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How to Teach Children to Read

Updated on June 13, 2013

A love for reading begins as early as infancy! Reading to your baby teaches him about communication and exposes information about the world around us. As they grow we build on our child's background and watch them bloom into children with a love for literacy.

My children are 4 and 6, I am careful not to force them to learn new skills they aren't ready to attempt. I want reading to be an activity that they love, not something they resent because Mom made reading a chore. The best way to learn is through hands-on experiences. When children are having fun and can relate to what they are learning it makes their experience more meaningful.

Teach the Alphabet!

The first step in learning to read is learning the alphabet. Since letters make up words, we need to know what each individual letter is and the sounds they make. The best way to learn letters is in a relaxed and fun setting. Keep the learning natural!

Fun activities to help your child learn the alphabet:

  1. Talk about the letters in your child's name
  2. Discuss letters in your environment- Have your child be an alphabet detective at the grocery store. Print off an alphabet sheet and have your child cross out letters as she finds them.
  3. Make letters- Smear the table with shaving cream and practice making letters with your finger or use play-doh to form letters.

Picture Books

Picture books are an amazing way to get children excited, interested and engaged in reading. Picture books:

  1. Use simple text and illustrations to tell the story.
  2. Introduce children to new experiences.
  3. Grow your child's confidence as a reader!

Phonics and Decoding

Phonics is a method of teaching people to connect sounds with letter names. Decoding is the ability to apply your knowledge of letter-sound relationships to correctly pronounce written words.

Learning word families helps children decode new words with the same sound. For example, we can take the word cat and change it to hat, mat, rat and sat.

Sight Words

Sight words are usually words that don't follow a spelling pattern and children will need to know them by sight. For example, take the word have. If we follow the a_e pattern, have would be pronounced with a long a sound instead of a short a. But it is not, have is an exception to the rule along with many other words.

Click here for a list of sight words. I recommend practicing 10-15 words at time, an amount that is not too overwhelming. I have two active boys so several of the activities we do involve movement.

Sight Word Games:

  1. Parking Lot- Write the words on the outer edge of a piece of paper into parking spots. You say the word and have the child park a hot wheels car into the correct parking spot.
  2. Sight Word Jump- Write the words note cards and spread the cards into a circle. Have your child stand in the center of the circle. Call out the sight word and have your child jump to the correct word.
  3. Smash-a-word- Use play-doh to make small mounds. Write the sight word on top of the mound. Call out the sight word and have your child smash the correct word with a toy hammer.


Comprehension brings the whole reading process together. In addition to being able to read we need to understand what we are reading!

1. Make predictions- Before reading a new book; read the title and have your child do a picture walk. Based on the title and pictures, have your child make a prediction. Remind them that predictions aren't right or wrong they are just what you think the story is going to be about.

2. Make connections- During and after the story, discuss with your child how the story made them feel. Can they relate to one of the characters? Does the story remind them of an event that happened in their life?

3. Clarify- Encourage your child to ask questions. Did you encounter any words that were unfamiliar to your child? By discussing the meanings of these unknown words you help your child to better comprehend the story. Were their parts of the story that were confusing to your child?

4. Sequencing- Use pictures from the story to create a timeline. Mix up the pictures and have your child retell the story by putting the cards in the correct order.

Learning to read is an ongoing process! The more we read the better reader we become. The best thing you can do for your child to foster a love for reading is to make it enjoyable. Read with your child EVERY SINGLE DAY!

Have you, as an adult, always enjoyed reading?

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    • light20 profile image

      Lanao G 4 years ago from Ozamiz City, Philippines

      Hi Steph...just done reading this hub...very useful...

      My niece is going to school now, she's in first grade... I have no problems teaching her to read text in our own language (Filipino), in fact she's perfect. However, she's not that good in English reading, well I understand that it's natural because it's (English) not our native language.

      I am teaching her sight words now...She read words incorrectly most of the time, but I am seeing progress. Being with kids makes me happy and seeing them learning makes me more...

    • stephanieb27 profile image

      stephanieb27 4 years ago from United States

      Janetwrites, that's awesome! Yay for your son! :)

      Mylindaelliot, thank you! :)

    • mylindaelliott profile image

      mylindaelliott 4 years ago from Louisiana

      Great article, I used some of your tips when my children were young.

    • janetwrites profile image

      Janet Giessl 4 years ago from Georgia country

      Your tips are very useful. My son was interested in learning the Alphabet when he was about 2 years old. We sang and listened to German Alphabet songs. He really loved it and he learned the Alphabet very quickly. Now he is 4. He can't read yet but when he sees a logo, for example, from Toys 'R Us he recognizes it and says "That's Toys 'R Us!"or when he sees a signature from someone he knows he can identify who wrote it.

    • stephanieb27 profile image

      stephanieb27 4 years ago from United States

      Thanks so much, kidscrafts! I agree, I LOVE watching my children as they learn new things! :)

    • kidscrafts profile image

      kidscrafts 4 years ago from Ottawa, Canada

      Plenty of good suggestions Stephanie! I think that teaching through games is always better for kids.

      My eldest son was confused when he started grade one. I didn't understand what technique the teacher used. I must have know all his letter before starting grade one because I remember that I spend an evening explaining to him what happened when we put two letters together and it just clicked and he was a great reader and still his as an adult. My younger son could read before he was 4 years old. He was like a sponge... I think he wanted to catch up with my oldest (they have 19 months difference). And since really young, he likes to read technical books and encyclopedies. Now he is an engineer :-)

      It's so interesting to observe how the mind of the children works and they definitly don't learn all the same way!

    • stephanieb27 profile image

      stephanieb27 4 years ago from United States

      Faith Reaper, thanks so much for sharing!!! I wish your son and his kids happy reading! :)

      Mhatter99, I bet your kiddos are strong readers today because of their early literacy skills! :)

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 4 years ago from San Francisco

      Thank you for this. I taught both of my kids to read by the time they entered preschool. I used the phonetic system.

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 4 years ago from southern USA

      Excellent hub here! I will share with my son, who has three very small children, my grandchildren!

      Great advice and tips here. It is so very important to encourage reading right from the start.

      Voted up ++++ and sharing

      God bless, Faith Reaper

    • stephanieb27 profile image

      stephanieb27 4 years ago from United States

      Billybuc, I agree that the love of reading is one of the greatest gifts we can give our children! :)

      Rachel, love the idea of using Little People! :)

    • Rachel Horon profile image

      Rachel Horon 4 years ago from Indiana

      I love the idea for the sight word games. My daughter likes cars for the parking lot game, but she might rather put her Little People in spots to join a "party".

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Bravo! As parents, one of the greatest gifts we can give our children is the ability to read and the love of reading. I have been a reader since I don't remember parents encouraged it and always read with me and now look at where I am. :)