Reading is the foundational skill for school success. If you want to teach your child to read, these practical tips every parent can use.
It’s the number one question parents ask about school skills: how do I teach my child to read?
Parents know that future school success depends on the ability to read well. And they are not wrong.
Children who struggle to read in first grade are likely to struggle in fourth grade. And those same children are likely to be unable to read at grade level in ninth grade.
This post tells you exactly what to do to support your child as they learn to read. You don’t need to be a reading specialist – you can teach your child to read from toddler to grade two.
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Why Teach Your Child to Read?
There are many reasons you might want to teach your child to read:
- you want to give your child a headstart.
- your child is struggling to learn to read in school.
- you are homeschooling and you want your child to be a strong reader.
- you have concerns that the school might not be using the best reading program.
- your child is showing a lot of interest in learning how to read.
No matter the reason you want to teach your child to read, you’ll find the information you need here:
At What Age Should Your Child be Able to Read?
Most children learn to read between the ages of 5 and 7.
When most parents thinking of their children reading, they are thinking about:
- Saying aloud the written words on a page.
- Recognizing sight words (also known as high-frequency words).
- Using the sound-letter relationship to sound out words (called phonics).
Reading also includes:
- retelling the beginning, middle, and end of the story in fiction books.
- recalling the main idea and some important facts in non-fiction books.
If your child is younger than the age of five, there are critical skills your child needs to develop prior to the skills above.
Just like riding a bike, your child needs to balance before he can pedal. So make sure those foundational skills are met first.
If your child is struggling to learn to read, it’s important to remember that reading is a developmental process.
Look at the progression of skills below. Make sure your child has met the toddler and preschooler goals first.
It’s okay if your five-year-old still needs to work on the strategies for three-year-olds.
Remember it’s a skill learning to walk – your child needs to stand before she can run.
Teach Your Toddler to Read
Yes, you can teach your toddler to read – but it’s not what you think.
You don’t need to be doing alphabet flashcards. It’s just not developmentally appropriate.
But you can do it to help your toddler lay the foundational groundwork for reading. Playing with spoken language provides your child with a huge advantage for learning to read.
Phonological awareness is understanding the sounds (phonemes) in spoken language. Hearing and identifying those sounds is critical for reading success.
Your toddler can learn phonological awareness through reciting nursery rhymes, singing songs with repetition, and reading stories with rhyming and alliteration. Through practicing these skills you can teach your toddler to read.
Read more in the Parent’s Guide to Phonological Awareness.
Speaking is also a huge part of learning to read. While hearing the language is part of phonological awareness, speaking is reproducing those same sounds.
As you teach your toddler to read, focusing on oral language also helps them to build vocabulary. A broad vocabulary is critical for reading comprehension. Your toddler will draw on their knowledge of the spoken language as a beginning reader.
Important note: If your toddler or older child is deaf or hard-of-hearing, or an autistic child who is still working on spoken language – I see you. I have a child with a developmental disability, too.
Working on giving your child any tools for communication – American Sign Language, PECS, AAC, etc. This is the most important step to teach your child to read when he or she is school age. There are alternative ways to teach reading for children with certain disabilities.
Teach Your Three-Year-Old to Read
For three-year-olds, learning how to read is done out loud! Just like with toddlers, as you teach your three-year-old to read, continue to focus on speaking and hearing the language.
The alphabet is the foundation of the English language. Sadly, I’ve come across some parent shaming online surrounding teaching the alphabet.
It’s totally fine to want to teach your toddler or preschooler the alphabet. Research supports that it’s important to know the alphabet.
When you teach your three-year-old to read, you can start working on the alphabet. Again, this doesn’t need to be flashcards – there are a lot of fun and playful ways.
By the fourth birthday, most children should be able to recognize most letters of the alphabet. Make sure to work on both capital and lowercase letters.
- Related: Learning the Alphabet is Important
Continue working on the skills of phonological awareness as you teach your three-year-old to read. Your three-year-old can start identifying rhyming words for you in rhyming books.
As you reread familiar books, see if you can pause and if your child can fill in the missing rhyming words.
Also, you can ask your child to help you think of words that begin with the same initial sound
For example, these words start with /k/:
- kids, etc.
The main purpose of reading is to understand the text in order to learn. So you can teach your three-year-old to read by practicing comprehension skills.
Discuss books with your child and introduce the parts of the story:
- character (who are the people or animals in the story?)
- setting (where did the story take place?)
- problem (what went wrong in the story?)
- solution (how was it resolved?)
As you teach your three-year-old to read, remember that most of the practice is done out loud. Skipping these foundational pieces can leave gaps in skills by the time children are in 3rd or 4th grade.
Teach your Four-Year-Old to Read
This is the year prior to kindergarten for most children. These are the strategies you can use to teach your four-year-old to read prior to kindergarten.
- Related: Ready for Kindergarten Checklist
Your four-year-old will need to work towards complete independence with the alphabet for all 26 lowercase and capital letters. When your child is five, they will probably be able to write some letters independently, like their name.
As you teach your four-year-old to read, make sure their letter recognition is strong. This is a predictor for later reading success.
Listening to spoken language is so important for reading success as discussed above. So your four-year-old needs to be able to sit and listen to longer stories.
Your child needs to retell stories in greater detail. Teach your four-year-old to say what happened in the beginning, middle, and end of the story.
When you read aloud to your child, you have an opportunity to expand your child’s vocabulary. They can hear words and learn the meaning through context.
This helps them when they are independently reading because they already have exposure to this vocabulary. As you teach your four-year-old to read look for opportunities to expose them to new vocabulary.
Look for picture books that have a rich vocabulary. While your child might prefer to look at books with familiar characters, see if you can work in other types of books.
You can also see if your four-year-old is ready to listen to beginning chapter books. Experiment to see how long your child can actively listen to a book without pictures.
Teach your Five-Year-Old to Read
As your child begins kindergarten, you can continue to teach your five-year-old to read at home.
A big clue to whether your child has strong phonological awareness is their ability to produce rhyming words.
Playing rhyming games with your child:
- Say, “What rhymes with stairs? Street or bears?”
- Your child should hear and say “bears.”
- Then ask them to make up a rhyming question for you.
If your child can’t do this yet, it’s fine. Just continue to practice rhyming as it’s such an important way to teach your five-year-old to read.
Part of phonological awareness is phonemic awareness. It focuses on individual sounds, or phonemes, within words.
Phonemic awareness involves your child’s ability to manipulate sounds. Your child needs to be able to work with sounds without written letters prior to applying the sounds (phonics).
Your child will divide words into sounds, remove one sound and add another sound. Here’s an example:
- You: “Say dog.”
- Child: “Dog.”
- You: “What are the sounds in dog?”
- Child: “/d/ /o/ /g/”
- You: “Say it without /d/.”
- Child: “/og/”
- You: Add a /l/ to the beginning.
- Child: “Log.”
While this might not sound like reading to most adults, phonemic awareness is a critical piece to teach your five-year-old to read.
So finally you can start teaching your five-year-old to read words. If your child has strong phonological awareness and alphabet knowledge, this should be relatively easy.
You start to teach your five-year-old phonics by making sure your child can say the correct letter sound for each letter of the alphabet.
- Related: Learn Beginning Letter Sounds
Begin with CVC words – this means consonant-vowel-consonant.
Some examples of CVC words are:
If your child struggles with simple phonics, you need to revisit phonemic awareness. As you teach your five-year-old to read at home, make sure to contact the teacher with any concerns.
Teach your Six-Year-Old to Read
Your first-grade child will be learning to read in school, but you can continue to teach your six-year-old to read at home as well.
When children read with fluency, it means they can read quickly and with minimal effort. This is correlated to reading success as reading smoothly allows children to focus on the meaning, or comprehend the text.
So give your child opportunities to practice with easy-to-read books. Ideally, you will look for decodable books – these books rely on simple phonics patterns your child has already learned.
If you see your child looking at pictures for clues, redirect your child to read the words. You want to break this bad habit as you teach your six-year-old to read.
Romeo and Juliet in high school English class will not come with pictures, so you want to avoid developing bad habits around guessing instead of reading.
Once your child has mastered CVC words in phonics, you can teach your six-year-old to read more complex patterns.
Try words with beginning and ending consonant blends like:
Find more decodable readers for your child to practice these sounds.
Throughout your child’s journey to learn to read, vocabulary will be important. Continue to read aloud as this will teach your six-year-old to read more difficult books independently.
Not only does this build vocabulary, but it helps develop listening comprehension skills. Your child will be exposed to more complex texts when you read aloud and this prepares them for future grade levels.
Does My Child Have a Reading Disability?
As you work on these skills with your child, you might notice your child needs some extra practice. As long as you’re noticing improvement and growth, you can know your child is learning to read.
However, if you’re concerned your child could have a reading disability, you are not alone. My daughter was diagnosed with dyslexia this year at age 8.
You did nothing wrong. It’s not because you didn’t teach these skills at home.
I have two master’s degrees in education and taught hundreds of children to read. My daughter still struggled. Reading disabilities are neurological and have nothing to do with your skills as a parent.
If your child continues to struggle even after you practice the skills above, it is a good time to consider a reading disability.
These are concerns I recommend you address with your child’s teacher or pediatrician:
- difficulty with identifying letters after age four
- doesn’t seem to “hear” differences in speech sounds by age five
- struggles to sound out and apply basic CVC phonics rules by age six
- consistently fights you about reading, even when the text is very easy by age six
- reading is slow and labored by age seven
- can’t recall what he read by age six
- mixes up sounds in words by age seven
- substitutes words by age seven
Reading is a complicated skill. But there are concrete ways parents can develop foundational literacy skills with their children.
You can teach your child to read. This overview of how reading skills progress from toddlerhood to first grade gives you the basic knowledge you need.