Toddler reading early

Teach Your Child to Read Early: A Step-by-Step Guide, Tools & Resources

by Maria Aurelia “Chacha” Tumbokon

Best age to start reading

Kids can learn to read as early as when they learn to talk, which is about age 2. What’s important is not so much the age, but the level of maturity. You know that your child is probably ready to learn to read when he knows how to use and understand a few words. The important thing is not to make learning to read a chore, or an activity that stresses the child. You can teach your child to learn a little each day, and in a fun, loving way.

Also, keep in mind that building a skill involves mastering a simple task (like identifying letters of the alphabet), then progressing slowly to more complicated ones (like reading sentences). As with any skill, the best way to master reading is to have your child practice every day. You can incorporate reading time into his daily routine such as having it after lunch and before bedtime.

Note that to prepare your child to read, he should already have a developed language skill. You can foster this by always talking to and conversing with your child in a way for him to understand words and increase the number of words that he knows, so that he understands them when he encounters them by reading. A beginning reader will have a harder time reading words he does not know.

Steps on how to teach your child to read early

  1. Develop your child’s knowledge of words by talking to him a lot, and singing songs.

    Your child can’t really “read” unless he understands the words he is reading, and the best way for him to learn as many words as possible and learn how language works is to talk to him a lot from the time he is a baby, then, taking turns talking with him when he is a toddler. Another good way for your child to get exposed to new words is by singing to him, or better yet, singing together with him. Children love music, and when they learn songs, they also develop their vocabulary without them knowing it.

  2. Prepare your baby for the world of reading by surrounding her with printed words, and encouraging her to be aware of them, so that she understands that they convey meaning and communicate something.

    A baby has a growing mind that absorbs and makes sense of everything around her. With your help, one of the stimuli that your baby can absorb early is seeing words as symbols that have meaning, and that words she can hear can also be seen. Some of the ways you can prepare your baby’s brain to appreciate written words is to have a print-rich environment.

    A print-rich environment is about surrounding your child with the sight of different forms of print, with some of them offering opportunity for interaction. Some of the ways you can create a print-rich environment that your baby can be immersed in are:

    1. Reading to your baby – yes, from the first month, with simple books, every time you get the chance, and when she’s receptive. Point out the words as you read to her, and occasionally teach her the meaning of words with the help of illustrations on the book. Among other benefits, this adds to the number of words she understands, which is very important in learning how to read.
    2. Creating labels on objects around the house with the name of the object. Use large, bold letters. Print them on bright pastel paper, if possible. Some objects you might want to label are the door, window, wall, clock, and so on.
    3. Also consider labeling characters and objects on their books.
    4. Pointing out the words in books and also the print that you encounter in her environment.
    5. Letting your baby handle baby books (with thick cardboard pages)
    6. Surrounding your baby with books and reading materials. These are not necessarily baby books. You should also let your child see that you are reading.
  3. Teach your toddler to recognize and familiarize himself with the alphabet.

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    By age 2 or 3, you can slowly introduce your toddler to letters and their names. Toddler’s minds are so absorbent that they usually learn the letters fast. Ways to teach letters in a fun way include using:

    1. The ABC or Alphabet Song – Teaching your child the ABC song, especially when they associate each letter in the song with how the letter looks makes it easy to learn the letters because music is effective in helping to unconsciously memorize.
    2. Printed large letter cards – This is a basic way to show and teach letters to your child, such as this alphabet flash card.
  4. Letter cut-out and wooden puzzles – You can create this or buy online. You can have fun with this by letting your toddler hold each letter, and you identify to him the letter he is holding. This Melissa & Doug Alphabet Sound Puzzle Toy, for example, pronounces the correct name of each letter when placed correctly In the puzzle board. You can also use this toy to make his name and teach him that his name is made of letters.
  5. Letter toys & magnetic toys – This serves the purpose of a letter cut-out, except that it is a toy that your child can manipulate and have fun with, such as this magnetic letters toy:
  6. Letter posters and charts with colorful pictures of objects that begins with each letter – This can be displayed prominently where your child plays. This teaches your child to associate the first letters with the object, thus introducing him to the sound of letters, as well as sight words, such as this interactive alphabet wall chart

See also The best educational toys and gift ideas for children

  • Teach your child the sound of letters

    When your child begins to talk, you can teach your child to associate letters with their sounds. Start a few letters at a time, for example by saying or singing your child “A says “Ah””. By making this a fun and playful activity instead of making it a grind, your child is able absorb her lesson without her even being aware that she’s learning, like my daughter in this video:

    [My 6 month-old daughter starts to learn the sound of letters.]

    One way to make this fun is to introduce music to convey how each letter sounds, and what objects start with that sound (A = “apple”). Use words she can relate to like names of people she loves, her favorite objects, and parts of her body.

    An example of alphabet + letter sounds songs can be found in this video:

    You can find the complete video in this DVD:

    There are also toddler books that present letters and simple words that begin with them, with colorful illustrations. Read the letters with the objects. Emphasizing the beginning letter sound would teach your child the sound of letters, for example, “B is for ball… ba… ba… ball”.

    Don’t forget to touch or point out the letter that makes the sound, or better yet, slide through the letter with your finger as you make the letter sound. Exaggerate the sound for maximum impact.

    Here is an example of a first words book that can help you do this:

    Group together objects that begins with the letter she recognizes so she will be able to learn the sound that the words have in common, for example, you can tell your child, “These words start with the letter B… ball, boy, baby, bus”. Books like My First ABC can help you:

    As your child progresses, encourage your child to sound off the letters on her own, and together, read the words.

    Note that reading to your child is still of paramount importance at this stage. According to studies, combining book experiences and phonics is better than using either approach alone. Remember, in learning to read, understanding words is as important as sounding the words.

  • Teach your child how letters form words

    When your child has mastered most of the letter sounds, you can teach him how a combination of letters become words. Start with 3 letter words that makes sense like “cat”, “man” which has pictures.

    Deliberately sound every letter while pointing or sliding your finger through the word, and your child will eventually get it.

    Divide the words into its component letter sounds, and point out that the common letter combination sounds the same, for example, the “at” in “c” (“kah”) + “a” (“ah”) + “t”(”t”), “cat”, doing the same with “bat”, “fat”, etc.

    This video shows some strategies to teach your child to blend letter sounds to make words.

    Also, this award-winning 3 Letter Words puzzle toy can help make learning to read 3 letter words fun for you and your child.

    As you teach him to read more advanced words, let him know that some letters have more than one sound, some make different sounds when joined with other letters, or can even be silent.

    Teach him words that he’s interested in, such as his name, names of his loved ones, parts of his body, title and character of favorite books, etc. You can create a matching game with pictures.

    You can read letter books from step 3, but now, encourage your child to read the words on his own.

    At this stage, your child is able to recognize words as “sight words” where he does not have to form the words with letter sounds, but he learns certain words by its appearance. You can use sight words flash cards at this stage, like this sight word reader.

    There are also Apple (iOS) and Android apps that teach kids how to read words by using color animation and humor.

  • Continue to increase your child’s knowledge of words, especially the uncommon ones.

    As your child becomes more advanced in reading individual words, you can read more advanced toddler books, and let her read the easy and repetitive words.

    Ask her if he understands the words that she can read, and explain to her what the words mean if she does not know.

    Challenge your child by introducing her to books that have new words.

    You can take turns reading pages. There are books that let parents read the difficult part, and the kids read the easier portions where words are printed larger.

    When your child makes a mistake, do not say, “That’s wrong”. Instead, just read the correct word.

    Click here for the list of best children’s books of all time by age.

  • Teach your child how a combination of words express meaning.

    Let your child read more words and sentences on her own. At this point, encourage her to read and turn the page by herself.

    Ask her questions about the book to see if she understands what she is reading, and explain to her if she doesn’t.

  • Teach your child to be fluent at reading – the ability to read aloud with speed, accuracy and understanding.

    Continue to give your child good books to read.

    Go with your child to a library or bookstore and allow him to choose books he would like to read.

  • Also, here are some recommended books and resources for teaching kids to read:
    Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons
    This bestseller presents a beginning reader program based on a method that was proven to produce results that outperform other programs. In just 20 minutes a day, the step-by-step, easy to follow program claims to advance your child to second-grade reading level after you are done with the book.

    Teach Your Child to Read in Just Ten Minutes a Day
    This is a simpler, easier to follow program that claims to teach your toddler to read in 10 minutes a day. It is clearly written, with individual guidance for parents, public school teachers, daycare staff, and young babysitters.

    Learn to Read: A Magical Sight Words and Phonics Activity Workbook for Beginning Readers Ages 5-7: Reading Made Easy
    This is a workbook that you can use to complement your child’s learning to read. It stresses more on stie words learning, and includes word recognition drills using puzzles that involve unicorns, mermaids and dinosaurs.

    Free Reading worksheets are also available here:
    See also the list of educational toys and gift ideas by age.

    Why teach your child to read early?

    Although for a child, being able to read earlier than normal is not critical, it has benefits for his future intellectual development.

    Being able to read early primes the young brain to absorb printed words. During the height of plasticity and synaptic formation in your child’s first 3 years, his or her brain is prepared for the importance and ever presence of letters and words, and makes reading an acquired natural habit.

    It makes your child ready for kindergarten and confident in his advanced skills. A number of children in America enter kindergarten without being school-ready. Being able to read not only make your child well-prepared for school, but having advanced skills also makes him confident in his ability. He acquires an early positive self-image, which makes it easier for him to also be confident in acquiring not only more advanced reading skills, but other learning skills as well.

    It makes it easier to detect reading disability which can be easier fixed by early intervention. It is easier to fix dysfunctional or dyslexic reading while the brain is more malleable.

    Your child will be able to read simple books without the help of an adult. This enables your child to be independent, and be able to entertain, enjoy and enrich his knowledge when he reads by himself.

    It adds to your child’s being safe when he’s able to read simple warning signs such as “Danger”, “Stop”, or “Poison”.

    Being surrounded by printed words that he understands, your child will have more awareness and have appreciation for what is happening around him. Being able to read gives your child more fact-finding ability, learn more about his environment, and be exposed to more knowledge and ideas.

    Being able to read early allows your child to teach himself. Being able to teach himself is an ability that enables a child to learn independently. It can be a life-long advantage over peers who don’t have the same ability.

    It instills the love of reading to your child. The love of reading has so many benefits. The sooner your child is able to read, the faster he acquires advanced word knowledge, and the more he is able to enjoy the benefits of reading.

    Last but not the least, early literacy is shown to influence intelligence and academic success early in life. A study by V. Goertzel and M.G. Goeartzel’s “Cradles of Eminence”, a classic book about childhoods of more than 700 famous men and women, and Dolores Durkin’s “Children who Read Early” suggests that children who could read on entering school remained ahead of all others.