4 Steps to Teaching Kids to Read

How am I ever going to teach my kids to read?

I worried over this question a lot. I didn’t know where to start and I wondered whether I’d be able to do it.

Looking back, it’s way easier than I thought.  I should have stressed less.

Are you qualified to teach your child to read?

Yes. Any parent who can read can teach their child to read.

Don’t be intimidated by the fact that you are not educated in this area. By the end of this post you’ll know how to do it!

At what age should a child be able to read?

The short answer? When they’re ready.

The long answer? When their mental, physical and emotional maturity align themselves.

“A child may actually be very bright and may even appear to read words well, yet not be perceptive in his reading or able to read without damage to his eyes and his nervous system. His brain development may not be sufficient for him to reason out the relationships required in reading. His eyes may be physically unable to determine the forms and shapes of words without strain.” [i]

The actual reading method is not so important as the readiness of the child.

How will you know when your child is ready to read?

Here are some signs of reading readiness:

  • Your child pretends to read
  • They pretend to write
  • They enjoy being read to
  • They show an interest in words and letters, making rhymes
  • Your child can recognise different kinds of shapes
  • They recognise letters
  • They show print awareness – the concept of sounding out words, turning pages, reading from left to right
  • Your child can rhyme simple words, clap syllables and identify the beginning and ending sound of a word
  • Your child can skip using opposite sides of the body – swinging one arm while hopping on the other foot
  • They can cross midline – regularly reaching across their body with one hand, grasping an item and bringing it back across their body, without switching hands
  • Your child can follow an object with their eyes
  • They are able to stand on one foot for 10 seconds with eyes both open and shut

Where do you start to teach your child to read?

There are a number of methods for teaching reading skills.  I don’t claim to know them all or to be an expert, but I will share what worked for my kids. I hope it gives you the courage and confidence to start.

Keep this one word in mind: simple.  You don’t need fancy programs or piles of books.

Just keep it simple and begin with the basics.

Phonics is a good place to start.

“When phonics-related skills are ignored or introduced too early, memorizing sight words, guessing by context or pictures are the routes to reading.  Most normal children can easily memorize the limited number of words which are repeated often in the first two or three levels of readers.  Yet when they reach grade three or four where vocabulary starts to increase, they can’t keep up and if they haven’t discovered some tools to unlock new words, they are lost.”[i]

Knowing the sounds of the letters allows a child to start blending them to make words.  This helps him to sound out words – also known as decoding.

Here’s how to begin:

Step 1: Teach letter forms and sounds

Start by teaching the forms of the letters and their sounds.  (Knowing the alphabet at this stage is not essential to learning to read.  The sounds of the letters are most important.) While it won’t harm your child to learn the alphabet, don’t wait to start reading until he knows it.

Teach the forms and sounds of a few letters. A good place to begin is with your child’s own name.  Write his name and get him to trace his finger over each letter.  Tell him what it says.  If he is interested let him write his name on unlined paper but don’t force him to write between the lines or get his letters the same size.

Now move on to a few other letters.

Teach only the short sounds of the vowels you do teach – /a/ as in cat, /e/ as in egg etc. These are used more often than the long sounds. This will avoid confusion when your child starts the next step – blending.   When your child is more confident you can begin teaching the long sounds – /a/ as in gate, /e/ as in me.

With one or two vowels and a few consonants in your child’s head, he is ready to start blending.

Step 2: Blend

Write the few letters your child knows and begin putting them together to make words.  Write the letters like this:

a

n   p   t

Point to the /a/ and say the sound – /a/ (as in dad), slide your finger to the /n/ and say the word, an.  Get your child to say the word each time you point to those letters.  Do the same with at.  Then switch between the two and see if your child says them correctly.  The word ap is not a word, but get your child to say it anyway and explain that it is not a word. Do this until your child does it fluently.

Move on to three letter words – ant, pan, pat, apt, tap, tan.  Your child should practice saying the words when you point to them.  He can point to them for you to read, write the words and then read them, and read words that you write.

Add another letter – replace the /a/ with /o/ and go through all the new words – not, pot, top, tot, pop.

Grow your chart as you add new letters, keeping the vowels on top and consonants below.

Now that your child can sound out words, point some out to him while you are reading to him.  Get him to sound them out.

Don’t make these lessons too long and always stop while your child is enjoying success.

If this stage is slow in coming then go back to doing “real stuff” for a while and try the reading lessons in a few weeks or months.

Related: When to start homeschooling your child

Step 3: Decode

Now is the time to teach all of the letters and their sounds.  Also teach letter combinations, such as /ck/ and /th/.  If your child doesn’t yet know the names of the letters and the alphabet, you can teach them now.

“Many children are ready to recite the alphabet by age two or three – and there is no real harm in such learning.  But it builds no particular genius, since they really have little use for the alphabet. High quality reading is more than the rote memory of words taught by early flash-card drills.  If, instead of depending on memory alone, the parent is willing to delay formal learning until reason and understanding have begun to mature – usually around eight to ten – the child can build a logical network of phonetic elements and word families and multiply his vocabulary rapidly.” [ii]

Why wait till now to teach the alphabet?  Because now your child has a place in his mind to put this information.  Letters and sounds now have a use and meaning.

Follow this simple method to teach all the sounds:

  1. Show and say a sound and have your child say and write it.
  2. Read and write words which contain the sound.
  3. Review on the following days.

This will not take care of all the words because some have irregular phonics rules.  These words are best taught by sight – words like:

Could, would, and should.

Come, from, of, other, some, and one.

Any, many, said, says, people, the, there, two, and was.

Step 4: Fluency

Now is the time to practice to gain fluency.  Your child always has three reading levels: 

1) independent level – books he can read on his own

2) instructional level – will teach him new skills

3) frustration level – books too hard for instruction

Use this to rate books, not your child. 

Find books that are easy for your child to read and let him read, read, read.  Easy books give your child opportunity to consolidate his reading skills.  They help him learn the easy common words that are used again and again.  Easy books help your child to learn to read smoothly and rapidly – until it becomes automatic.  Easy books teach that reading is fun.

Important principles for teaching your child to read

  • Don’t expect your child to learn something just because you taught it once. Teach each new item a few times and in a variety of ways.
  • Move ahead at your child’s pace. Don’t overload your child.
  • Use “look and say” and “write and say” methods as you teach the sounds. Make sure your child writes every day – words first, then sentences.
  • End each lesson on a successful note. If you have been working on something difficult then switch to something easier before you end the lesson.
  • Review often.

Keep it simple, focus on the basics, and remember that your child still needs to be doing lots of “real stuff”.

Ideas for building reading skills

Read to your child

Read aloud time creates a wonderful connection with your child, but it also provides opportunity for incidental learning. Your child will learn that you read from left to right, start asking questions about words, and begin recognising letters and words.

Be a good example

Show an interest in books yourself. Teach your child where to go to find information (other than Google!).

Provide experiences

A variety of experiences helps a child build and interest in and an understanding of things they will eventually read about.

Build vocabulary

Don’t talk down to your children. Use real words, adult-size words and explain what they mean if necessary.

Talk and let him talk

Language development is one of the basic prerequisites for reading. Your child will copy your pronunciation and your manner of speaking. Give your child opportunity to express himself and to tell events in sequence.

Develop listening skills

Teach your child to listen. Encourage him to report on what they have heard. Ask him to repeat instructions you’ve given and retell stories he heard.

Enunciate clearly

Sound your words out clearly. Use full lip movements, exaggerating if necessary. Make it fun to speak good English. Don’t expect your child to pronounce all their words correctly until they are around age eight or nine.

Watch your grammar

Spoken English is often devoid of good grammar. Be careful to speak well and your children will naturally do the same.

Teach sounds of letters (phonics)

Use things around you in an incidental way – cereal boxes, road signs. Be sound conscious and make it fun.

Make labels

Make stick on labels for common household objects and have your child put them where they belong.

There you go! You can teach your child to read. 

Is teaching your child to read stressing you both?  Is it time to back off and figure a new plan of action or do some “real stuff” for a while?

[i] The Successful Homeschool Family Handbook, 101, Dr Raymond & Dorothy Moore

[ii] Home Style Teaching, 148 , Dr Raymond & Dorothy Moore, with Dennis Moore, M. A., Kathleen Kordenbrock, A. B., and Jolene Oswald, PhD.


[i] Better Late than Early, Moore, 70

About The Author

Jennifer Lovemore

Jennifer homeschooled all three of her kids-with no teaching qualification. Her kids are grown now but she is still passionate about homeschooling. She lives in South Africa.

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