Begin giving your child complete stories. Odds are, your child will be in school by the time they are able to read and will be given their own reading material by their teachers. Help them to read these whole stories by encouraging explicit phonics use, and recognizing vocabulary. As their word recognition increases, they’ll be able to more fully understand story plots and meanings.

Marie, an unschooling mom, wrote about her son, now age 7: "[He] found the incentive to become a better reader through acting at a local theater. He has always been passionate about putting together ‘shows,' but now he is old enough to have real acting experience. He sees that reading is an integral part of this activity that he loves and it has given him a strong reason to grow and develop as a reader. He recently had a part in A Midsummer Night's Dream and had to read and memorize Shakespeare. It took no instruction on the part of a ‘teacher' whatsoever."
p.s. I hated to read when I was little (I really didn’t enjoy the public school reading curriculums) but now I love reading. My husband loves to read even more than I do and so do the men at our church, young and old. In fact, one of our friends grew up in a home where his father literally had thousands of history books and had read most of them. Now his son is also an avid reader.
I just found your post! Thank you for the info! I was looking because my daughters teachers wanted to keep her back in Kindergarten because she is not reading yet, and they wanted us to “do a lot of catch up work to get ready for 1st grade”. She turned 6 at the end of January. You say that they are not expected to be reading until mid-1st grade so why are our teachers so persistent that she should already be reading? (They kept my son back for the same reason, I was even lied to by the Special Education Class Teacher on what type of books, how many words, length of the books they should be reading in first grade to help me make up my mind.) She loves to be read to, she is also the youngest and the older 2 have always done everything for her (ie talk, answer, cleaned up, carried her, etc), even when I tell them not too. I think this is why she won’t read for herself.
If your child substitutes one word for another while reading, see if it makes sense. If your child uses the word "dog" instead of "pup," for example, the meaning is the same. Do not stop the reading to correct him. If your child uses a word that makes no sense (such as "road" for "read"), ask him to read the sentence again because you are not sure you understand what has just been read. Recognize your child's energy limits. Stop each session at or before the earliest signs of fatigue or frustration.
This is indeed a wonderful post! I have a 14 month old who loves his books. I will be socking this article away for frequent reference. I will note, however, I found the odd reference about how men are not prone to reading very strange indeed. Perhaps I am just unusually fortunate in this respect, but so many of the men in my life adore reading, that it struck me as quite false. I am, in fact, married to a male librarian who loves to read and is beyond thrilled that our little guy has begun grabbing books and bringing them over for him to read. But that assertion aside, an excellent article. Thank you!
Read to your child on a regular basis. As with all things, it's difficult to learn anything without exposure to it. In order to get your child interested in reading, you should be reading to them on a regular basis. If you’re able, this should start when they are an infant and continue through their school years. Read books with stories they comprehend; at a young age this may lead you to read 3-4 small books a day.
My little girl and her brother are now just turned 8 and 6.5. Both are avid readers, reading well above grade level. The 6.5 year-old began reading when he was 5, by sitting down and reading me all of Green Eggs and Ham (not memorized), and is starting to delve into chapter books. My 8 year-old is in the midst of Anne of Green Gables, and my 3.5 year-old is asking me to spell random words at random moments.
“We 'fish' those foam letters with a small net out of the bath: it's a great game. I put about ten letters in, and say, 'Where is m?' and my son fishes it out. We also play I Spy and this game where I say, 'This word starts with the 'a', and it's a fruit, it's red and crunchy' and he has to guess what it is. I don't really want him to read before he starts school, but I would like him to 'want' to learn to read and have an interest in letters and sounds and numbers.”
I am homeschooling my children, although the oldes is 4. My son began interested in writing very early. He was able to hold a pencil with the tripod pencil grasp early, too. He was able to write his name, independently, by the age of three. Since then he has been asking me to help him spell words. I've gone over different phonic sounds with him while driving in the car. We'll play rhyming games, too. We've never used a curriculum. He has always been surrounded by books. We read several times a day. We have a dry erase board and a chalkboard-painted wall where he can practice his letters and words, or drawings. Yesterday while looking at a book in the car he said, "Mom, P-O-O-H spells Pooh!" That was the first time he's read a word that wasn't MOM, DAD or his own name. It was pretty amazing.
North persevered. These days, kindergartners in Matuskiewicz’s class get a different kind of instruction than their older brothers and sisters did. During the first week of kindergarten, Matuskiewicz sits with each child and determines if he or she knows the letters and their corresponding letter sounds. The skill levels of the children are variable. So, class work in the autumn has to do with “sorting” — identifying letters and connecting them to sounds.
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.
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.
I checked through his school books again and found yet again that the school had not progressed his reading book in the 3 months prior (they hadn't changed it at all or made any comments on the messages I had left in the book), so I double checked what age he actually was in reading ability. The school still had him on Year 1 books which he couldn't read. So I stopped trying to 'teach' him to read. 9 months later he read out a leaflet that had been put on the windscreen of the car, with no coaxing from me at all.
One great way to introduce kids to literacy is to take their dictation. Have them recount an experience or make up a story. We’re not talking “Moby Dick” here. A typical first story may be something like, “I like fish. I like my sister. I like grandpa.” Write it as it is being told, and then read it aloud. Point at the words when you read them, or point at them when your child is trying to read the story. Over time, with lots of rereading, don’t be surprised if your child starts to recognize words such as “I” or “like.” (As children learn some of the words, you can write them on cards and keep them in a “word bank” for your child, using them to review later.)
I am very grateful to the people who took time to write their stories so thoughtfully and send them to me. I hope that many of you who have just read this essay will add to these stories with stories of your own, in the comments section below. It's high time that we created a real account of the many ways that unschooled children learn to read, an account to contrast with all those rows of books on teaching reading that exist in the education section of every university library.
This is a wonderful column, and all very true. My own four (unschooled) kids learned to read at ages ranging between 3 and 8 years, and each learned in his or her own way. I'm now watching my unschooled grandchildren following the same path - the 8 year old has just taught himself to read, and I can see his 5 year old sister is close behind. I often tell other parents with kids in school about my experiences because they worry so much if their kids aren't reading by age 6.
@B. Leekley, thank you for your very insightful comment. I must say that did not intend to imply that once a child knows how to read there will be no more work to be done, what I simply meant in my article is that once a child knows HOW to read then he or she will have the most basic tool for learning. Thank you for your recommendation as well, I downloaded a pdf copy this weekend and am looking forward to reading it and implementing it into my son’s schooling. I really enjoyed your comments and am very grateful for your support.
I have a 6 year old son who had some pretty significant delays due to liver disease. I never thought he would take off reading the way he has! He's doing so well with your program he will not have to repeat kindergarten. We are so pleased with your reading program! And super excited our son gets to go into first grade all because his reading skills are so good! He's a better reader than most of his friends his age who have never had delays or medical issues.

Parents of infants and toddlers lay the foundation for reading success long before there's a need for systematic instruction. While some gung-ho moms and dads get seduced by products that claim to promote early reading, they should resist the temptation to buy them. Introducing formal instruction too early may actually backfire—making youngsters see reading as a task that wins parental favor, not as a pleasurable activity unto itself. Studies show that youngsters who receive early instruction are less likely to read for enjoyment when they get older.


Read, Write and Type! Learning System is a software program to teach beginning reading skills, emphasizing writing. The program was developed for 6- to 9-year-olds who are beginning to read, and for struggling students. The main goal is to help students become aware of the 40 English phonemes, or word sounds, and to associate each with a finger stroke on the keyboard. Read, Write and Type! is often used as a supplement to other reading programs.

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.

Hi! I have a 5 and 4 month old daughter who is really interested in learning to read. She won’t start kindergarten until the fall as we are in CA. I love these steps and they help A LOT. I’m wondering if anyone can chime in with how much to put into this now and over the summer before she starts kinder. She seems ready. Would I look into a program like Pathways to Reading? Or just keep it simple and focus on basics? What about ABC mouse? She knows all her letters and most of the sounds (though she sometimes forgets) and seems to enjoy sounding out words together, but maybe only 2 or 3 before she gets bored. I’m in no rush, but she seems ready.
Say the sentence is “I have a flannel to wash my face”. And your child reads, “I have a flannel to clean my face”. That may be wrong but it's a good guess because your child is clearly thinking about the meaning of the sentence. (And you can just gently say, "Nearly. But does clean begin with 'w'?) A child who guesses “I have a flannel to watch my face” may have followed the letter-sound clues slightly better but are not thinking about the meaning at all.
He was born November 26, 1931 in Chicago, Illinois. After graduating with class honors in philosophy from the University of Illinois in 1955, he spent time in a variety of occupations, from working in exploratory oil to being a science editor. While working as a marketing director in the early 1960s, Engelmann became interested with how children learn. This interest began with examining how much e ...more
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.
May I ask if you would be willing to review our reading program. It is called The Reading Lesson. I will be happy to send you a copy. It the best there is. I should know. My mom who is the author taught me to read with it many years ago. And now thousands of people use it. In fact it is number 1 best selling reading book in England, and number two in the US.

My little girl will be 4 in May. She figured reading out, generally on her own, within a week of her 3rd birthday. (We do read to our kids, and she had LeapFrog phonics videos that she loves, and magnetic letters on the fridge, but we didn't do any teaching, as such). I would say she currently reads at about a 2nd grade level (can easily handle any picture book, but is a little daunted by chapter books yet). My husband taught her how to count to 100 on a long car ride just before Christmas, and she has been practicing that, and asking her way through addition and subtraction--but we still haven't done any "teaching", aside from what is done on the fly, as the subject comes up. This morning, she wanted to know 5+2. We were in the kitchen, and I was chopping things for the crockpot for supper, so I told her to group 5 magnet letters on the fridge, and then add 2 to that group. "5+2 is 7, Mommy!" Her 2 year-old brother knows all his letters and all their sounds and can count to 20, again without any instruction as such. We were originally planning to homeschool, and probably unschool, anyway, so it's been kind of cool to see it working well before our kids are "school-age".


Fast ForWord is a computer-based program that focuses on the link between spoken language and written words. The software aims to help kids master reading by improving things like memory, processing speed and attention. But the impact the program reports to have on these skills isn’t widely accepted. Nor is its impact on improving reading. Fast ForWord is used by clinicians and specialists.
Español: enseñar a un niño a leer, Português: Ensinar Seu Filho a Ler, Italiano: Insegnare a Leggere a Tuo Figlio, Deutsch: Deinem Kind das Lesen beibringen, Français: apprendre à lire à votre enfant, Nederlands: Je kind leren lezen, Русский: научить ребенка читать, Čeština: Jak naučit dítě číst, Bahasa Indonesia: Mengajari Anak Anda Membaca, العربية: تعليم طفلك القراءة
You don't need to stick to the text (such as it is) when you're reading books with your baby (which is just as well or you'd both die of boredom). Feel free to go 'off piste' and warble on about the pictures you're looking at (“Look at that cat! Big, black cat! Just like Granny's cat. Big, furry, cuddly cat.”) At this stage, it's all about the sing-song sound of your voice and the connection between books and pictures and sounds and fun.
my 3 1/2 year old hyper active daughter knows her alphabet and I am trying to teach her to real the two letter words “in, if, is, it , of , on “. However she does not seem to be able to differentiate between “if” and “it” or “of”. however I am not sure if she can’t differentiate or she is not interested. How to teach a child who CANNOT sit quietly.

Quite a few of the people who wrote to me expressed surprise at the sequence that their child went through in learning to read. Some learned to read quite exotic words, which never appear in the primers, well before they learned simpler words. Some, as I said, learned to write before they could read. Some seemed to be learning at a rapid rate and then they just stopped for a couple of years before progressing further. We adults can enjoy watching all of this as long as we remember that it isn't our responsibility to change it. We're just observers and sometimes tools that our children use for their own chosen ends.

Reading Rockets is a national multimedia project that offers a wealth of research-based reading strategies, lessons, and activities designed to help young children learn how to read and read better. Our reading resources assist parents, teachers, and other educators in helping struggling readers build fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension skills.
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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"When I first began to teach kindergarten 26 years ago, we didn't even start the alphabet until Christmastime," says Carol Schrecengost, a teacher in Stow, OH. "But now I begin teaching letter sounds during the first month of school  -- in part because students are learning their letters earlier, but also because parents and administrators expect it."
Yes! Parents are such powerful teachers. They can teach things to their children so quickly working one-on-one. Classroom teachers have so many students with a wide-range of abilities and interests and so often must "dumb down" the curriculum to reach everyone. Parents can let their children soar -- choosing books that interest them and challenging them with both fiction and non-fiction. Voted up.
Sue, thanks for your comment. I'd like to do a post soon on children's teaching math to themselves, but so far I don't have a lot of material on it. Several readers have sent stories with some relevance to that topic, but I'd like to get more. -- One of the most common questions I get about Sudbury Valley is, "Why would anyone learn math if they don't have to?" -- That says something about the attitude toward math that our school system instills.
Idzie, a 19-year-old unschooled but beautifully educated blogger, sent me a link to an essay, on her blog, about her own memories of learning to read. She wrote, in part: "When I was something like age 8 or 9, my mother was reading the first Harry Potter book aloud to my sister and me. But, well, she had things to do other than read, and if she read too long, her voice would get hoarse. So, being quite frustrated at how slow a process this was, and really wanting to know what happened next, I picked it up and began to read."
Teach your child to read using explicit phonics. Traditionally, children are taught to recognize a word based on its size, the first and last letters, and the general sound. This method of teaching is known as implicit phonics - working from the largest piece down. However, studies have shown that readable vocabulary dramatically increases (from 900 words to 30,000 words by the third grade) when taught in the opposite fashion: breaking each word into the smallest parts, and building them up into a full word - explicit phonics. Help your child to begin reading by having them sound-out each individual letter without looking at the overall word first.
Teaching your child to read is truly a process that begins at infancy. No, I am most certainly NOT advocating programs that claim to teach your baby to read using flashcards!  What I AM encouraging you to do is to begin reading with your newborn within days of welcoming her home!  Not only is ongoing reading time building a special bonding time for the two of you, it instills in her a love for books. Enjoyment while reading is one of the single greatest predictors of reading success in school-age children. If children don’t learn from an early age to enjoy reading, it will most likely hinder their ability sometime down the road.
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