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How To Teach Kids to Read

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Learning to read is such a big milestone.

It is the gateway to the life long joy of reading.

But boy can teaching a child to read make us parents anxious!

Most of us are completely confused about what we should be doing and when

… and get into a spin about not pushing kids too fast but worrying they’re behind …

‘cos some kid we know were reading at 2!

I’m a convert to phonics and love the Reading Eggs programme my daughter uses.

But my “oh now I get it” moment was recognising reading involved a whole bunch of different skills and that different kids master these skills in different orders at different ages.

Reading Skills

It really helped me to break reading … and pre-reading … down into these 9 skills …

  1. Recognise Shapes
  2. Recognise Rhyme
  3. Passionate About Stories
  4. A Big Vocabulary
  5. Obsessed with Information
  6. Fine Motor Skills
  7. Story Telling
  8. Great Listening
  9. Willing to Repeat & Repeat & Repeat

I found it much, much easier to help my daughter once I unbundled all of these skills and thought about the very different activities through which we could nurture them.

It became simpler to recognise the progress she was making even before she could read. And it just made our activities lots more fun!

And even now she is learning to read with phonics it really helps me to remember these different skills and make sure I am spending time supporting all of them in fun ways.

1. Recognise Shapes

Shape recognition is at the heart of reading.

Some kids find it a doddle but others … particularly dyslexic kids … struggle.

Offering plenty of fun shape matching from when kids are small is essential … shape sorters and stackers are great for this … but don’t complicate it. Matching the shape is what’s important, not knowing it’s called a hexagon.

Between 1 and 2 many kids can match complex shapes including letters & numbers in lift out alphabet and number puzzles. Once they can it’s easy to start pushing the sounds or the names of the numbers.

DON’T!!Just do more and more shape matching & make it a bit trickier. Simple games of snap are a great idea … you can make your own cards. You can include letters in snap, but the important skill is spotting tricky shape matches e.g. d & b, m & w, u & n not the names or sounds of the letters.

For more ideas check out … 30 fun ways to recognise letters

2. Recognise Rhyme

Littlies love rhyme even before they can talk.

And a love of rhyme will help kids recognise sounds & words families once they start reading. Reading fun rhyming stories … like those from Julia DonaldsonLynley Dodd … from when kids are very small will give them them loads of practice in hearing common sounds.

For more ideas check out … 20 fun ways to learn sounds

3. Passionate About Stories

Reading comes quickly to some kids, but to most it doesn’t.

A passion for stories will keep kids wanting to read even when it’s hard. Reading amazing stories to kids from when they are tiny is a no brainer

But it’s really, really important to keep it up when they start learning to read. If a child is used to listening to Fantastic Mr Fox or Charlie & the Chocolate Factory, their reading book won’t cut it as a bedtime story.

Kids will resent reading practice if it means missing out on stories they love. So do reading practice downstairs and save bed time for something more fun.

4. A Big Vocabulary

Fluent reading needs a big vocabulary. And the easiest way for kids to learn big words is to hear them in conversation or stories.

I always remembered soporific meant sleep inducing when I was small because Beatrix Potter described the lettuce the Flopsy bunnies ate before they fell asleep as soporific 😉

Our kids learnt to speak in the first place by hearing words they didn’t understand, so don’t be afraid to use big words or read “stretch” books with words they don’t know.

5. Obsessed With Information

Most kids are inspired to read and to keep reading by brilliant stories.

But kids also love facts. And some kids would rather hear about tractors or space than listen to a story. Tapping into these obsessions can really motivate some kids to practice reading.

Finding pictures they can label with simple decodable words or learning a few sight words about things they really care about gives them the promise that reading practice is worth it.

6. Fine Motor Skills

I simplistically thought reading simple sounds & words always came before writing. My daughter educated me on this 😉

Way before she could read, she’d get people to spell words so she could write them down. I know other pre-readers who love copying out letters.

On the other hand I know other kids who are totally bored by “mark making” activities and who even as readers struggle writing basic letters.

It obviously good to offer even tiny kids lots of mark making activities.

But some kids will get more from other fine motor play … if you’re looking for inspiration check out this list of over 200 fun fine motor activities.

7. Story Telling

Part of reading is understanding the logic of sentences and stories. Listening to stories is obviously the most important way kids learn this.

But telling stories is also a brilliant way for pre-readers & readers to practice for themselves. We have enormous fun telling stories with our puppet theatre but just setting aside time at bedtime to tell stories as well as to listen to them is really valuable.

Or let them create their own books by dictating stories to you.

8. Great Listening

Good listening is actually key when kids start to read for themselves. To sound out words they have to listen to the sounds much more actively than they do when they are listening to a story supported by pictures.

Picture books are obviously brilliant but it really helps kids to hear words if they are used to listening to stories without pictures.

So it’s a good idea from when kids are small to make up stories for them and as they get older to have some of the great kids classics like Roald Dahl as audio books.

9. Willing to Repeat and Repeat and Repeat

There comes a point when kids are ready to learn to read systematically. They might be 3 and they might be 6! However old they are, it has to involve an awful lot of repetition.

For some kids the prospect of independent reading just isn’t enough reward. Finding lots of different ways to practice sounds and then word families helps. But for a lot of kids a reward structure of some kind helps.

We love the Reading Eggs programme and my daughter happily spends time on it every day but an awful lot of her motivation comes from collecting another egg with a creature inside 🙂

Original image source

Sarah Haskins

Friday 28th of March 2014

Those are points worth sharing! I particularly agree with point 5. It’s hard to get kids to learn to read when they associate reading with topics they get bored of. The key is to find what are their interests and find reading materials that cater to those interests.

Sarah Haskins


Monday 24th of February 2014

Great tips thanks for sharing on the Monday Parenting Pin it party - I've featured it as one of our favourites.

Alice Emma Thompson

Tuesday 25th of February 2014

So glad you liked - big thanks for the party and the feature, Alice x

Rebecca English

Sunday 23rd of February 2014

A great posts with lots of useful tips.

I have featured this on The Sunday Showcase:

Alice Emma Thompson

Monday 24th of February 2014

So glad you liked the post Rebecca - big thanks for the feature, Alice x


Friday 21st of February 2014

Some great tips!! Thank you for sharing at Sharing Saturday!

Alice Emma Thompson

Monday 24th of February 2014

Thanks for being such a wonderful host Carrie

Sarah Mueller

Wednesday 19th of February 2014

Excellent list! We're featuring you this week at Family Fun Friday under Parenting and Learning. Thanks for sharing! - Sarah Mueller (for Stephanie Kay)

Alice Emma Thompson

Thursday 20th of February 2014

So glad you liked it Sarah. Thanks so much for the feature, Alice