14 easy steps to teach a child to read
There is a proven way how to teach a child to read that works for every child. It’s one of the best reading programs for kids! Prepared by certified early childhood professionals and based on scientific research it can teach your child how to read much faster.
The language development of children is a complex process but there is a way of how to make early literacy easy and enjoyable through various visual learning strategies, reading comprehension activities and phonics games.
Step 1. Sight reading
Evidently, research suggests that children learn how to read not with an alphabet, letters and letter-sound connections - the first step is sight reading. It’s a way of recognizing objects and words without knowing any letters.
What's more, very often children can recognize pictures and identify them with words they have heard before using their visual memory. For example, children can recognize their street name if they see a sign every day. Or they can distinguish their preschool friend’s name tag from other name tags without knowing any letters. That’s why it’s very important for a person who is teaching a child how to read to use a lot of picture guessing, sorting and reading activities.
Another wonderful tool is a picture book. Besides, it’s amazing how many stories a child can “read” without a single word in them. You can purchase these online or make a picture-book yourself. Don’t include any alphabet letters, tell the story only with pictures! Check out Flannel board and felt crafts activities to see how to make a visual story sensorial and exciting!
Step 2. Letters and sounds
In order to teach your child how to read, you need to remember a few techniques. First of all, you should always use letter sounds not letter names. We always use only letter sounds to teach reading. One of the best ways of teaching letter sounds is through entertaining and educational reading games. A great example is the "I spy" game.
Teach your child alphabet letter names later on, when he/she is comfortable reading basic words, at about 5-6 years of age. Why? If your child knows an alphabet it seems like he/she is just a step away from reading? No, reading words and knowing the alphabet has little in common. Learning letter sounds first will make it easier for children to start reading words when they identify these sounds.
Step 3. Teaching reading with Phonics
Phonics is a way of teaching a child to read using phonics sounds. Many researchers suggest that using phonics in early childhood reading process makes a significant difference in early childhood education.
Generally, phonics is based on a belief that if children know all sounds in the word, they can pronounce the letter sequence in the act of first reading. By the age of 2 years, a child is unconsciously forming grammar rules (the way sounds are used to communicate meaning) from everything that was said to him/her and around them.
When children know all alphabet sounds and basic grammar (in this case, the connection between spelling and sounds) they will start “decoding” separate sounds into single words. Then, you can start with either teaching your child all alphabet sounds and then offering him/her to read simple words; or teaching your child selected phonics sounds and then offering reading various simple words with selected sounds in them.
Phonics suggests that you begin teaching a child to read with phonics words that are easy for children to “decode” like – cat, bat, fat, sad, mat etc. Phonics words are words whose pronunciation and spelling match.
Certainly, you should not worry about those harder non-phonics words, even though there are so many of them in the English language. Children will learn them later on and memorize them in school.
Step 4. Lower case letters
Very often, let’s be honest – always(!) children are taught how to read with uppercase letters at the preschool or at home. But that’s not the letters children will see in books. And most of the letters look different in upper and lower case – for instance, “A” vs. “a”, “B” vs. “b”, “D” vs. “d”, “F” vs. “f” and so on. In order to make it easier for a child to start reading always use a lowercase alphabet. If you cannot find it in your local store or online you can always make it yourself from construction, felt or cardboard. Just simple lowercase alphabet cards will do magic to your child’s reading success.
Step 5. Vocabulary-building activities and games
Increasing your child's vocabulary is a very important step in order to teach a child reading. Besides, research suggests that vocabulary size and ability to read are connected!
Undeniably, adding vocabulary-building activities and games to your child’s life is very important for their successful language and literacy development. Vocabulary activities for preschoolers is a great way of increasing your child’s vocabulary!
Step 6. Children's rhymes and rhyming words
Undoubtedly, rhyming is a great way of teaching a child how to read. Children's rhymes should be built on phonic words (if possible). For basic rhyming, activities start with identifying rhyming words. Make up a word – for example, a “cat” and ask your child to name words that rhyme to it. Check for more ideas and how to make your own children rhymes here - Nursery rhymes for children.
Use clapping games, fingerplays and physical activities with nursery rhymes. Also, they are not only fun, but they also promote phonological awareness, expand your child’s vocabulary and improve his/her pronunciation, which is very important in order to teach a child how to read. Therefore, these activities provide a hands-on learning experience that will increase memory and cognitive learning abilities in your child.
Step 7. Write by building words
When your child's handwriting abilities are not yet formed, you can begin with alphabet cards or wooden alphabet blocks.
Magic rug reading and spelling games for kids illustrates how you can teach a child to read through fascinating and interesting reading activities.
Step 8. Syllable
After your child learned sounds and is able to read most of the monosyllabic words (words that consist only of one syllable) you can start introducing him/her to multisyllabic words (words that include more than one syllable). Meanwhile, some activities can include: syllable games, clapping syllables in multisyllabic words, substituting syllables and creating new words. Teach your child syllables with our new Sequence for kids.
Step 9. How to teach a child to write?
Meanwhile, it is important to set another milestone in your child’s academic journey – teach your child how to write.
Besides, learning to write is an important visual aid in order to teach a child reading. Most children learn faster when they can use visual senses (sight) and physical senses (touch) at the same time.
To begin teaching how to write we need to start working on your child’s handwriting grip.
How to improve your child’s handwriting?
Here are a few ways:
- "Learning letters" tracing games is one of the best preschool writing activities. As well, it’s a great way of learning alphabet letter sounds, improving handwriting grip and having fun at the same time.
- Picking tiny objects can be a great activity for 3-5-year-olds. Undoubtedly, it is a great activity for exploiting fine motor skills. Learn more about fine motor skills here. It can be a good way of developing and improving the handwriting grip of your child. Let’s make it entertaining! Create an imaginary lake – take a blue construction paper and cut it in the shape of circles; put some little objects (you can use small sunflower seeds) on the paper and ask a child to help you pick up all objects and clean the lake.
- Also, another great way of working on your child’s handwriting grip is to offer a child to write, trace or draw with purposefully broken crayons for toddlers. Crayons need to be short in length – about 1-1.5 inches. It should be too short for your child to grab it. By all means, this is a great way of naturally developing a child’s handwriting grip, as a child will not get any instruction of how to hold a short crayon.
- Finally, if you want to perfect your child's handwriting grip you can explain to him/her the proper way of holding pens and pencils – holding writing tools between a bent thumb and an index finger, while your writing tool is resting on a third finger. We like to explain it in our own way – take a pen, sandwich it between thumb and first finger and serve it on the middle finger plate (use your imagination and make up your own way).
Step 10. Sensory activities for toddlers
As we mentioned before, adding sensory materials to your learning process is not only important it is essential. What are the sensory materials? It is everything you can feel with your sensory organs through sight, smell, touch, taste, and hearing.
That’s why while teaching your child how to read on alphabet cards or wooden alphabet blocks try to make your materials sensorial by adding a different texture to them - an extra layer of glue, different kinds of paper, various felt fabrics, threads, sparkles, etc. Moreover, try to make all of your reading materials sensorial.
It is known that children receive a lot of support from verbal, visual and tactile (touching) senses in analyzing speech. That’s why it is important to involve your child in various sensory activities for toddlers. Check out Fun fingerplays for preschoolers for more ideas.
Step 11. Music activities and Physical games for kids
Rhythm has deep roots in early childhood development – babies create their own breast sucking rhythm as a way of communication and dialogue. Moreover, there is a connection between cognitive (intellectual) development, physical activities and musical activities. Learning to read is not a separate intellectual activity that your child’s mind is involved in. It is a part of overall early childhood development. That’s why while your child is learning to read, it is important to involve him/her in various Music activities and Physical games.
A child comes to the world without any knowledge of it - like a book with empty pages! Therefore, we as parents, educators, and teachers need to write all the information in this book. Children will learn how to read much faster if rhythm, rhyme, and actions are involved at the same time.
Step 12. Interactions
Many research suggests that your child’s cognitive development is influenced by two main components - cognitive function and emotional interactions. That's why the way your child is cared for, his/her feelings, desires, interests are very important in the learning to read process.
Sometimes, when your child does not feel comfortable at the preschool (often due to separation anxiety, which is quite common among 3-4 years old) he/she might have a hard time learning new material. That’s why it’s very important for your child to have a comfortable, loving and caring environment that will accommodate his/her interests.
Every time we build children’s reading games and activities we always look for a way to fulfill your child’s interests and passions. One of the children’s favorite activities are activities with Puppets. Check it to see how to make a puppet yourself.
Step 13. Repetition
Repetition is very important! Because children are learning and memorizing through extensive repetitive listening. If you read a book, tell a story, set up a dramatic play or lead any other children’s activity or fun games once, don’t think that a child will not be interested in it again. Besides children just love listening to the same stories and reading the same books all over again. And the more children will listen and memorize words, phrases, and acts in the same story, the more they will enjoy this story.
Step 14. Interactive games
Children learn better and quicker when the material is prepared in the form of an interactive game. The atmosphere of the learning reading process should be fun and festive...almost “magical”. Check Literacy activities for preschoolers with magic box and find out how to make your every reading game fascinating and magical with Magic box in 5 easy steps.
Meanwhile, your child should not feel any kind of pressure during reading games - more like he/she should be excited as they are entering a new world of literacy, which is only for big boys/girls.
As you have learned about the 14 steps to teach a child to read, you are now one step closer to know how to teach a child reading, take a closer look at our reading games and activities for kids for ideas and inspiration.
- Berk L. E. (2013). Child Development (9th Edition). Illinois State University. Kendallville, IN: Pearson.
- Harlan J. D., Rivkin M. S. (2012). Science Experiences for the Early Childhood Years: An Integrated Affective Approach (10th Edition). Upper Sadly River, NJ: Pearson.
- Essa E. (2008). What to do when. Practical Guidance Strategies for Challenging Behaviours in the Preschool (6th Edition). Belmont, CA: Cengage Learning.
- Edwards L. C. (2013). Music and Movement. A way of Life for the Young Child (7th Edition). Upper Sadly River, NJ: Pearson.
- Machado J. M. (2016). Early Childhood Experiences in Language Arts. Early Literacy (11th Edition). Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.