Although I don't consider myself to be strictly in the unschooling camp (my children have assigned pages in math and grammar workbooks and some assigned reading), I am a fierce advocate of waiting until a child is developmentally ready for whatever learning experience I have planned. You are not only beating a dead horse teaching an unready child to "blend" sounds or do long division; you are, as one person in your study pointed out, taking his pride in learning away from him. He never gets to own the experience.
If you feel your child is ready, you could also start talking to them about the letter sounds – building on what they've probably already starting to learn at preschool. Find a nice ABC book and look at some of the letters together. Start with the letter her name begins with, and take it from there – let your child dictate the pace you go at (or not!). And pronounce them phonetically: “a” rather than “ay” and “buh” rather than “bee”, as this is the way they will learn them at preschool and school. If you're not sure how to pronounce them, download the Phonics tool from BBC skillswise to hear the sounds.
Willingham recently wrote the New York Times op-ed “How to Get Your Mind to Read,” and it’s fascinating. In raising readers, it appears that we’re doing it wrong. Parents and teachers tend to think about the learning process in separate blocks. When kids are very young—around 4, 5 or 6—we teach them how to “decode” words. It isn’t until the fourth or fifth grade that we move onto comprehension. That’s too late, Willingham says. “Decoding and comprehension are not the same thing,” he tells me. “There are times when you can read content out loud but not understand what you’re reading.” In the later elementary school grades, as texts become much more complex, comprehension becomes much more difficult. And therefore, children struggle.
What does the research show? It turns out that children who are likely to become poor readers are generally not as sensitive to the sounds of spoken words as children who were likely to become good readers. Kids who struggle have what is called poor “phonemic awareness,” which means that their processor for dissecting words into component sound is less discerning than it is for other kids.

Sight words, also known as high-frequency words, are the most common words in our written language are are often difficult to decode phonetically because they don’t follow the rules of phonics.  Because of this, they must be memorized.  As I’ve shared with you before, I am not an advocate of rote memorization for optimal learning because I feel it only utilizes the lowest level of cognitive processes.  However, sight words must be memorized in order for your child to become a fluent reader.  There are a few popular lists of sight words that individual researchers have found beneficial, including the Dolche List and the Fry List.  Don’t get overwhelmed when looking at this list…just start working on a few sight words at a time when you feel your child is ready.

Thank you so much for your article. I was one of those parents who wanted their child to be reading by age 2 and other unrealistic expectations like that. I bought certain programs promising my baby would be able to read, and she didn’t! I do not push her anymore and just spend a lot of time reading with her. Thank you for your article and I will definitely use some of your suggestions just to keep up with her love of reading.
Hi :) First of all, that’s a bunch of useful tips you posted here Jenae! I have a lovely six-year-old daughter and I’ve been trying to start teaching her how to read for a few months now. I went through a lot of parenting forums and tried so many things, but what seems to work for her is simply playing educational games on our iPad ;) She’s got loads of them but the one she likes the most is called ‘Flincky Mouse’ and I’m even happier since we’re using Polish at home (my husband is British, but I’m from Poland) and the app comes in Polish as well. We’re also trying to read to her as much as possible and I hope she’ll appreciate it in the future! Anyway, thanks so much for the article and see you around.
Also, it’s important to note that not all books will fit into one of these genres, especially books that are considered “phonics readers.”  I would suggest that you do this exercise only with high-quality children’s literature, not with books that are attempting to get your child to “sound-out” on their own.  Most picture books found in children’s libraries will fit into one of these genres.
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Once you’ve seen science-based reading instruction delivered well, you’ll want it for your kids. For six years, Kristina Matuskiewicz, a kindergarten teacher at Edna C. Stevens Elementary School in Cromwell, CT, believed that, like all the teachers at her tidy suburban school, she was helping to make good readers. She read them stories, she identified words and described their meaning, she offered them a variety of good books and worked to shift them to independent reading. “Each teacher had their own approach to teaching reading,” says Matuskiewicz.
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Scripted lessons give consistent results. Children learn to hear and speak individual sounds of words which is actually vitally important to reading and spelling. They also learn to blend correctly and hear the sounds and then say them “fast” to pronounce the word sounded out right from the beginning. They learn to rhyme. I always play the sounding out “game” in the car while we are in the early part of the book. It really helps reinforce what they are learning and passes the time profitably.
Scaffolding. When reading to young children, parents should keep in mind the image of a scaffold—one piece placed on top of another to make something bigger and stronger. If the bottom of the scaffold is weak and wobbly, the entire thing will collapse. Little children have limited experiences so parents should build upon what they already know. Reading a book about butterflies to a child who has never seen a butterfly is largely meaningless. However, reading a book about butterflies to a youngster who spent the afternoon watching them fluttering around her garden is immensely powerful.
Something I had thought about is addressed in the book as well. Some words are always said differently than how we sound them out. Words such as 'SAID' 'TO' 'OF'. The book teaches the child to sound it out first (as they always should)...but to then explain that it's a funny word that is spoken differently. There's honestly no other way to teach this to a child other than some words in the English language are just weird, lol!
I forgot to say that we also play a lot of word games. My husband or I will start coming up with words that rhyme, or words that all start with the same letter and we'll just go back and forth until we can't think of any new words. We've been doing that since before we had kids, and so they've both just grown up with that being a game our family plays. The oldest is starting to be good at it, and the youngest one doesn't get any rules yet, but will shout out random words when we start playing. This isn't the kind of thing that we'll all sit down and say "Okay, let's play rhyming" or anything structured. It just so happens that every so often when one of us says something, the other will find it interesting, and we'll start the game. Oh, and another thing the oldest will help me with is cooking. If he wants me to make brownies or cookies, I'll say, sure, but I'm going to need your help. I'll look up a recipe on the computer and I'll go to the kitchen to start cooking. His job is to read the ingredients to me.
There are a number of excellent books to guide you through the process such as Sidney Ledson's Teach Your Child to Read in Just Ten Minutes a Day or Siegfried Engleman's Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons . There are also full instructional kits such as Hooked on Phonics, which provide parents with a step-by-step approach to teaching reading.
By now, they should have 'got' that books have a front and a back, and that a book progresses page by page. Next on the agenda is understanding that words on the page are read from left to right, and that the different shapes of the letters inside these words are what helps you figure out what to say as you read the book aloud to them. Of course, you don't actually need to teach them this; they'll just absorb it if you keep sharing books with them. Point to the words as you read them, moving your finger along the line. Look at the pictures and try to work out what the story may be about.
My daughter is three and a half. I have decided to home school her, because that’s what i think is best for her, and because she is already interested in learning. She picked up the alphabet almost instantly,(Alphabet song, if I remember right.) and she has already learned the sounds of every letter. (Except q and x, she knows what they are just has trouble pronouncing them.) She is improving significantly since I started (three days ago)) on sounding out 3-4 letter words. My question would have to be, where do I guide her next? I don’t want to skip something to fast and her not completely master it, or go over something so repeatedly she gets tired of it. Like you said, learning should be made fun whenever possible, which is the approach I try to use. What is your opinion?

This story is completely apocryphal as applied to learning to talk, which is why we understand it to be a joke. Children learn to talk whether or not they really have to talk in order to get their needs met; they are genetically programmed for it. But the story, somewhat modified, could apply quite reasonably to learning to read. Children seem to learn to read, on their own, when they see some good reason for it. Many of the stories sent to me illustrate this idea. Here are some examples:
Thanks so much for posting this! Our son just turned 2 and LOVES reading books. He would have us read to him for hours…in fact when his grandma comes over I think she really does read to him for multiple hours through the day. We read board books about trucks and tractors and animals and also read a lot of Dr. Seuss and Bible stories and Curious George. For many months now I have set aside time for him to color with crayons and I would write down the alphabet or short words and go over the letters. We sing the ABC’s a lot and have worked on his saying vowels. He began to recognize the letter “A” in many places at the beginning of the year. Last week we were at the doctors office and there was an alphabet rug and he began naming them through “F”. And he just got an etch a sketch for his birthday, so as I wrote down the first few letters of the alphabet or wrote down his name he began naming them! I was amazed! Not that he does it perfectly but I really didn’t know the capabilities of a 2 year old. I’m really wanting to find more fun ways to encourage him but not push him too hard in it. I look forward to putting your suggestions into practice as he continues to learn!

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Even if the child is learning to read on her own, you should continue to read to her. At this age, your child will benefit from books that display the rich diversity of the world. Books about children of other nationalities, colors, cultures, races, sizes, and families will expand his view of the world. At the same time, books that relate to places and objects from her everyday reality like dolls, beds, homes, cars, trucks, and fire engines are also enjoyed. Books that talk about people she knows such as a friend, a baby sister, or a grandmother will help her develop closeness, understanding, and empathy for others. Books that describe imaginary creatures and far-away places can also inspire her imagination.
In some schools, balanced literacy means that preK teachers work on letters and letter sounds. Kindergarten, first, and second grade teachers deliver an orderly progression of explicit phonics lessons and, as the children become competent and confident readers, push them to discover the best that literature and nonfiction have to offer while doggedly building up their comprehension through weekly word study, spelling tests, and story analysis.

Start with the letter A, literally and figuratively. I know that seems simple, but a lot of people don’t really get this part as well as they think they do. I simply mean start at the beginning and don’t skip important foundational principles. I am realizing that many people don’t always recognize foundational principles because they are so ingrained in the way adults process information. For example, the difference in the way we say “bit” and “bite.” It really takes around 27 separate pieces of information to be able to correctly distinguish between those words — and we don’t even think about it. I did my best to write out every piece in a logical progression for you guys.
Young children don’t hear the sounds within words. Thus, they hear “dog,” but not the “duh”-“aw”- “guh.” To become readers, they have to learn to hear these sounds (or phonemes). Play language games with your child. For instance, say a word, perhaps her name, and then change it by one phoneme: Jen-Pen, Jen-Hen, Jen-Men. Or, just break a word apart: chair… ch-ch-ch-air. Follow this link to learn more about language development milestones in children.
But in many schools, in all kinds of neighborhoods, there is a shockingly large chunk of kids — about one in three — who don’t master the skills they need to learn to read in a sophisticated way. Their road is a difficult one: although many will try to use their intelligence to cover the holes in their skill set, as the work gets harder and the reading grows more complex, these children will find they are unable to keep up.
Decoding is often referred to as “sounding it out.”  This is an important element in teaching your child to read, but it certainly isn’t the most important.  Once your child knows the sounds each letter makes (which is taught in real, meaningful situations), she is ready to begin putting words together.  When looking at a short word, encourage her to say each individual sound /b/, /a/, /t/,  and then put them together “bat”.
I suggest you set aside an hour each night after dinner for reading. The TV is off as well as cell phones and computers. Your family gathers in a cozy room, and everybody reads something of their choice (a novel, magazines, comic books, non-fiction), but nothing work or school related. To make it more enjoyable, serve hot cocoa, popcorn, and dessert from time to time. During the last 10 minutes, have everyone share something about what they read. If this sounds impossible to do because your family is too busy on weekdays, do it just one night a week—perhaps, Friday or Saturday--when everyone isn't so frantic with after school activities and homework.
I used this book with all three of my children, between the ages of three and six. (My oldest couldn’t wait to learn to read at three years old, otherwise, I would recommend waiting until they are ready.) This curriculum is easy to use, has a strong phonics base and is effective. Each lesson is broken up into reading/phonics instruction, reading comprehension and penmanship. Because I used another curriculum for penmanship, I used this book strictly for the reading and comprehension. Each of my children were reading at a solid second grade level after completion, and transitioned easily to the McGuffey Readers that I used for follow up. All of my children (ages 18, 11 and 7) enjoy reading. My two oldest are voracious readers, and have not had any problems, even with advanced literature. My youngest (7) reads nicely from his McGuffey Reader, which uses a wide vocabulary. It is very easy to use, as it is scripted for the parent. You can literally pick it up and use it once you have read the introduction at the beginning of the book. The only thing you need to prepare for each lesson is to cover up the picture until they have completed the story and you are ready to move on to the comprehension questions. The only downside to this book is that the stories are kind of lame, for the parent anyway! My kids thought they were silly, though, and seemed to enjoy them. After going through the book three times, I was glad to be done with it, but that’s just me! Overall, I highly recommend this curriculum, and found it to be a good fit for our family. (Note: I also used Riggs Institute phonogram cards after completion to cover any of the rare blends that were not in the book.)
First grade teacher Angela DiStefano, a 12-year teaching veteran, says the Literacy How approach to reading has changed her professional life forever. “Before that, I thought it was my job to teach kids to share my enthusiasm for reading.” Now, she teaches them to read with explicit instruction on how to sound out words. Not long ago, she gave a seminar for first grade parents to teach them some rules about vowels (for example: vowels make their short sound in closed pattern words like tap and the long sound in open pattern words like hi, so, and my) so parents could reinforce the lessons at home.

Thank you, sep332. The quotes in your post were exactly the ones where my jaw dropped. A child's learning style doesn't change by how he's feeling each day. He may never be a good auditory learner, for example. And a child learning to read "when they're ready" at age 14? How is this not considered negligence? You don't get those critical periods of development back to "when they're ready for it." Read the thousands and thousands of other sound research studies compared to this one guy. Of course all the comments on here are extremely positive, because they're from unschoolers or lax homeschoolers whose "teaching" methods have just been validated. Utter nonsense.
Read Well is for K–3 students. The program teaches word-sound awareness. It also works on vocabulary and comprehension. Teachers begin by modeling what to do. They then gradually decrease their support until eventually students are asked to do the reading task by themselves. The program includes activities for the whole class as well as small-group lessons. Read Well is often used in the general education classroom.
I realize many people have had success with this book but we did not. My children hated, just HATED this book. I do not want my children to hate reading. I want them to love reading so I quit using the book after only a few tries. It is not a child-friendly book. The book is structured like a textbook (columns, heavy text, few pictures, no color, chapters, etc.) and oversized like a textbook, which is inappropriate for a small child. I can understand why adults like this book as it is more appro ...more
The key thing to holding your nerve here (and therefore helping your child hold theirs, too) is remembering that no two children learn to read at the same speed and pace. Some zoom off from (literally) the word go and then slow down; some plod along gradually; some stutter at first and then speed up – with all sorts of variations in between. And, whatever Smug Mum of Speedy-From-The-Off Reader may imply, there's no great connection between speed of learning to read and speed of brain cells in general.

It is definitely a steady (and at times slow) progression and it will be different for every child. I honestly can’t really estimate how long it takes…because it ultimately depends on your definition of “reading”. Some people consider “reading” sounding out words. I consider a child a reader when they no longer have to sound out the majority of words and can read steadily with inflection.


Incorporate writing in with the reading. Reading is a necessary precursor to writing, but as your child develops reading skills have them practice their writing in conjunction. Children learn to read faster and easier if they learn to write at the same time. The motor memory of the letters, listening to their sounds and seeing them in writing will reinforce new learning. So, teach your child to write letters and words.
First grade teacher Angela DiStefano, a 12-year teaching veteran, says the Literacy How approach to reading has changed her professional life forever. “Before that, I thought it was my job to teach kids to share my enthusiasm for reading.” Now, she teaches them to read with explicit instruction on how to sound out words. Not long ago, she gave a seminar for first grade parents to teach them some rules about vowels (for example: vowels make their short sound in closed pattern words like tap and the long sound in open pattern words like hi, so, and my) so parents could reinforce the lessons at home.
You can offer them a prize for reading a chapter, read to them before bed until they want a taste of an independent read, and tell them how great reading is. If it's an age thing (ie. your child is eight months old and henceforth, can't even speak full sentences), give them time to adapt to it. Encourage it! Children find role models in parents, teachers, elders, and basically everyone. If you can't spark an interest, appoint someone else to encourage it.
When reading a book to your child, you can do more than just read the story. Use rich vocabulary to describe the pictures. Ask your child questions about what she thinks will happen on the next page. These techniques will improve her storytelling skills. Avoid questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no. Show your child how to respect a book by turning the pages gently and carefully. Ask her to place the book back carefully in its place, instead of leaving it on the bed or on the floor.

Reading is an important skill for children to learn. Most children learn to read without any major problems. Pushing a child to learn before she is ready can make learning to read frustrating. But reading together and playing games with books make reading fun. Parents need to be involved in their child's learning. Encouraging a child's love of learning will go a long way to ensuring success in school.

Others wrote about shared family games involving words, or about shared television viewing in which the onscreen guide and captions would be read for the benefit of nonreaders. Over time, the nonreaders needed ever less help; they began recognizing and reading more and more words themselves. The most often mentioned examples of shared participation are those of parents, or sometimes siblings, reading stories to nonreaders, often as part of the bedtime ritual. Nonreaders look on, at the words as well as the pictures, and sometimes read some of the words; or they memorize books that have been read to them repeatedly, and then later they pretend to read the books while actually attending to some of the words. Pretend reading gradually becomes real reading.
Asking questions while reading to your child is not only great for encouraging your child to interact with the book, but it is also extremely effective in developing his ability to comprehend what he is reading. You see, if our main objective in “reading” is getting our child to “sound out” words, we have missed the boat entirely. Even children who can decode words and “read” with great fluency still might not be able to comprehend what they are reading. If a child can’t comprehend what he is reading, there really is no point to reading at all!
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