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How to Teach Your Child to Read

WAAAAYYYYY back in the day, before I was a homeschooler, I was a classroom teacher.  I taught middle school so all of my students came to me already knowing how to read.  Phew!  I definitely wasn’t up for doing that.  When I started homeschooling, the thought of teaching my kids to read was terrifying!  It turns out that with a little science it wasn’t so scary.  Here’s what you need to know to teach your child to read without fear!

Teaching reading can feel overwhelming, but I can help. Read here to learn the best way to teach your child to read.

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Reading Readiness

There is one vital step before to take before you teach your child to read.  You need to make sure your child is ready to learn how to read!  While you shouldn’t try to force reading to happen early, there are things you can do to help your child get ready.

The Senses

It’s easy to tell how some of our senses play into learning to read, but that’s not the only part of helping our kids get ready to read.

  • Sight: Obviously a child’s sense of sight is a huge factor with most methods of teaching reading.  Getting regular vision screenings can help catch any issues early.  Also, sending your kids to play outside can help to prevent vision problems that could make reading harder.
  • Hearing: A big piece of reading is being able to hear and repeat the sounds of the English language (again, using standard methods).  In order to decode (sound out) a word, a child must be able to make the sounds in the words.  To do that they need to be able to hear those sounds.  Keeping on top of hearing screenings and exposing them to a wide variety of language can help prepare them to learn to read.
  • Proprioception: This sense might not be familiar to you.  It’s the body’s ability to sense its position in relation to itself and the space around it.  A strong proprioceptive sense can also help with things like tracking where you are on the page while reading and being able to sustain your position (sitting/laying/standing) while reading.  ‘Heavy’ movements (lifting and pulling) and full body motion help to develop this sense.

Crossing the Midline

Take your right hand and touch it to your left elbow.  Now take your left hand and touch it to your right knee.  Congratulations.  You’ve just demonstrated a vital aspect of reading readiness, crossing the midline!

  • What It Is: Crossing the midline may seem like some strange skill, but it’s actually a very simple thing.  It’s just moving something from one side of your body into the space of the other side of your body.  It’s something that most of us do on a daily basis without even thinking about it.
  • Why It Matters: This might seem like an irrelevant skill when it comes to how to teach your child to read, but crossing the midline is quite vital when it comes to reading.  In English (and the vast majority of languages) we ready from left to right across the page.  As we read our eyes have to cross from one side of the page (and thus one side of our body) to the other in order to have a fluent stream of words.
  • How to Build It: There are many activities you can do that can improve a child’s ability to cross the midline.  The good news is it’s all stuff you can incorporate in your daily lives.  Play baseball or T-ball with both hands on the bat.  Have your kids help to fold laundry or wash the car.  Play Twister.  Anything that requires one side of the body to cross over to the other side will work!

Teach Your Child to Read

Now that we’ve talked about what to do to help get your child get ready, it’s time to transition into actually teaching reading skills.  There are a few things to know to make the process go a little smoother for you.

Phonics vs. Sight Words

There is a lot of controversy in the education world about whether teaching reading should focus more heavily on phonics or on sight words.  The science of how brains work, and how people learn, shows that phonics should take the lead with sight words having a small supporting role.

  • Phonics: Reading (sounding out words, not sight words) is called decoding.  When a child is decoding they are taking a word and breaking it down into it’s base sounds (or phonemes).  Then they blend those phonemes back together to form a whole word.  So, focusing on phonics means that you work on recognizing letters (rather than whole words), learn to connect those letters to the sounds they represent, and then learn to combine those sounds into words that hold meaning.  This then builds the skills necessary to read any number of new words a child might encounter.
  • Sight Words: The usual argument for a focus on sight words is that there are a large number of words that can’t be decoded.  In reality there are only a small number of words that truly can’t be decoded based on the rules of English.   Some words genuinely do need to be memorized instead of sounded out, but not many.  When we put an overly heavy emphasis on sight words we keep the part of our minds that should be forming mental pictures busy with the ‘pictures’ of words.

Teaching Reading at Each Stage

In Part 1 I told you that there are 3 main stages in the process 0f learning to read.  Kids will progress through them bit by bit over time.  What can you do to build skills and and teach reading at each stage.


The Pre-Reader stage starts at about 6 months old and can last until about 6 years old.  This is the stage when you will lay the foundation for learning to read.  It is absolutely vital that you do not try to push during the pre-reader stage.   Keep things relaxed and go at your child’s pace.  There are a few key things you can do to help your children grow as readers during this time.

  • Read to your child every day.  You are laying the foundation for reading by familiarizing them with books and how they work.  Reading out loud to your children also helps to build their vocabularies (essential for making meaning from reading) and helps to build their love of reading.
  • Read the same stories over and over.  I know how boring it can be to read the same book eleventy billion times.  It’s important, though.  Kids brains crave repetition.  As an added bonus, the more often they hear the same stories the more familiar they become with how books and reading work.
  • Notice ‘environmental print’.  Environmental print is a technical term that just means the print/words/letters we encounter in our every day lives.  This includes signs, labels, logos, and more.  Notice these things while going about your day to day life and point them out to your kids.  This helps kids to start recognizing letters and words.  It also helps them to see relevance in learning to read.
Initial Reader

This is the stage when ‘teaching reading’, as we traditionally think of it, actually begins.  Typically this stage starts at about 6-7 years old.  That said, anywhere between 4 and 8 years old is considered the normal range.  What I said about the Pre-Reader stage applies here, too.  Do NOT push!  Slow and steady absolutely wins the race.

  • Solidify letter knowledge.  At the earliest parts of this stage many kids won’t be 100% confident in their letter names and sounds.  Don’t worry.  That’s totally normal.  Now is a great time to work on solidifying letter knowledge.  Don’t just sit there with flashcards, though!  Point out letters in environmental print.  Talk about what letters are in familiar words like family members’ names.  Play games.  We have used this game and my kids love it!
  • Watch language-focused shows.  I know, I know, screen time for kids is super controversial.  I’m a firm believer in the ‘steer into the skid’ style of parenting, so I let my kids use screens.  Kids are going to want screen time.  Screens and tech aren’t going anywhere so they’ll need to be comfortable with them.  So, use it to your advantage!  Find shows that focus on letters and phonics to help reinforce what you’re teaching.  Some of our favorites are Word World, Leapfrog Letter Factory, and Super Why.
  • Start with simple words.  There can be a temptation to jump straight to reading ‘big words’ and quickly try to progress to ‘real books’.  The intent behind this is great; we want to challenge our kids!  The problem is that it’s usually the opposite of what we should be doing.  We want to build our kids’ confidence and that means starting with simple words and books that allow for quick successes.  In the beginning focus on small three letter words called CVC (consonant-vowel-consonant) words.  These are words like ‘cat’, ‘sit’, and ‘hot’.
Confident Reader

When kids have progressed through the Initial Reader stage they move to the Confident Reader stage.  There is no real guideline for ages on this stage.  A good sign you’ve hit it is when your child can read fluently without having to stop and sound out most words (but also doesn’t need to rely on sight words for that).  I want to point out a few very important things about this stage.

  • Ignore reading levels.  Lots of parents and teachers get caught up in finding books that are at the ‘right’ reading level for kids.  They worry that if kids don’t read books that are ‘hard enough’ they won’t become better readers, but also that if their books are ‘too hard’ they won’t improve.  Ignore all of that.  Sure, if your 14 year old only ever wants to read Dr. Seuss you might want to encourage other things but really, all books can teach us something.  In fact, reading slightly easy non-fiction books is a great way to efficiently learn new information.  That’s why I choose some of the books I do for my curriculum.
  • Keep reading aloud.  We all know it’s important to read to our little ones but it’s easy to let that go when they get a bit older.  Like I said at the beginning, I’m a trained secondary teacher.  I can tell you that middle school and high school kids still love being read to!  My kids currently range in age from 7 to 14 years old and they all love our daily read aloud time!  It’s great for bonding and gives you a chance to introduce books they may not have chosen for themselves.
  • Embrace audiobooks.  Can I let you in on a little secret?  It’s okay if your kids don’t love reading.  I know, shocking, right!  My goal is that our kids all love to learn new things.  I want them to keep on learning and growing and I really couldn’t care less how they go about doing it.  If your kids prefer to hear info instead of read it, learn to embrace audiobooks!  As long as they have the ability to read so they can get through daily life and work, it really doesn’t matter how they interact with stories and information.  On the other hand, trying to force your child to love reading will probably backfire and make them hate it.

You Can Teach Your Child to Read

You can teach your child to read with confidence.  Even though I was terrified, I promise you that it really isn’t  that scary!  Focus on development and reading readiness.  Above all, be patient and remember that there is a wide range of normal when it comes to learning to read!

If you missed it, be sure to go back and read Part 1 to learn what you need to know before you start!


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