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Teaching preschoolers how to read
If you ever wondered on how to teach a four-year-old to read, this article is for you. Please, read it thoroughly.
The most important lesson for us parents is to spend time with our kids and read to them, talk to them and listen to them from the first day of their life. Presented method can be used especially effectively for young children and when you want to teach a preschooler to read.
Teaching 3 year old to read is not an easy task, but it is do-able. Let’s begin our journey. I will tell you my story.
“Mom, how is it possible that black holes have jets once even light cannot escape from them? Did you know that birds are close friends of dinosaurs? How is it possible that blood cells carry oxygen?” – These are the questions a 4-year-old girl can ask once she reads books on her own and is not limited to parents’ reading time slots.
This girl is my daughter – she reads fluently different kinds of books. In the end, this is you who make a choice. Nevertheless, I will give you a method of how to teach a toddler to read. It was my choice. I respect all opinions and I have no intention to make you choose one or another method. I share with you MY personal experience. If something else worked for you, that is OK – I am happy.
To avoid confusion. For the sake of this article, if not written explicitly, I am using “he” form when talking about a kid, a child, a toddler. This makes the text readable. When writing “him,” I mean both him and her. I am a mom, and I love all the kids, no matter the gender.
Should parents teach their child to read?
Of course! They are the best teachers as long as they follow simple rules:
- they are focused on teaching – quality over quantity. This their time with their kid. No phones, no calls, no distractions
- they have a plan and are executing it everyday. It is just enough to read aloud together for a minimum of 20 minutes. Our activity books help to structure this process
- they love what they are doing – children feel emotions like no others. If you are in a bad mood you will better postpone the activity
- do not rush your little reader. He has limitations just like every human. Encourage him and enjoy with him every word he reads. If he missed the letter – that’s ok. Do not stop him. At the end you can ask if he can repeats for you the sentence because you are not sure if you understands it properly. Remember, if he regrets to do so, do not push and move further.
- build the book environment – keep books in his room and place them around home so he can get use to it. Talk a lot about what you have read. If he has a question and you do not know the answer, suggest to check to answer together in Encyclopedia or in one of his books (DO NOT CHECK SMARTPHONE in the first hit). I bet he has books about dinosaurs and asks lot of questions about them. Try to find the answers there, so he sees the purpose of reading.
Why is it important to teach your child to read?
In the beginning, let me introduce some basic facts. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, 32 percent of fourth-graders and 24 percent of eighth-graders cannot read at a basic level. There is rather slow progress from 2002 – respectively 25 percent of eighth-graders and 36 percent of fourth-graders could not read.
As you are reading this article, I guess that you are one of those parents who want to develop the reading skills of your child. You are looking for the best way to teach your child how to read. This article and presented methods are for you.
Did you know that even a 2-year child can read? It is possible, but you have to start early to teach your toddler to read. I am a mother of two girls. The older one is a 4-year-old preschooler. I have managed to teach my toddler to read – at the level of two, her first steps to reading were single words and short books at the level of three. Now at the age of four, she can read Harry Potter and the encyclopedias we have at home. Hence, she gets a lot of knowledge just because she has a skill of reading.
The reading ability develops her imagination and curiosity as she explores the beauty of the world far beyond the typical horizon. It is fantastic, and I believe every child can do it as every child is gifted and keen to learn. It is natural for him; he does not know if one plays or learns; everything is new and exciting for a little human being.
10 benefits of reading: why your child should read
When was your last time you sat with your child and read him? How many times since he was born, you took him on your lap and had a reading time? There are sad statistics saying that 37% of children arrive at kindergarten without the skills necessary for lifetime learning and 25% ( 1 in 4) children in America grow up without learning how to read – see more literacy facts that will change your mind.
As a matter of fact from birth to age 5, a child’s brain develops more than at any other time in life. This time has a crucial impact on a child’s ability to learn and succeed in life and school. The quality of time spent with a child during these years shapes one’s child brain development for a life. Both in a positive or a negative way. Ironically, the majority of our investments are made in the traditional education years K-12 which begin at age 5.
It readies your child for kindergarten
As parents we all know how stressful the kindergarten period can be. New colleagues, new situations, loud environment, waterfall of emotions that our little human cannot handle and much more. As a matter of fact, early childhood literacy skills can make the whole process easier and less painful. If we read a lot to them, talk to them, commenting daily activities (I am calling it “Full narration”) and listen to them following things happen:
- Children are learning a huge amount of words (even up to 215.000 per week in a “professional” families)
- Children are able to assign more words to more events and situations
- They can recognize their emotions and can name them.
- Children have better understanding of the environment that surrounds them – can name the situations they are in and are less frustrated as they can communicate easier.
- They feel more comfortable with themselves, their peers and tasks that are given to them.
Did you know that parents commenting daily activities provide 1000-2000 words per every hour? This is a huge load of data every day. If you add to that reading 5000 words in forms of books, poems, games it sums up to a great number. Reaching 10.000-20.000 words a day! As mentioned earlier average child in a professional family receives up to 215.000. In working class family it is around 125.000. It is proved that the language in children’s books are likely to be more sophisticated than our average conversation. Additionally, reading aloud together with your child and finger pointing words in the books help him to recognize patterns, words and sounds associated to them. It develops not only vocabulary as such but also develops ability to read sight words and helps in writing later on.
It alleviates worries about reading disability later on
This is straight forward. Of course, the more we read in the early childhood, the less issues in terms of reading and learning capabilities we are going to have later on. According to research children who are read to at least 3 times a week by a family member are almost twice as likely to score in the top 25% in reading compared to children who are read to less than 3 times a week.
Children who are not reading by the end of the 3rd grade are 4 times as likely to drop out of high school. What is more, average age of 1st grader coming from low-income families is even up to 2 years behind the average age of 1st grader coming from high income families. It results from lack of age-appropriate books available both at home and in the neighborhood (kindergartens servings low-income families).
Books develop so called emotional intelligence.
When you read a book, your child has to remember characters, their backgrounds, feelings, history, as well as the various arcs and sub-plots that weave their way through every story. You can ask additional open-ended questions to stimulate his imagination. Read the story impersonating characters. You can then role-play and act like characters in the book. All this together deliver amazing opportunities to develop your child’s senses.
Reading together helps to create a bond
Until this day, I remember time when siting on my mother’s lap, being hug and read aloud books. I loved that moments and it reminds me of the beauty of my childhood. This is you (my parents) who decide in the first years if your children will be more wiling to spend time with you or your smartphone. The earlier you will show him that book is not only about words and sentences but also means beautiful stories read in the arms of loving parents the better future you are building for him and yourself. By reading together you are setting up lifetime values.
Increased quantitative reasoning and imagination
Parents who paused frequently during the story had children who asked more questions, talked more and engaged in conversation. It is pretty straight forward that the more we ask and encourage our child to find the answer the more we activating his brain. He needs to imagine the situation, analyse consequences and finally verbalize it. It is a huge challenge for a young brain, but brings a lot of fun and gives your child a tool for a whole life – rational thinking ability.
If you understand more than your peers you feel good, right? 😉 Especially when you grow. Understanding your emotions, circumstances and peers make you feel comfortable. Children who can communicate clearly their needs in a preschool, who understand tasks and rules are more likely to play and have fun. They are less frustrated and more focused on developing other cognitive skills. Through reading stories children learn to recognize emotions of characters and later on can map them into their real life.
Financial benefits coming from less money spend on corrective actions later on
Did you know that approximate cost for the US nation of each drop out is ca. $260.000? It is a huge amount of money. It is a cost not only related to welfare, but potential cost of keeping him in the jail. We are not talking about lost economical opportunities that this young person could have potentially brought if not being dropped out. If you think about money to be spent for additional lessons and corrective programs, you’d better think twice before giving your child smartphone instead of the book.
This is us to help our kids to learn and make our child read. It will pay back quicker than you think!
How to teach preschoolers to read?
Learn other words – child brain loves it
Learning is a natural characteristic of human beings. According to Manfred Spitzer, “humans are born to learn. They are the best at learning, are made for learning, and cannot be stopped”.
Our brains are continually learning. You can perfectly see it when you look at your child, how he tries to understand his environment by many tests he performs. A child is not perfect at most of the activities at the age of one, but his abilities will grow. It is the time when he learns a lot of words, he starts speaking, and just after two or three years, he will know hundreds (if not thousands) of words and additionally will naturally learn how to use the grammar of your language without formal instructions. Nobody tells him that if he describes plural objects, he will need to add “s” at the end, his brain will learn it naturally by the observation of the environment as brains have the amazing ability to generate rules based on examples.
The science behind learning
Your brain can learn both patterns and individual facts. For the first type of learning, mostly, the cortex is used. Let’s take an example. Children usually love animals, and your child probably does it as well. During the first two years of his life, he saw lots of dogs, and his brain learned how to identify a dog. He does not remember all dogs he met before but knows the rules on how to distinguish a dog from other animals. In this example, the cortex was used; his brain identified a general rule.
The different part of the brain was used when he met a particular dog – a dog of aunt Alice. The aunt Alice has a lovely golden retriever called Lucy. Lucy is a fantastic, friendly dog. The brain of your child processed the characteristics of Lucy mostly using the hippocampus, which is responsible for single facts.
Speed of learning
Additionally, many studies show that the speed of learning processes decreases within the age. Hence, the earlier you start, you have a higher chance that your child learns more. It is a way different story how to teach your toddler to read versus how to teach a five-year-old to read versus teaching a six-year-old to read.
According to research, the window for language learning is closed by the age of twelve, so if somebody does not get the ability to use language fluently by this age, will never do. If somebody does not learn to use hands by the age of three, they will never get the precision!
There are generally two basic methods of teaching reading. I have met even opinions that mixing them brings also great results if done properly. There are supporters on both sides:
- whole word approach (proposed by John Comenius in the 17th century)
- phonics (proposed by John Hart in the 16th century)
Whole word approach
The whole word approach is an approach of reading, which is based upon the premise that reading comes naturally in a similar way that learning to speak. The whole word approach to reading noted high popularity after Ken Goodman’s article “Reading: A psycholinguistic guessing game” was published in 1967. He wrote that four cueing systems exist which determine the reader’s thinking what word comes next:
- Graphophonemic related to the shapes of the letters and their sounds
- Semantic meaning what word is expected based on the meaning of sentence
- Syntactic meaning what part of speech is expected based on the grammar
- Pragmatic related to function of the text
The graphophonemic cues consist of letter-sound relationships, shape, shorter words within the longer word, whole known words, spelling patterns.
The semantic cues require using a context. Hence the reader has to associates words based on understanding and structure of the text. The child learns attributes related to particular subjects.
The syntactic cues are related to grammar. It consists of such elements as tense, gender, word order.
The pragmatic cues are strongly correlated with the meaning as language is used differently in many situations, depending on the reason for use.
The phonics approach is related to the development of phonemic awareness. It requires the knowledge of phonemes and the ability to use and manipulate them. The phonics approach involves the decomposition of words into smaller parts, and its primary goal is to teach the child to decode new words based on taught rules. In this approach, the main thing is an alphabet as letters represent sounds. Phonics is especially useful in languages where there is a high correspondence between sounds and letters, meaning that spoken and written language are similar, i.e. in Spanish or Italian, while in English, it is more complicated.
Whole language approach versus phonic
There were and still are many discussions related to both methods of reading. In the 19th-century phonics approach was quite popular due to the work of Favell Lee Mortimer, a British Evangelical author of educational books for children. Favell developed her own method of teaching children to read based on phonics flashcards, which she published as “Reading Disentangled” set in 1834.
In the middle of the 20th century, the dominant method was the whole-word one. It was popular due to the “Dick and Jane” book series. In the 80s and 90s of the 20th century there was the “Reading War” between enthusiasts of whole word and phonics approach. Marylin Jager Adams, congress commissioned reading expert, wrote the book on this topic where she claimed that phonics was important, but she also recommended some elements of the whole word approach.
Although, in the 21st century, United States National Reading Panel recommended phonics as the primary method of teaching, for many people, it is controversial, especially in the United States, were 32 percent of 4th graders cannot read at a basic level. The war is on and time passes by.
What is our experience? Activity book designed especially to become a successful preschooler reader
Whole word approach in practice – how to teach child to read
The variation of whole word approach to reading is my choice as I observed outstanding performance using it. I have a working approach lesson plan. The main advantages:
- simple to explain
- easy to execute
- not boring to a child
- quite fast results dependently on the age
I was considering what is better – phonics approach or whole word approach. I taught Atena letters and phonics. However, we achieved significant results using the whole word approach. Some people may claim that she remembers words. Of course, it might be truth for the very first stage, but in the next phase, the brain was taught how to decode written language based on many examples. It was our choice, and the method was successful. We are not going to fight with opponents, but only to share the technique with these of you who want your children to give the ability to read. In the very early years, you can only gain! The young brain processes a lot! The older the child is (6+) the more phonics approach works. This is my experience.
Why do not we teach letters?
Remember the context we are writing in – children below 4 – the brain works slightly different when the child gets older.
Letters are something abstract for small children (below 4). It is challenging to explain what “D” letter means . It is the first letter of a “dog” word, but a dog means an animal with four legs and fur, while the letter “D” alone means nothing.
Additionally, when our child learns writing, it is much easier to identify a single letter, while speaking is rather difficult as we do not use single letters but syllables.
Last but not least. Children want to read something interesting. But what is really interesting? Books – both fiction and non-fiction. In fiction ones, they will read amazing stories while in non-fiction, they will learn about the world. We do not have to limit the knowledge we give our children. They can be 2-year-old kiddos but may be interested in astronomy, biology, or chemistry. Single letters will not be intriguing for sure.
How did we teach our child to read?
The perfect environment is one without distractions. What does it mean? It means that there should not be any audio or visual distraction, i.e. tv set, radio, mobile phone should be turned off. Additionally, perform teaching in a room that the child is familiar with.
If it is a new place with exciting pictures, walls or furniture, your child will be distracted and will not focus on the text you present.
- Be consistent – every day, same hours, more or less equal time window
- Do not ask your child to repeat the words. His brain will get this information.
- Please do not show pages too slowly as it may bore a child. Then the whole process will be ineffective.
- Additionally, the child has to have a good mood. If he is annoyed, hungry, or sleepy, it is not a perfect time for learning. We know our children – choose the best approach to calm it down and make the learning process friendly.
Why should we use activity books?
The answer is: because it works! We used a lot of activity books and regular books as well. Finally we decided to write our own “Teach your child to read in 3 easy steps. Solar System”, because we were missing books without distracting pictures with big enough letters.
Our exemplary text has thirty unique words, and the whole text approximately fifty words (this length we use in our books). The words and sentences have to be written using a big font. The younger child, the biggest font you should use. For your convenience, I have prepared a series of books for the young reader about our Solar System. Inside the book, you will find a schedule to follow, words to learn, and dedicated pages with words to be read. In the end, there is a full text YOUR child will read. If he talks already, after 14 days, you will be nicely surprised!
This step will take seven days. In the first step, you will use single words (the same which will form the whole text later). As in the whole words approach technique, a child has to learn the entire word, not particular letters, you show the word and read it loudly. Do not spend a lot of time on a specific word as small kids are really fast learners. You could think that he does not learn, but his brain will get a new bit of information. In each session, you will read five words, and you will perform three sessions a day. During the first six days, you will use new words, while during the 7th-8th-day sessions, you will use the words you taught earlier, however they will be mixed.
This step will take five days. In the second step, you will use the whole sentences. It will be something more difficult for kids, however they will know all the words which will appear in these new structures. Sentences are longer, so this time, you will need more time to present one page. It will take approximately ten-fifteen seconds. During the first three days of the second step, you will read two sentences in each session, while in 4th-5th-day sessions, three sentences. Similarly, to the first step, you will perform three sessions daily.
This step is the last one and will take two days. In the third step, you will use the whole text for the very first time. You will read the whole text to your child in each session, which will take you about thirty-forty seconds. Likewise, in two other steps, you will perform three sessions daily. On the second day, your child will read the text. In the beginning, it could be difficult, but after several boos, it becomes more comfortable for him.
In this article, I presented how I manage to teach my child to read. The method I used was effective for her. I am going to use it for my younger child as well. The most essential things in the method:
- A consistency, you have to perform it regularly. If you have breaks, it will be ineffective
- It is simple – just follow the rules and the activity book schedule and you will get there together with your child.
- It does not take a lot of time. Only short sessions during the day, but executed each and every day.
In the beginning, I have not seen the results immediately. But one day she started to understand everything. It happened suddenly, and although I could not catch it daily, the process has been taking place in her brain from the very first word. I am a proud mother, and I believe you will succeed, as well. Your children are precious and have the best thing that nature could produce – the brain – a child brain – no limits, no fear, ready to explore and learn! Do not miss the chance!
I wish you good luck, and in case of any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me. Leave a comment below. I am ready to support you!
Loves and hugs,
Our materials supporting teaching
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– Brain development
– It readies your child for kindergarten
– Vocabulary building
– It alleviates worries about reading disability later on
– Academic success
– Multi-sensory development
– Reading together helps to create a bond
– Increased quantitative reasoning and imagination
– Higher self-esteem
– Financial benefits coming from less money spend on corrective actions later on
You will find extended explanation for each of the above in our article
The Whole Word method of literacy makes learners to recognize words as whole units without breaking them down into sounds or letter groupings.The word is treated as the minimum unit of meaning and therefore the essential base element of reading.
Analytic Phonics is based on the idea that the most effective way to teach the brain how to read is by breaking words down into their discrete sound units (phonemes) and look for familiar patterns of letters and their related sounds.
Synthetic Phonics is a method of teaching phonics using just the base elements of the individual phonemes. As a very technical approach it must be supported by sight-word approach (whole word approach) to be somehow digested by the learner. Considered as quite boring, hence hard to absorb by many children (especially at younger age). The teachers must be really well trained.
It has been useful for many years and centuries. It is valid for my children having in mind I have introduced the whole word approach since both of my children were born. At the age of 2, when they developed the ability to speak, they started to read out loud, simple books. At the age of 4, Atena read Harry Potter. In our case, the method worked for one of the most challenging language – Polish. It also had a huge positive impact on absorbing English literacy.
Yes. You can get one or a series of books designed based on my experience and results.
If you liked this article, please leave the comment below. We are curious about what are your opinions about the reading methods. As the topic is always hot, remember to have respect to other readers and comment politely. 🙂