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Friends often ask how my 4 year old daughter can read at a Year 2 level already.

Well, I wish I could take all the credit but I can’t.

Most of the advice I got on how children learn to read came from my Mum – a primary school teacher of 33 years.

I gratefully soaked up all of the knowledge she would so kindly share, and grouped it with cues from my daughter on what was working and what wasn’t. It helped that I’m also a writer – but only so far as that I have strong beliefs about the impact of reading and writing on self-esteem and confidence at school (so it made me pretty persistent!).

I’d like to share everything I’ve learned now as a simple 5 step process that any parent can follow to help their child learn to read.

Whatever their age – 10 months or 10 years – it’s never too soon to begin.

1. Get the AaBbCcs down pat.

Flashcards are AWESOME. You can buy them almost anywhere, or make them yourself. But what you are after is a pack that has capital versions of the alphabet and the little letters.

My daughter was chewing on the corners of them before she actually knew what they were, so I probably bought them a bit too early. But any age from about 15 months is pretty easy to make a fun game out of flashcards.

Do them as regularly as you can (i.e.: 2-3 times a week) until when you hold up a B or b, their response is, “B!!!!”

2. Now learn the sounds they make.

The A-Z song is less relevant than we think it is.

When my daughter could sing her ABCs at 22 months I was so proud I got her to ring Nanna and sing it over the phone. The first thing my Mum said was, “That’s great Rachel, but if she doesn’t learn the sounds the letters make, she’ll never be able to read.”

LOL. That was unexpected.

But I took her advice, and after my daughter had learned to identify all of the letters of the alphabet, I used the same flashcards to teach her the sounds they make.

I would hold up an ‘A’ or ‘a’ and say, “A goes…a” (with ‘a’ being the phonetic sound that A makes). We kept at this until she knew them all well.

If you’re not sure of how to make the proper sounds from all the letters, there are some pretty cool YouTube videos on phonetics for kids.

3. Start with simple words.

Once they have their letters and sounds down pat, you can start teaching them how to join letters together to make words.

It’s best to start with words that are very short and sound exactly the way they are spelt. For example, you might cut up some coloured paper and write words like: at, cat, dog, yes, lot, mix, fun, hug, sat, and so on.

It took a fair few months for her to understand how the letters make actual words, so be patient and sound out the letters together (“c———–a———–t”) until they pick up on the word.

Once it “clicks”, they’re well on their way to reading just about anything.

4. Teach groupings.

I wouldn’t know the technical term for this, but after your child can read words that sound exactly as they are spelt, the next thing is to teach the sounds that standard 2-letter combinations make.

For this I made a new collection of flashcards that had – th, oo, ph, ee, ea, ow, ou, ch, sh, er and any others I could think of.

These were much less fun for her so I’d just do them randomly out of the blue every now and then until she knew them.

5. Use learning books to speed up the process.

I love buying the learning books for kids that have activities and teach them reading / number skills (ie: School Zone brand and my new favourite ABC Reading Eggs).

You can get them from just about anywhere and they really help to speed up the process. I credit ‘My First Sight Words’ from ABC Reading Eggs with advancing my daughter’s reading skills by at least 20% in a couple of months.

One page every few days (ie: before a bedtime story) or a couple of pages a week is all you need.

I also found the ‘Spot’ books by Eric Hill to be fantastic first readers.

And that’s it!

The only thing I’d add is that patience and praise are essential.

Your kids know what is important to you by the reaction they get, and I’m pretty sure my neighbours could hear me squealing “Good girl!!!!!” for every correct answer she gave.

And every child learns in a different way. I’m not saying these steps will work for everyone, and I truly believe every child has areas that they find easier or more difficult than others. But if we, as parents, can help build their confidence by investing a little of our time to help them get along a little faster…well, that’s just time well spent!

Now over to you…do you have any steps or techniques you’ve used to help your child learn something important? It could be reading or writing or even ball throwing, counting, colours, etc. Let’s all help each other become better teachers for our kids. Please share in the comments below.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.com
  • Some really useful advice there. Thanks.

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  • Very wise and useful tips, thanks so much.

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  • Our 3 y.o. can count up to 30. Sometimes he counts from 10 backwards. He can spell and very roughly write his own name and spell his sister’s name. If somebody asks him his name sometimes he will say it, he is cautious about that. He has memorised the title and first couple of pages of one of his favourite books. I figure it is better for him to learn something thoroughly than try to learn too much at the same time. Yes, you definitely need patience sometimes.

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  • Interesting article, my children have exposed to the written word and most have liked it. One was very quick to pick it up another one was very slow even after starting school. My toddlers hate flash cards but do very well with the reading books i had for the older lot of children now in their late 20’s/early 30’s. Patience is something you really need, also it helps if they can speak properly to hear the words being said.

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  • Oh yes, I couldn’t agree more. Both my kids read early and still love it.
    It is so great for them.

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  • I agree with original comment. I\’m a teacher and a mum of 4 and see too many kids who have been pushed at an early age to read etc but have no social skills and no idea how to play or use their imagination because they have always done \’ formal\’ learning. My 4 kids were all different. One of mine was reading before she went to school but not through me sitting down and teaching but because she was curious. The others didn\’t but they are all very successful young adults and teens now who all excelled at school. There is too much pressure on parents to do things and keep up appearances of how good my child is. Let kids be kids.

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  • Thanks for this article, i will try these when bubs a bit older :)

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  • These 5 steps are awesome and I will definitely be starting to do these regularly with my 2.5 year old and 11 month old! Thank you for some great tips!

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  • Sounds good… Will have to try some of those

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  • My kids always had books around, from the day they were born, I was flicking through picture books chattering away as I went. I think they liked it, I know I di

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  • My second child could read and write when she started school. I think it had a lot to do with having older siblings. She would sit with us while homework was being done and kind of taught herself. She is still super intelligent and enjoys studying

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  • Great advice. Having a mother in the teaching industry sure would help.

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  • This is great advice. I have a 4 year old that I’m currently trying to teach and I’ll def adapt these methods. thanks :-)

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  • This is a fantastic article, Rachel. And congrats on your little reader. Our 3 year old loves her flash cards. I made them because she wanted to sit at the table and do homework and assignments with the older kids. We mix it up with drawing, reading, and puzzles to keep her busy and happy, and only for as long as she wants to sit (which is quite a while now). She will put a “H” and “T” for her initials on any of her pictures and can pick out these letters in the supermarket. The first time I realized the latter was in the cereal aisle and she saw a “H” on a box and convinced me to buy it for her because it had her name on it.

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  • We’ve used flash cards, board puzzles, songs. It’s all about persistence and making it fun. I’m all for buying or trying anything that will help with learning whether it’s an ABC puzzle, a bath book, or a Crazy Catch to practical rebound with the ball.

    Reply

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