Teaching Your Child to Read

Early literacy gives students the foundation they need to learn and grow in all aspects of their education and life.  From learning the ABCs to becoming independent readers, parental involvement makes a huge difference in a child’s success. 

It’s important to start reading with your child from the very beginning.  It’s never too early to start.  In fact, young children who are read to at least three times per week are at least twice as likely to score in the top 25th percentile in reading than those children whose parents read to them fewer than three times per week or not at all.

While it’s never “too late” for your child to learn to read, working with your child on their reading skills from an early age puts them at a tremendous advantage academically.  As your child gets older, learning to read can be a more difficult process.  This is especially true for children that are reading below grade level as “learning to read” books contain content aimed at younger readers. Statistically, a child who is a poor reader by the end of 1st grade is 90% likely to remain a poor reader by the end of fourth grade, and tis same child is far more likely to drop out of high school and/or leave high school without ever becoming a proficient reader.  

It’s become more important than ever for parents to spend time reading with their child at home — and teaching their child to read.  The pandemic has caused constant interruptions to student learning, and teaching a class full of kindergarten or first-grade students to read through a virtual learning environment or a socially distanced in-person classroom is a challenging task for even the best teacher.

Even if you read to your child every single day, it can be difficult to know how to transition from one learning to read stage to another.  Your time — and the time of your child — is valuable, so how do you make the most of it?  Teaching your child to read doesn’t have to be an arduous time-consuming endeavor. Just ten minutes per day will make a world of difference in your child’s literacy skills.  

If your child is still learning their ABCs, I recommend starting at the beginning of this blog.  Otherwise, you can use the Table of Contents to navigate to your child’s current reading level to find out how to best support your growing reader.  If your child’s teacher or school has provided you with a reading “level” (like A to Z Reading Levels), you can go here to find out more about these leveled reading systems.  You can also see how these different leveled systems correlate with one another here.

Table of Contents
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    Learning the ABCs

    Learning the ABCs is the very first step to teaching your child to read.  Simply singing the ABCs with your child is a great way to get started, and it doesn’t even need to interrupt a busy day.  You can sing the ABCs anywhere and everywhere.  Plus, Alexa will even sing the ABCs with your child!  

    While your child learns the alphabet song, you can work on letter recognition.  Spend just five to ten minutes per day doing one or more of the following activities:

    • Get an alphabet puzzle!  An alphabet puzzle will not only help your child learn to recognize the letters, but it will work on hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills!  This cute alphabet puzzle actually says the letters as your child removes them.  Admittedly, listening to the puzzle talk all day may annoy some parents, but it’s a fantastic resource.  There are other non-talking versions out there.  If you choose a non-talking replacement, you need to become the “talking” counter-part, identifying the letters for your child as they take them out and/or put them back in.  In either case, it’s a good idea to tell your child “This is an A.” You should also regularly ask your child to identify the letters.  If they don’t know, just tell them! It’s that simple!  
    • Get magnetic alphabet pieces for the refrigerator.
      • Bury a few tiles in some sand, kinetic sand, or other sensory material.  Let your child “excavate” to find the letters and help your child identify them.
    • Build letters out of play-doh, popsicle sticks, or any other craft material.
    • Practice handwriting with alphabet tracing worksheets.
    • Make the letters with dot markers.
    • Point out letters on signs, at the store, and in their games.

    Don’t forget that your child will need to know both the uppercase and lowercase letters.  You can do any of the above activities with uppercase and lowercase letters.

    Learning the Letter Sounds

    Once your child knows their ABCs, they need to learn what sounds each of the letters make.   While we all know the alphabet song, there’s an even BETTER alphabet song for this.  It’s actually the “Better Alphabet Song.”  This is a fantastic song for teaching your child their letter sounds.  Sing along with your child until it’s stuck in both of your heads!  Play it in the car. Play it when you wake up in the morning.  Play it during breaks from virtual school.  Play it before bedtime.  Play it everywhere and anywhere until both you AND your child are absolutely sick of it! 

    There are tons of great books for you to read to your child so that they can work on letter recognition and letter sounds too!  There are alphabet books for almost every interest too.  Here are just a few ideas:

    After your child knows the letter sounds: sight words -vs- phonics

    When your child knows the sounds that the letters make, it’s time to start learning to read!  Learning to read is a two-fold process that combines memorization with phonological awareness.  Children should work on memorizing the sight words while practicing how to sound out words.

    Sight Words

    Sight words are very simply words that young readers know “by sight.”  Students should be able to recognize these words without using any decoding strategies such as sounding out the letters.

    There are two popular lists of sight words: Dolche and Fry.  Fry’s sight word list is more modern, and it includes the 1,000 most common words in the English language.  The words are divided into lists of 100, sorted by the frequency with which they are used in the English language.  Your child probably won’t have to “sit and memorize” most of these words as they’ll pop up over and over again in almost every book your child reads.  

    Teaching sight words to your child is easy!  There are tons of games, worksheets, and flash cards available to help your child learn these words.  Since they’re the most frequently used words in the English language, they’ll also pop up in books your child reads, books you read to your child, and everyday life!  I recommend starting with the first ten words.  You can also re-assess your child’s knowledge of the first 100 sight words on a regular basis (maybe one a month) to see which words they’ve acquired from other reading activities (versus daily sight word practice).

    You can find a comprehensive list of all 1,000 sight words here: 

    You can download a set of flashcards for the first 100 sight words on TeachersPayTeachers here. 

    Pick five words to work on at a time.  When your child has mastered these five, pick another set of five.  To help your child learn them, you can spend five minutes per day doing one of the following:

    • Quiz your child with the flash cards.
    • Point out these words in everyday life and ask your child to identify them.
    • Build these words with magnetic letters, alphabet tiles, or any other alphabet pieces.
    • Make a second copy of the flashcards and play a game of sight word memory.
    • Write sight words on the spaces to a board game like candy land and have your child read them as they move from space to space.
    Beginning Phonics
    BOB Books

    BOB Books are hands-down my favorite books for teaching children to read.  If your child knows The Better Alphabet Song and/or they know all of the letter sounds, they’re ready to read the BOB books! 

    The BOB books are specifically designed to empower your child by giving them the “Mommy, I can read!” satisfaction from the very beginning.  They’re not the most riveting stories, but they make learning to read easy and fun for both you and your child.  Each book works on one new phonics concept, building upon the phonics your child has learned from the previous books.  


    To get the most out of the BOB books, start with book one.  Help your child sound out the words, but be careful not to read the words for them!  Your child should read this same book (with you) one to two times per day until they breeze through it.  They’ll probably memorize this book pretty quickly, and that’s exactly what you’re aiming for!  

    When your child finds this book way too easy, it’s time to move on to the next book.  Repeat the process again and again until you finish the whole set.  Then, you can move onto set two. 

    Emergent Readers

    The BOB books are a fantastic way to build your child’s reading confidence and develop strong phonemic awareness, but these stories alone won’t make your child fall in love with reading.  Children love stories, and they especially love stories that cater to their interests.  Step Into Reading and I Can Read books are great series to “layer” on top of BOB books, and eventually they’ll graduate from the BOB book series entirely. 

    I recommend starting level 1 books when (1) your child has learned at least the ten most common sight words (a, about, all, am, an, and, are, as, at, be,) and/or (2) your child can confidently read the first five books in the BOB series.  

     Why not just start with I Can Read or Step Into Reading?  While you can start with either of these series (and many parents have tremendous success doing so!), some children can feel overwhelmed by the number of new words on each page (even at level one).  This can make the parent and/or the child feel frustrated by the arduous task of sounding out every single word.  By learning some sight words first, your child will already know many of the words in a level one book, filling them with a sense of accomplishment when they can say “Hey, I know this word!”  Working through some BOB books first helps your child learn how to sound out words and teaches them some phonics “tricks” before jumping into leveled readers that often introduce a lot more words at one time.


    Picking books for your child

    Both Step into Reading and I Can Read are constantly making new books to suit the current interests and trends among young children.  If your child loves dogs, get some books about dogs!  If your child loves superheroes, get some books about superheroes!  If your child loves the characters and/or topic, they’re going to have far more interest in the book than if it’s on a topic that they don’t care for or even loathe.  


    How to use leveled readers

    Like the BOB books, leveled readers aren’t meant to be “one-and-done” books.  This doesn’t mean that you need to (or should!) read the same book every night.  Your child will get bored.  It does mean that you should keep circling back to a book until your child can easily read the entire book without assistance and/or the need to sound words out.  


    When to move to the next level

    Your child is ready to the next level of Step Into Reading and/or I Can Read books when your child can easily pick up a new level one book and read it independently.  If your child is still sounding out most of the words in a level one book, they’re not ready to move to level two.  If your child knows the “generic” words but only needs help sounding out the topic-specific words (like the names of the characters), they’re probably okay to move to level two.  If you move to level two, and you find that your child is becoming frustrated with the added challenge, it’s okay to take a step back for a bit!  

    Transitioning to Chapter Books

    Transitioning to chapter books can seem overwhelming for some children.  They’re longer, they may have more words on a page than your child is used to, and most chapter books have very few pictures.  If they do have pictures, they’re often black and white.  To get over this hurdle, you can:

    • take turns reading with your child.  You read a page; they read a page. 
    • Read a chapter or two a night rather than the whole book.  
    • Read the first chapter to your child.  Then, ask them to read the next page.  Once they see that they can read it, the “bigger” book will seem less scary.

    Here are some early chapter book series that have short chapters, still contain colored pictures, and do not have an overwhelming amount of text on each page:

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