in the supermarket sign? Can she read the serving amount on a packaged snack?
She will be delighted to understand more about her world—but don't push her delight. Developing text awareness should never be a chore.
Be Aware of Problems
Are you concerned that your child might have a learning disability? As with almost any disability, early intervention can prevent problems in the future.
In preschool years, speech delays are much more noticeable than learning disabilities, affecting a child's reading efforts.
Ask your pediatrician for advice if you are concerned that your child is speech delayed. Unfortunately, most school districts will not diagnose reading disabilities until first grade.
However, there are signs that you can look for earlier. For example, if your 5-year-old can't "hear" the rhyme in two simple words or cannot differentiate between a letter and a random squiggle, this may be an area of development you'll want to keep an eye on.
Use Songs and Nursery Rhymes to Build Phonemic Awareness
Children's songs and nursery rhymes aren't just a lot of Fun—the rhyme and rhythm help kids hear the sounds and syllables in words, which helps them learn to read.
An excellent way to build phonemic awareness (an essential skill in reading) is to clap rhythmically together and recite songs in unison.
This playful and bonding activity is a fantastic way for kids to develop the literacy skills that will set them up for reading success.
Make Simple Word Cards at Home
Cut out simple cards and write a word containing three sounds on each one (e.g. ram, cat, pig, top, sun, pot, fin).
Invite your child to choose a card, then read the word together and hold up three fingers.
Ask them to say the first sound they hear in the word, then the second, and then the third. This simple activity requires little prep time and builds essential phonics and decoding skills (helping them learn how to sound out words).
If your child starts learning the alphabet letters, focus on each letter's sound, more so than letter names.
Engage Your Child in a Print-Rich Environment
Create daily opportunities to build your child's reading skills by creating a print‑rich environment at home.
Seeing printed words (on posters, charts, books, labels etc.) enables children to see and apply connections between sounds and letter symbols.
When you're out and about, point out letters on posters, billboards and signs. In time you can model sounding out the letters to make words.
Focus on the first letter in words. Ask your child, "What sound is that letter?" "What other word starts with that sound?" "What word rhymes with that word?"
Play Word Games at Home or in the Car
Building on the previous step, introduce simple word games regularly.
Focus on playing games that encourage your child to listen, identify and manipulate the sounds in words.
For example, start by asking questions like "What sound does the word___start with?" "What sound does the word___end with?" "What words start with the sound___?" and "What word rhymes with___?".
Understand the Core Skills Involved in Teaching Kids to Read
It's important to remember that learning to read involves various skills. There are five essential components of reading that you can read about here.
These are the skills all children need to learn how to read successfully. In summary, these include:
- Phonemic awareness – the ability to hear and manipulate the different sounds in words
- Phonics – recognising the connection between letters and the sounds they make
- Vocabulary – understanding the meaning of words, their definitions, and their context
- Reading comprehension – understand the importance of the text, both in storybooks and information books
- Fluency – The ability to read aloud with speed, understanding and accuracy
- teach kids reading skills at home
Play With Letter Magnets
Middle vowel sounds can be tricky for some children, which is why this activity can be so helpful.
Prepare letter magnets on the fridge and pull the vowels to one side (a, e, i, o, u). Next, say a CVC word (consonant-vowel-consonant), for example, ' cat', and ask your child to spell it using the magnets.
To help them, say each vowel allowed (/ayh/, /eh/, /ih/, /awe/, /uh/) while pointing at its letter, and ask your child which one makes a similar middle sound.
Harness the Power of Technology to Keep Your Child Engaged
Learning to read should be an enjoyable process to keep kids motivated to improve.
Sometimes a child might be full of excitement and eagerness to learn initially, but once they hit a wall, they can feel overwhelmed and give up easily.
As a parent, it can feel impossible to pick up again and know where to fill in any gaps causing frustration.
Read Together daily and Ask Questions About the Book
Many people don't realise just how many skills can be picked up through the simple act of reading to a child.
Not only are you showing them how to sound out words, but you're also building critical comprehension skills, growing their vocabulary, and letting them hear what a fluent reader sounds like.
Most of all, regular reading helps your child to develop a love of reading, which is the best way to set them up for reading success.
Strengthen your child's comprehension skills by asking questions while reading.
Encourage younger children to engage with the pictures (e.g. "Do you see the boat? What colour is the cat?").
For older children, ask questions about what you've just read, like "Why do you think the little bird was afraid?" "When did Sophie realise she had special powers?"
Play Games to Memorise High-Frequency Sight Words Every Day
Sight words cannot be easily sounded out and need to be recognised on sight.
High‑frequency sight words often occur in reading and writing (e.g. you, I, we, am, had, and, too, the, have, they, where, was, does).
The strategy for learning sight words is, "See the word, say the word". Learning to identify and read sight words is essential for young children to become fluent readers.
Most children will be able to learn a few sight words at the age of four (e.g. is, it, my, me, no, see, and we) and around 20 sight words by the end of their first year of school.
Be Patient; the Best Way to Teach Kids to Read Is to Make it Fun!
Every child learns at their own pace, so always remember that the most important thing you can do is make it enjoyable.
By reading regularly, mixing things up with the activities you choose, and letting your child pick out their books occasionally, you'll instil an early love of reading and give them the best chance at reading success in no time.
Reading Activities for Preschoolers
Fun With Letters
Children enjoy copying words out onto paper. Would you please write your child's name and have him copy it himself with alphabet stamps, stickers, or magnets?
Encourage him to "write" his own words using the letters.
Your child will write letters backwards, spell seemingly randomly, and may hold his marker strangely — it's "all good" at this age when a child wants to communicate in writing of any kind.
What Word Starts With…
The letter-sound connection is one of the first steps to reading. But, first, play a guessing game about your child's favourite words.
What letter does "p-p-p-pirate" start with? How about "M-m-mommy"?
Once your child guesses one correctly, see how many words you can come up with together that start with the same letter.
Your Child the Author
Three-year-olds can be chatty, and by age 4, it can be hard to get a word edgewise. So take advantage of your child's interest in talking by writing a book together.
Start with something simple, like describing a fun day at a park or visiting friends.
Staple a few pieces of paper together, and write out one or two of your child's sentences on each page. Then, please read the story to her and let her illustrate it.
A Different Way to Read
Reading to your child is great — but what's even better is something called "dialogic" reading.
That's when you ask your child to participate in the story. Before turning the page, ask your child what he thinks will happen next.
You can also ask your child what other way the book could have ended.
For example, what would have happened with the classic book Corduroy if the little girl hadn't come back to take Corduroy home from the toy store?
Take Letters Outside
Kids are tactile and enjoy few activities more than poking things with a stick.
Many preschools encourage kids to make letters out of Play-Doh or draw them into sand or clay.
The next time you are out in the park, at the beach, or in the snow, use your surroundings to play with letters. Take turns writing notes in the snow, dirt, or sand.
Just the Facts
Try getting your child interested in nonfiction books. At the library or bookstore, find books on your child's favourite topics.
Cars, dinosaurs, dogs, and other topics are covered in on-level books with plenty of pictures, designed especially for kids this age.
One of the critical skills children need when they start to learn to read, and as you help them learn to read, is the ability to hear all the different sounds in a word – for instance, knowing that a comment like 'dog' is made up of three sounds, 'd', 'o' and 'go.
An excellent way to tune in your child's ears to these sounds is to play some sound and listening games.
Make a sound: silly or sensible, loud or soft, and get your child to copy it. Then ask them to make a sound for you to copy too.
Play with the sounds around you. For example, when you're out on a walk, keep your ears open and see how many different sounds you can hear: cars, footsteps, birdsong, the wind in the trees, and so on. Give your child a point for each sound they hear - and an extra point if they can copy it!
Have Fun with animal noises. Can your child make the right noise when you say an animal name (cow, duck, elephant . . .)? Why not add some funny actions too!
If your child can hear and copy rhymes, they'll have a real head start with reading.
Say a simple one-syllable word, like 'pat', and ask your child to say a word that rhymes with it. It doesn't matter if this is an accurate word (like 'bat') or a made-up one (like 'data) – the important thing is that they've heard and copied the rhyme.
Say your child's name (or a favourite toy's name, or a friend's name) and see how many rhyming words your child can think of.
Sing or say some rhyming songs, nursery rhymes or poems together. Pause at the end of a rhyming line and let your child add the rhyming word ('Twinkle, twinkle little star, How I wonder what you . . .').
Acting Like a Reader
When they share a book with you, your child will be learning some of the skills they'll need when they start reading.
Point to the words as you read. This helps your child spot that words are made up of groups of letters and that words go from left to right and from top to bottom on the page.
As they get more experienced, you could ask them to have a go at pointing under the words as you read.
Praise them when they keep their pointing finger under the words and move it along from left to right!
Use words like 'cover', 'page', 'picture' and 'words' when you talk about books, and praise your child for using those words appropriately too.
Let your child find the first page of the story before reading, and encourage them to turn the pages as you read.
When your child chooses a book to read, help them read the back cover and talk about the story and the cover pictures together.
Talk about books as you read – tell your child what you think about the story (or the information in a nonfiction book) and encourage them to tell you their ideas too.
You could say, "I wonder what's going to happen next?" to spark a conversation with your tot.
Would you please encourage your child to talk about their own experiences when you are reading together? For instance, 'That reminds me of when we had a picnic with Grandma,' or 'I don't like tomatoes either!'
Know Your ABCs
Many preschoolers enjoy learning the names of all the alphabet letters, and there are lots of fun ways to do this.
Choose an alphabet book with appealing pictures and look at it together. Can you and your child think of more words that start with each letter?
You could make your alphabet scrapbook with pictures and words for each letter.
Sing an alphabet song together.
When you're reading to your child, sometimes ask them to tell you which letter a word begins with.
(Don't do too much of this in one go, or it might slow the story down and spoil the enjoyment!)
Once your child knows the alphabet, you could introduce the main letter sounds.
Explain that although the letter A's name sounds like 'ay', the sound it makes is usually a short 'a' sound, like at the start of 'apple'. Look at an alphabet book, frieze or flashcards together and help your child make the most common sound for each letter.
Use the short vowel sounds ('a' as in 'apple', 'e' as in 'egg', 'i' as in 'igloo', 'o' as in 'octopus', 'u' as in 'umbrella').
They'll learn the long vowel sounds later, along with all the other sounds letters can make!
For the consonants, like 's', 'to, 'b' etc., try to say the sounds without adding an 'uh' sound at the end. So the 's' sound is 'ssss' like a snake hissing, not 'suh', and 't' is a crisp 't' sound rather than 'tuh'.
Once your child knows their alphabet and some letter sounds, they could try reading some actual words if they like!
Pause when you're reading a familiar story and let them read the next word.
Encourage them to say the letter sounds and blend them to read the word (e.g. 'Bo-Peep up the hill I spy Jack and . . . J-i-ll, Jill!').
Play 'hunt the letter' or 'hunt the word'. For example, say, 'Can you find the word 'cat' on this page?' Or 'Can you find a word that starts with 'm'?'
You could buy or make some flashcards with simple 'CVC' (consonant-vowel-consonant) words like 'hat', 'bed', 'tip', 'dot', 'cup'.
Ask your child to say the sound each letter makes and then put all the sounds together to read the word, e.g. 'c-u-p, cup'.
Encourage your child to look for words and letters in the world around them – on posters, road signs, shop signs, etc.
Give them lots of praise for recognising and sounding out some of the letters and words.
Don't be tempted to push your preschooler to do more reading than they want to. A few minutes of reading or word games at a time is plenty!
They should enjoy their early experiences of reading – if they overdo it, they may end up feeling tired, bored and frustrated, and less keen to read in the future.
Helping Your School-Age Child With Reading
Whether they already knew their alphabet and letter sounds when they started school or just started learning in their first year in primary school, there is plenty you can do to support and encourage as you help your child learn to read.
Lots of the games and activities suggested in this article under 'Fun with words, letters and sounds' above is still very appropriate for school-age children who are beginning readers.
And as they practice their reading skills at school, there are many new ways you can help them.
It's helpful to know a bit of the method your child's school uses to teach reading.
If your child's teacher hasn't already invited you to a parents' evening or meeting about it or sent home an information leaflet, it's worth making an appointment with them to chat about what your child is learning at school and how you can help.
- Read together at least once a day, and encourage your child to retell stories. ...
- Start learning the letters of the alphabet. ...
- Have your child read to you. ...
- Let your child choose the books they want to read. ...
- Remember that building phonological awareness is key.
(Here's why BOB Books are often the first kids can read on their own!) On average, a 4-year-old knows about 1,500 words, but don't start counting! If your child's vocabulary is increasing — and she shows an interest in learning and using new words — she's on track.
- Don't wait to get your child reading help she's behind.
- Try to read to your child for a few minutes daily.
- Help your child choose books at her reading level.
- Consider checking out books on tape.
- Create a reader-friendly home by monitoring screen-time.