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Teach Your Child to Read: The Truth About How Children Learn to Read

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Teach Your Child to Read by Age 3: A Free Reading Program

How DO children learn to read? Is anyone even asking that question anymore? Our government isn’t. The National Reading Panel submitted its findings about how children learn to read in 2000 and has not reconvened since, even though only 36% of 4th graders and 34% of 8th graders are reading proficiently or above in the United States of America (according to 2015 National Assessment of Education Progress reports).

Well I am asking that question. I want to know how children learn to read. And you know what? I figured it out. I cracked the code. I learned…no, I discovered, that children can learn how to read EASILY by the age of 3. By applying what I learned while being a teacher for 7 years and getting my Master’s degree with an emphasis on Language Acquisition to teaching my own five children, I learned what they are truly capable of.

I created this reading program to give parents the tools to teach their children how to read by the age of 3. By starting this program when children are between 6-8 months of age, the learning can happen a little bit over a long period of time during a crucial time of brain development that will make learning how to read easy and fun. (Children can start this program at any age and still follow the same 8 steps, it may just require more repetition and time.)

This blog is a portal to a series of 8 blogs I have written that explain in full detail how to teach your child how to read. I have spent the last two years creating my own font, hand drawing and digitizing flashcards, creating videos, apps, and more because there is nothing out there that meets the needs of teaching children how to read from a young age. So, please, enjoy this free reading program and enjoy teaching your child how to read!

Teach Your Child to Read: A Free Reading Program

  1. How to Introduce Your Child to Reading
  2. Learning the Alphabet Lays the Foundation for Reading
  3.  Memorizing Words is What Good Readers Do
  4.  Building Vocabulary with Colors, Numbers, and Shapes
  5. Phonemic Awareness Leads to Reading Success
  6.  Teaching Phonics with Three Letter Words
  7. Encouraging Children to Read Independently
  8. Reinforcing Reading with Writing
Reading with 3 Month Old Jack

Reading with 3 Month Old Jack

My Journey of Discovery

When my daughter Ruby was 6 months old (She’s now 7 and the oldest of my 5 children.), I started watching word videos with her and teaching her the ABCs. There was a silent period as she was soaking everything in, but then at 15 months, she had a language EXPLOSION! Not only did she know her letter names and sounds, but she was able to read the words we had been working on. People would say,

“Yeah, but she just memorized those words”, and I would say, “Yes!!! Memorizing words is a part of reading!”

I continued to work with her and read with her, and by the time she was 3, she was reading books. I worked with my remaining four children in the same manner, and I have seen that this is not a fluke, but a pattern with every child. An interesting thing to note is that due to a big move and some life changes, we did not start these pre-reading activities with our second child, Elliot, when he was a baby. Instead, we followed the same steps as with our other children but at a later age, and he learned how to read when he was 5. I really started working on creating my reading program with our third child, Ophelia, and she was reading fluently by the time she was 2.5. I worked with our fourth child, Julian, in the same manner. He is 2 now, and not only reads many words but has an extensive vocabulary as well. Our fifth child, Jack, is 3 months old, and I’m just starting to read with him now!

Scott Reading with Ophelia

Scott Reading with Ophelia

Brain Development

But don’t just take my word for it, take a look at the fascinating way in which children’s brains develop. From 0-3 months of age, the 4th trimester if you will, there is not a lot of brain activity, then at 6 months of age, there is an EXPLOSION of synapses (where two neurons connect). This happens because of EXPERIENCES and INTERACTIONS.  (Check out this AMAZING visual here.)

Whatever babies experience and whatever they interact with lays the framework for ALL brain development. This explosion continues until the age of 2 when synaptic pruning occurs and the brain starts to take a “use it or lose it” approach. (Read more about how children’s brains are wired for learning here.) If you lay the foundation for reading WHILE there is a synaptic explosion and BEFORE synaptic pruning occurs, it will make learning to read so easy!

Neural_signaling-human_brain

How the Brain Transmits Signals – Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons (2013) Gif created from Inside the Brain: Unraveling the Mystery of Alzheimer’s Disease

You Can Do It!!!

You don’t need to be a teacher, and you don’t need to know what you’re doing AT ALL in order to teach your child to read by the age of 3. If you go through my 8 steps and use the resources I’ve provided, you will be learning alongside your child in a fun and easy way. It makes me sad to know that only 36% of 4th graders and 34% of 8th graders are proficient or above at reading in this great nation of ours, but it also makes me hopeful because I know that if as parents, we take on the task of teaching our children how to read from a young age, those numbers would turn around fast. But it’s not just about the numbers, I don’t teach my children how to read at a young age so they can be good at tests, I teach them so that they will have a LOVE of reading and use that to unlock the mysteries of the world for THEMSELVES.

1. Introduce Reading

When newborns arrive into the world, everything is new, and they need to be protected and sheltered as if they were in the womb. But then, starting at about 6-8 weeks when their brains have adjusted to this new outside world, they start to become responsive and crave human eye contact and interaction. This is where language begins. (See Jack and I having baby conversations here.) By the time babies are 3-4 months, they can hold their heads up, grab things, follow a moving object, and are more interested in shapes and patterns. This is the perfect time to start reading to your baby. Read my blog: How to Introduce Reading to Your Baby to see my tips for introducing reading to your baby as well as my favorite first books to read with babies.

How to Introduce Your Child to Reading (Part 1 in a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

How to Introduce Your Child to Reading (Part 1 in a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

2. The Alphabet

Everyone knows that learning the ABCs is a crucial part of learning how to read, but did you know that children are totally capable of learning letter names and sounds by the time they are 15 months old? Why are we forcing children to wait until they are school aged when they WANT to learn earlier? The alphabet contains the building blocks of language, and when you teach babies starting at 6-8 months of age what this code means, their brains will weave this knowledge into its frameworks instead of trying to find a place to force it in later.

I have spent the last two years hand drawing my own font and creating flashcards, posters, a video, and an app (well, my husband made that) that will teach children the alphabet completely and thoroughly. Trust me, there is nothing else out in the market like this, and this is the reason why I was compelled to made it. So, check out my blog: Learning the Alphabet Lays the Foundation for Reading and you can have free access to all of my resources, plus tips on teaching the alphabet, and additional resources that will make it SO EASY to teach your baby (or child of any age) the ABCs.

Learning the Alphabet is the Foundation of Reading (Part 2 of a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

Learning the Alphabet is the Foundation of Reading (Part 2 of a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

3. Memorizing Words

People are always blown away when my little ones can read words while they are learning how to speak them. Teaching children how to memorize words (starting at 6-8 months to be proficient by 12-15 months) as their oral language is developing is a perfect fit. This is a VERY important step in teaching children how to read and is missing from every existing reading program out there. Some programs teach children sight words, but I am not talking about sight words here. I am talking about teaching children that letters are used to form written words, that these written words have meaning, and that they can communicate with these written words.

I have carefully selected the words that I use in my flashcards, posters, video, and app to be meaningful to children. Check out my blog: Memorizing Words is What Good Readers Do to learn more about the reasons why memorizing words is such a crucial part of learning how to read and to get teaching tips, all of my resources for free, and recommendations for additional resources that will help you to easily teach your child to memorize words.

Memorizing Words is What Good Readers Do (Part 3 of a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

Memorizing Words is What Good Readers Do (Part 3 of a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

4. Building Vocabulary

Children are naturally curious about the world around them. They want to explore, make a mess, figure out what everything is, see how things work, and learn what everything is called. As parents, we are their guides to this world, and the best way to teach them about it is to follow their lead and explain whatever they are holding and whatever they are interested in. In doing so, we are building their background knowledge which will aid tremendously in their reading comprehension abilities.

In these vocabulary resources, I have focused on creating materials that will help children learn colors, numbers, and shapes because these are as fundamental and foundational as learning the ABCs. Everything children learn is in layers, and if they can start at the bottom and work their way up in complexity, everything will stay in their zone of proximal development and be retained. Read my blog: Building Vocabulary with Colors, Numbers, and Shapes to get access to my flashcards, books, links to additional resources, and tips for helping children develop background knowledge.

Building Vocabulary with Colors, Numbers, and Shapes (Part 4 in a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

Building Vocabulary with Colors, Numbers, and Shapes (Part 4 in a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

5. Phonemic Awareness

Studies show that, “The two best predictors of early reading success are alphabet recognition and phonemic awareness“. But what is phonemic awareness?  Rooted in oral language, phonemic awareness is the ability to hear, identify, and manipulate all of the sounds that the letters make. (There are 44 sounds in the English language; each sound is called a phoneme.) The first 26 sounds are fairly easy because they are directly correlated with the alphabet. (When first teaching the ABCs, I recommend starting with the short vowel sounds.) The next 18 are a bit tricky.

In my blog: Phonemic Awareness Leads to Reading Success, I share resources that I have made to teach children (and adults) about the common spelling patterns used to make long vowels, other vowel sounds such as the long and short oo, r controlled vowels, and diphthongs, as well as digraphs.

Phonemic Awareness Leads to Reading Success (Part 5 in a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

Phonemic Awareness Leads to Reading Success (Part 5 in a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

6. Phonics with Three Letter Words

Each letter has a name, each letter makes a sound, and when we put those sounds together we make words. This is phonics. After children are familiar with letter names, letter sounds, memorizing words, vocabulary, and phonemic awareness, they are ready to start building words. In most cases, children don’t start to learn about phonics until they are in school, and then they spend a LOT of time going over every possible way to spell words with a plethora of worksheets.

What I have found, is that by keeping the focus extremely basic (by just teaching three letter word families with short vowel sounds) that children will get the basic concept and be able to apply it to new words on their own. This is the Helen Keller water scene moment for children where they finally see how all of the pieces are connected and reading begins to occur “as if by magic”. Check out my blog: Teaching Phonics with Three Letter Words to have access to all of my resources and recommendations for teaching phonics.

Teaching Phonics with Three Letter Words (Part 6 in a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

Teaching Phonics with Three Letter Words (Part 6 in a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

7. Independent Readers

Reading is awesome. I love reading, and I love sharing my love of reading with my children. These days, I’m primarily into reading nonfiction research pertaining to blog topics that I want to write about. When my kids see me reading, I tell them what I’m reading and what I’m learning. My husband does the same thing. He’s very techy and is currently learning about programming. Not only does he share this knowledge with them, but he’s teaching them about programming as well. He also really loves fiction and reads his favorite Illustrated Classics with the older kids before bed every night.

I want our children to see our passions, to see how we learn, and to see our reasoning and thought processes for choosing what we do, not so that they can learn about the same things, but so they can follow their OWN passions. In my blog: Encouraging Children to Read Independently, I share my tips for creating a reading environment, tips on encouraging children to read independently, and my favorite reading resources for children of all ages.

Encouraging Children to Read Independently (Part 7 in a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

Encouraging Children to Read Independently (Part 7 in a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

8. Enforcing Reading with Writing

When children are in kindergarten and preschool, they are taught to write letters WHILE they are learning how to read them. That is a LOT to do at once. Not only that, but the pace moves quickly and sequentially. If children learn letter names and letter sounds BEFORE they are introduced to writing, then they can just focus on writing and use it as a vehicle to reinforce what they learned about reading. Writing takes a lot of dexterity and fine motor control, and it’s not feasible to teach children how to write when they are babies like it is to teach them how to read.

That being said, there are things that you can do with children at a young age to prepare them for writing when they are ready. In my blog, Reinforcing Reading with Writing, I share my resources that will help prepare children for writing in addition to my favorite writing resources that will make learning how to write easy and fun.

Reinforcing Reading With Writing (Part 8 in a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

Reinforcing Reading With Writing (Part 8 in a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

In Conclusion

There is a magic window to teach your child how to read between the ages of 6 months and 2 years of age. During this time, the brain is laying its foundation based on experiences and interactions. If we take advantage of this window and teach children the letter names and sounds, how to memorize words, vocabulary, phonemic awareness, how to sound out three letter words and do so through quality literature, then learning how to read will come easily and occur naturally “as if by magic”. When we start pre-reading activities with our children when they are very young, the lessons can be simple, sparse, and short. Spreading a little out over a long period of time is a much easier approach than waiting for a ridiculously long time and then cramming in a lot over a short period of time.

But even if you haven’t started with your child at a young age, it’s not too late. You may have to work a little harder to make these steps exciting and engaging for an older child, but rest assured that if you follow this process, your child will learn how to read. By presenting children with the gift of reading, not only will they have complete access to the world around them, but they will be able to follow their own passions, read about their own interests, and go farther than you could have ever possibly imagined.

Check out all of the blogs in my reading series:

  1. How to Introduce Your Baby to Reading
  2. Learning the Alphabet Lays the Foundation for Reading
  3. Memorizing Words is What Good Readers Do
  4. Building Vocabulary with Colors, Numbers, and Shapes
  5. Phonemic Awareness Leads to Reading Success
  6. Teaching Phonics with Three Letter Words
  7. Encouraging Children to Read Independently
  8. Reinforcing Reading with Writing

#2-It All Begins with the ABCS

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Learning the Alphabet is the Foundation of Reading (Part 2 of a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

Learning the ABCs is absolutely the foundation for learning how to read. It is where reading begins, and it is where reading can fall apart at a later age if it isn’t taught correctly. By working with children from a young age on the alphabet, they will have a solid foundation in reading skills that will make learning how to read a breeze.

Learning the ABCs means learning the letter names (both capital and lower case letters) and the letter sounds. In the first introduction to the alphabet, it’s important to keep it simple and start with the short vowels as well as the hard c and g. Later on, using my Phonemic Awareness resources, children will learn about the remaining sounds that make up the 44 sounds in the English language.

Age to Start

The ideal time to start teaching children the alphabet is between 6-8 months of age. Are you thinking, “Really? Why so young?” Well, I’ll tell you, children’s brains start EXPLODING with growth at this age (read more about the brain development of children here), and if you can add input to the framework while it’s being built, it makes learning to read SO EASY.

When I was an elementary school teacher, I thought that preschool was the time to introduce the alphabet to children. But then when I applied what I had learned as an elementary school teacher (and while getting my Master’s degree with an emphasis on Language Acquisition) with my own children, I was BLOWN AWAY when our first daughter knew all of her letter names and sounds by 15 months and was READING by the age of three.

What I learned was that if I started young, I only had to teach my daughter the ABCs for few minutes here and there. You can certainly start with children at any age, however, and learning how to read will still follow the same progression. But if you wait until the child is older, learning the ABCs can be pretty boring so you’ll need to make it more exciting with fun, hands on, kinesthetic, and engaging activities. (Think Pinterest.)  You’ll also need to do longer and more consistent lessons because instead of building neural connections, you’re rewiring them, and that’s harder to do.

How to Teach

I have found that it’s best to teach the letter names, letter sounds, word, and picture simultaneously. When I start teaching my children the ABCs, I’ll make a couple sets of my flashcards and keep them in places where we have routines, like in my rocking chair and at the breakfast table.

If you can find a few minutes to do use the flashcards a week and show the ABC video a few times per week, in addition to using the other resources I’ve made and link to later, then your child should learn their ABCs in about 6-8 months. All of my children knew their ABCs by 15 months.

When I start using the flashcards with my children for the first time, I read through them rather quickly and show the video for as long as I can hold their interest. I like to chant (you’ll hear it in my ABC video), “A is for apple, a, a, apple” and do this for each letter. (Here is a video of me doing the chant with 14 month old Ophelia. You’ll also get to see what the first draft of my flashcards looked like!) I also put up posters (especially near the diaper changing table), read ABC books, play with ABC toys, and watch other ABC videos. Immersion is the best way to learn!

Ophelia Playing with Fridge Letter Magnets

Ophelia Playing with Fridge Letter Magnets

Learning the ABC song is also a key part of learning the alphabet because it helps to teach the order of the letters and gives children a way to remember all of the letters at once. I love going to YouTube and finding ABC song videos that my children enjoy to add to my playlist. You can check out my extensive ABC collection here. At the end of my ABC video, my children sing the ABC song several times.

As my children get older and more familiar with the flashcards, I will start to ask them, “What is this?” for each card, and whether they say the letter name, letter sound, or word associated with the letter, I praise them equally because each answer is correct. If they don’t say anything after about three seconds, I’ll say it. Once my children are familiar with the letter names and sounds, and word associated with each letter, I’ll start to introduce more words that start with each letter and point out words they know while reading.

Ophelia Reading an ABC Book

Ophelia Reading an ABC Book

My Resources

I have hand drawn and digitized each of these resources to specifically fit the needs of my own children. Someday, I would like to create a “Teach Your Child to Read Kit” that will bundle everything together in one package, but for now, I want to get this information and these resources out there. Please feel free to print as many copies as you would like for your own personal use.

1. ABC Flashcards

I created these ABC flashcards because I was pretty disappointed with the flashcards that are out there. First of all, many cards confuse children by using things like ape for a where children may think it’s actually a monkey, or they’ll use digraphs for words (like cheese for c). My flashcards have an easily recognizable image, feature only short vowels, the hard c and g, and have no confusing digraphs, diphthongs, or r-controlled vowels. It was also hard to find ABC flashcards that had the upper and lowercase letters, picture, and word all in one space. I also created my own font because many fonts used in flashcards on the market today use archaic old-style typefaces that don’t accurately depict how children are taught to write letters.

ABC Flashcards First Page

ABC Flashcards First Page

Get a PDF of the flashcards here:  ABCs Flashcards PDF

2. ABC Video

This ABC video is designed to bring my flashcards to life! After a brief intro, this 22 minute ABC Video shows the flashcards while I say the letter chant. This is followed by images and videos of my children that bring the words to life. Not only will children be engaged while learning the letter names and sounds, but they will be building vocabulary as well.

Don’t just stick your child in front of this video and walk away! Watch it WITH your child. Say the words along with the video, and praise your child when they get a word right. Eventually, your child will become extremely familiar with the video, and then you can use it as a babysitter from time to time, just don’t do so initially.

3. ABC Picture Poster

This alphabet poster combines all of the graphics from my alphabet flashcards onto one page. I like laminating this poster and putting it on the wall in multiple locations, using it as a placement, bringing it with us in the car, and really anything that will encourage repeated exposure.

ABC Poster

ABC Poster

Get a PDF of the poster here: ABC Poster Full Page

4. Android Alphabet Explorer App

My husband brought my ABC Video to life in a new format. Children can click on a menu featuring each letter of the alphabet to see its letter chant, images, and video. They can also go directly to the ABC songs. This is for Android devices only.

Alphabet Explorer App

Alphabet Explorer App

Get the Alphabet Explorer App here.

Additional Resources

In addition to my homemade resources, these are the things I have purchased that have made a HUGE impact on my children’s learning. I recommend the first three at least as MUST HAVES. If you use these resources often, your child will learn the ABCs so fast it will make your head spin!

  • *Preschool Prep – This company makes REMARKABLE videos and I HIGHLY recommend purchasing the whole pack. They have a wonderful letter name video and a letter sound video that is highly engaging for little ones and really enforces learning all of the letter names and letter sounds.
  • *ABC Bath Letters – Making the letters a toy is a great idea! During bath time you can talk to your little ones about letter names and letter sounds in a fun and silly way. (For example, “Look at my dancing A, she likes to stand on my head!”)
  • *Starfall – This amazing online resource has everything you need to teach your child pretty much everything he or she needs to learn pertaining to reading and math through grade 2. I love starting out with the interactive ABCs that are great for teaching letter names, letter sounds, and vocabulary. This part is free, the rest of the site is $35/year, and SOOOOOOOOO worth it. Here’s a video of Ophelia using Starfall. They also have numerous apps.
  • Leapfrog Fridge Magnet Set – This is great for children starting at about 12-18 months, or whenever they are walking and developing fine motor skills. Here’s a video of our 21 month old daughter, Ophelia, using them.
  • Leapfrog Tablet – I look for tablets like these at garage sales and thrift stores. They are a fun way for young children to reinforce learning the letter names and sounds in a way that makes them feel like they have their own computer. Here’s a video of Ophelia using a Leapfrog tablet.
  • Robot Letters – If you are teaching an older child the ABCs, especially one who likes robots and transformers, this is a great resource!
  • Dr. Suess’s ABC – This book has been an absolute favorite with each of our kids (probably because I love it so much). Find whatever ABC books YOU love to read, like Chica Chica Boom Boom, Elmo’s ABC Book, this textured ABC Alphabet Fun book, Sandra Boynton’s A to ZThe Alphabet Book, or anything else you can find at garage sales, thrift stores, and hand-me-downs.
  • Endless Alphabet App – I would say that this app is best for children 2 and older and is a GREAT way to reinforce letter names and sounds.
  • Storybots – My kids LOVE these videos! They are great for older children and reinforcing letter names and words that start with that letter. They have a great ABC app and tons of other great learning videos.

Usborne Books

I LOVE Usborne books! The pages are super durable, the stories are interesting, the vocabulary development is phenomenal, and the people and Usborne GET reading. They know that children should start young…I’m talking babies…and provide PLENTY of resources to get your little ones interested in reading.

  • Alfie and Bet’s ABC – Children will love this colorful ABC pop-up book.
  • Very First ABC – The cute board book is a great introduction to the ABCs.
  • Alphabet Picture Book – This is a great book to “read” together as you look for the pictures that go with each letter.
  • B is for Bedtime – This rhyming A – Z bedtime routine book is a great book for a bedtime routine.
  • Illustrated Alphabet – This cloth bound foil book with slip case is simply beautiful and features a funny zoo animal and rhyming story for each letter. This is great for a read aloud/read together.
  • ABC Sticker Book – Children affix letter picture stickers over the letters in this book.
  • Alphabet Sticker Book – This would really be for an older child reinforcing beginning sounds, but the word matching for each letter is a great review.
  • Alphabet Beginning Level – This is the type of resource you would want to use with an older child learning the ABCs to make it more fun and engaging. It is basically a system of matching and self correcting cards. It requires this base plate that can be used with several other learning packs as well. Click here to see an animated demo (you need flash player).

In Conclusion

Teaching your children the ABCs at a young age is one of the best gifts you can give to them. In doing so, they will have a solid foundation in the skill of reading which will make it that much easier to develop a love of reading. Children who love reading can access the entire world, follow their passions, and unlock the doors to their destiny.

Check out all of the blogs in my reading series:

  1. How to Introduce Your Baby to Reading
  2. Learning the Alphabet Lays the Foundation for Reading
  3. Memorizing Words is What Good Readers Do
  4. Building Vocabulary with Colors, Numbers, and Shapes
  5. Phonemic Awareness Leads to Reading Success
  6. Teaching Phonics with Three Letter Words
  7. Encouraging Children to Read Independently
  8. Reinforcing Reading with Writing