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How to Teach Kids to Read


Teaching kids to read can often feel like a daunting task, especially when we’re inundated with benchmark questions from well-meaning friends and family: Does Charlie know his animal sounds yet? Is Huck on to chapter books yet? Any progress on the reading yet?

But here’s the truth: with patience and a low-pressure mindset, you can absolutely teach your kids to read – and more importantly – to foster a lifelong love for reading along the way. Here are 3 steps to keep in mind as you journey alongside your child, plus a must-watch video at the end of this post!


Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Tattoo this reminder onto your brain: there’s no “right” age to learn to read. There’s no magical window that opens a child’s mind to literature or language or even phonics, and – even better news? – there’s no magical door that slams it shut!

“There isn’t any solid evidence that shows that children who are taught to read in kindergarten have any long-term benefit from it,” Nancy Carlsson-Paige, a professor emeritus of early childhood education at Lesley University, explains.

In fact: In Finland, most kids don’t learn to read until they’re 7 or 8, opting for play-based learning instead. And do you know what happens? By the time these students are in high school, they dominate in global testing, churning out top-performing consistent success in the annual PISA education rankings. The question begs: What if we can preserve a child’s natural ability to learn and not squelch it with forced memorization of sight words? What if we can offer our kids a more natural, contextual learning opportunity with a greater long-term payoff? What if we truly believed that learning takes time, and we’re in no rush to force it?


Know What to Look For in Your Child

This week, take a few minutes to watch your child at play. Chances are, you’ll notice incredible leaps toward literacy every single day – with or without a book in hand! Need a few examples?

When children make a pattern with raisins or line up Matchbox cars, they’re gaining an understanding of sequence. They’re learning that letters in words must go in a certain order.
When playing a matching game or Bingo, children are seeing that some things are exactly the same. They’re learning that letters in words must be written in the same order to carry meaning.
While listening to a song, children are hearing a rhyme. They’re becoming aware of phonemes – the smallest units of sounds that make up words.
When doodling on a page, children are practicing using language to provide information in a new medium. They’re learning to convey a message through print.
When children watch you read aloud, they’re discovering that print carries meaning. They’re learning that books are spoken words written down, and we read from left to right, from the top to the bottom of a page, and from the front to the back of a book.

Amazing, right? All that literacy, without a single formal “lesson.”


Trust the Process

In our very results-driven culture, we think learning to read means sitting down with a book, sounding out letters, then – poof! – something clicks and we have a reader! But reading doesn’t happen overnight, and the reality is this: that elusive “click!” is often built upon a thousand connections below the surface. We need only trust the process.

For more tools, action steps, and resources on teaching your kids to read, check out our latest video: What, When & How: The 411 on Teaching Your Kids to Read.

Or, check out our #1 suggested reading series straight from the Marketplace.