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How Do You Teach A Child To Read?

A parent’s guide for teaching literacy.

Originally Published: 
how to teach kids to read
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Of all the things you teach your child, one of the most important will be teaching them to read. We may all joke that the overuse of emojis will turn language into a sort of modern hieroglyphics — but, c’mon, we’re not there yet. For the foreseeable future, we live in a society where literacy serves as a springboard to success.

Being able to read gives way to other important life skills, like driving a car. Breathe, Mama… that part comes much later. But learning to read? It’s never too early to start developing those skills. Of course, as is the case with many aspects of raising a child, it can be easier said than done. You might feel overwhelmed just thinking about how to teach your kid to read.

Fortunately, there are a few tried-and-true approaches to teaching literacy. The most important thing to remember before you start, though, is that every child is unique. Although most kids learn to read between the ages of five and seven, your child might master the task earlier or even later.

Give them grace, and give yourself grace, too. There are plenty of programs on the market that promise to help you teach literacy, but there’s no one-size-fits-all handbook to make it happen. Come to the table full of encouragement! And, if you have any concerns about your child’s progress, reach out to your child’s educator or other early education specialists for insight.

How to Teach Kids to Read

Recite nursery rhymes.

You may already be doing this but didn’t realize how helpful it actually is. Well, guess what? You’re already off on the right foot. Nursery rhymes and silly little songs call attention to the sounds and syllables in words. They also serve as a wonderful introduction to stories and aid in reading comprehension.

Read together… a lot.

There are myriad ways in which reading to your child is beneficial. However, for the sake of this article, we’ll focus on the ones that revolve around reading. Did you know that brain scans have shown hearing stories strengthens the part of the brain associated with mental imagery and narrative comprehension? How about the fact that one study found kids who are read to at least three times a week have “greater phonemic awareness” than kids who are read to less frequently? Reading aloud to your little one also creates positive associations — in other words, they’ll look forward to learning to read, as opposed to fighting you tooth and nail.

Focus on the alphabetic principle.

Wondering what in the heck the alphabetic principle is? Put simply, it’s the process of connecting letters with their sounds. Letters are the road maps to learning to read. Having said that, mastering the alphabetic principle can be tough for kids. One way to make it more manageable is to take it a letter at a time. That should help enhance your child’s phonemic awareness — the understanding that words are made up of phonemes, or sound units, and those phonemes have distinct articulatory features. Phonemic awareness is crucial to literacy.

Get hooked on phonics.

OK, so you don’t actually have to buy the Hooked on Phonics program (although it could be helpful!). The gist is that phonics is a key component in reading success. What is phonics? According to Scholastic, it involves the relationship between sounds and their spellings. So, you’ll want to include an explicit explanation of the sound-spelling being taught in your phonics lesson. Follow that up with guided opportunities for your little one to blend (aka sound out) words using the sound-spelling.

Embrace dialogic reading.

Trust us; this sounds more complicated than it is! Don’t let the term “dialogic” throw you. “Adults can enhance young children’s language and literacy skills through the use of a strategy known as dialogic reading, which allows children to become participants in telling the story,” Professor Elizabeth Stilwell from Cornell’s Department of Human Development, says on the university’s blog.

“Children are encouraged to engage physically with the book. The adult begins by starting with the pictures, and then moves to the text,” explains Stilwell. “For example, as children look at the cover of the book, the adult may ask the child to predict what will happen in the story.” In fact, dialogic reading entails you asking your child a lot of open-ended questions.

Get ready to repeat (and repeat and repeat).

Anyone who spends any time around kids knows they’re pretty big on repetition — whether it’s asking you to cue up Frozen for the 5,000th time or begging you to push them on the swing “again, again!” There’s a reason for that, though. According to Nemours, repetition helps children master new skills. And in doing so (over and over again), it accelerates their learning. The same proves true with reading. After all, reading involves learning to recognize the same letters and letter combinations.

Flashcards are your friends.

These are not your high school SAT flashcards but a simple tool to help your little one memorize and internalize the sight and sound of certain words and letters. Start slow with about five simple three-letter words like “cat,” “pig,” and “dog” written out on cards. Go over them with your child, pointing with your index finger as you slowly pronounce the sound each letter makes to eventually form the word. Then start flashing them to your child. Repetition and patience will be your best friends during this exercise.

Break out the sight words.

Sight words are pretty much exactly what they sound like: words your child recognizes on sight. Why is this important? summarizes, “Sight words are words, like come, does, or who, that don’t follow the rules of spelling or the six syllable types. These words have to be memorized because decoding them is really difficult. Students are taught to memorize sight words as a whole, by sight, so that they can recognize them immediately (within three seconds) and read them without having to use decoding skills.”

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