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Teach Your Preschooler to Read

If you are the parent or caregiver of preschoolers, you can give them a great head start by reading to them regularly, every day if possible. Some children can be reading chapter books by age four. Others may be just starting to notice the connection between the squiggly lines on the page and the words that you are saying. Don't worry about what other people's kids are able to do. Remember that the goal is to develop a love of reading, not just the skills.

A love for reading is its own reward. Much of our education comes from reading, so children who develop a love for reading early in life do better in all of their school subjects. So how can we instill our love for reading in our children? Why is it that some people love to read and others find it an unpleasant chore?

There is a genetic component involved in every child’s potential learning abilities, but early childhood environment plays a large role in the development of these abilities. 

Can a child learn to read by age three or four? Some can. Others are not ready yet. The best way to help your children get the best possible head start on learning is to read to your children. Start young and be diligent. Spend time reading to your kids - every day if possible. 

Reading is Magical

As soon as your child can sit on your lap is a great time to start reading to them. At first they will not make the connection between the letters on the page and the words that you say. They cannot comprehend the process of reading, so your ability to read will seem magical to them.

Pretending to Read

You may be tempted to discourage your children when they pretend that they are reading a book, but it really is a stage that demonstrates their desire to be able to read like you can. They still think that reading is a magical ability, but they will pretend to know how. Some children at this stage will have the words to a favorite book memorized, which makes the pretending seem real, especially if they "read" the book to someone besides you. Many children will look at the pictures and make up a story to "read." You should encourage this stage, as they are beginning to visualize themselves as readers. They recognize that reading is a skill that they want to be able to do.

Connecting Letters and Meaning

When they start to notice the connection between the words on the page and the words that you say, they are ready to start learning to read. The traditional method of teaching children to read is to start with phonics, but some children, especially preschoolers, can leave the phonics lessons for school, and get started now with word recognition and context clues.

  • Learning to read by phonics is a teaching method wherein planned lessons are presented in a specified order, and mastery of each lesson is required before moving on to the next. The alphabet is presented first, then the sounds that each letter makes and then short words can be introduced. The child is taught to read the word by sounding out the letters. At this point, a reader (primer) is often used to introduce words in sentences. There is usually some context to make the stories interesting to the reader. The sentences introduce new vocabulary very gradually. The traditional readers of the “Dick and Jane” variety had rather boring stories with stilted language. There are teaching kits you can buy to teach your preschooler, for example “Hooked on Phonics.”
  • Learning to read by word recognition requires lots of exposure to books. The child learns to associate each written word with the spoken word, at first one word at a time, but then most will “take off” with an explosion of recognized words. Children who learn to read by word recognition are learning the written word using the same process that they used to learn to speak. At first you reinforced and taught each word individually, like "Dada" and "Momma". But you did not have to teach them every single word of their vocabulary, although it may have seemed so at the "what's that?" stage.
  • Context clues fill in the gaps when there are words that the child does not recognize. When they begin to read out loud to you, they will get to words that they don't know. You can encourage an educated guess to predict the unknown word. If they try and get the word wrong, at first you should just read the unknown word, so that they don't get bogged down and discouraged. Reading should be an enjoyable experience. As your child gains more confidence, you can ask them to look for context clues to help supply the unknown word. You can point to a picture clue, or ask questions about what is happening in the story. If s/he reads a sentence with a miscued word, you can ask, "Does that make sense?"

What is the best way to teach your child?

Every child is unique. There is no one approach that works best for everyone. The role of a parent or caregiver of preschoolers should just be to enjoy books together before they are off to school. Reading together, snuggling with a bedtime story or a game that involves reading at their level are all ways to mix bonding and learning.

Don't put pressure on your child, and don't worry how advanced someone else's children are compared to yours. If your child has not learned to read by age 5 it doesn't mean that they won't catch up to the other children in their grade level in school, or that they will end up illiterate and unemployed and living in your basement forever. 

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Comments (4)

Karen, wow, this is one of the most articulated articles that I have come across.  Superb work.

First of all Karen, congratulations on the promotion here on knoji. Every article you turned out is high quality. Teaching preschoolers to read is exactly what my class is covering right now. Excellent and I voted this up and reddit voted.

Well done Karen. I like your comment, every child is unique. Nice to see you here, I've just returned after nearly a year!

Awesome work! The content of your writing is really necessary information. Some of my best memories today is of being taught to read...it opened up a whole new and wonderful world. I highly recommend this article....(-:

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