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How to teach a child to read

Updated: Sep 29, 2020

More and more parents are becoming involved in teaching their kids how to read. Their reasons for doing so are as numerous as the families themselves. Some parents have preschoolers who are ready to read at very early ages. Others want to make sure their kids are on par--or ahead of--their classmates when they start elementary school. Some have children who attend a school that has little, or no, emphasis on phonics in the reading curriculum and that non-phonetic curriculum isn’t working for their child. Others have a child who needs a little bit more individualized attention in order to blossom as a reader. Some are doing it simply because it is a wonderful bonding experience to share with your child. And, this year, many parents are getting involved because they want to supplement their children’s remote learning. Whatever your reason, here’s how you can easily help your child learn how to read by working with him or her for just 15 minutes each day.

1. Know how to recognize when your child is ready to read. A child who is ready to read will start taking an interest in the words he sees around him. He may ask you, “What does that say?” when he sees signs or billboards. He may ask you how to spell certain words and he may come right out and say he wants to read.

2. Teach the sounds that consonants make. Until she has this knowledge, you will not be able to begin teaching your child how to string sounds together to make words.

- Have your child watch the “Letter Factory” movie from LeapFrog. This movie is adorable and remarkably effective. It tells a story about baby letters that have just been created in a Letter Factory and are being taught to make their sounds. For example, little “a”s learn to make the short “a” sound when a monster jumps into their classroom, scares them, and makes them scream “aaaahhhhh!” You can stream the movie on Netflix or buy it on Amazon.

Click here to purchase LeapFrog: Letter Factory

3. Teach the sound of “short a.”  That is the sound you hear in “cat” and “hat” and “apple.” 

-Log onto Starfall is a free website and the absolute best one for beginning readers. 

Once you are on Starfall’s main menu page:

a.    Click on the “ABCs” icon at the top left of the page. This will bring you to a page displaying all the letters of the alphabet. Click on the square block with the letter “a” on it and have your child go through the assorted letter “a” sounds, words, animated vignettes, and activities. (You can also use this activity to reinforce any consonant sounds your child still needs to practice.)

b.    Go back to the “ABCs” page. At the bottom of the screen, you will see the vowels displayed in circles. Click on the circle with the letter “a” in it and listen to the song that plays about the letter “a” and its sounds. If your child likes to sing, have him or her sing along with the song.

Begin “Steps To Reading, Book 1.” If you’ve ever tried to buy a phonics workbook, you’ve probably been frustrated by the fact that most of them mix up all the vowels together and never give a child enough practice to learn just one vowel at a time. The “Steps to Reading” series is different. These books are a combination of workbook for kids and guidebook for parents that provide step-by-step instructions on how to teach kids to read and give kids ample practice with every vowel’s sound. For example, the first section of Book 1 is devoted to short “a.” Kids will first learn words that end in –at, then words that end in –an, then words that end in –am, then short “a” words with assorted other ending consonants. The “Steps to Reading” workbooks provide you with everything you need to teach a child how to read -- worksheets, board games, short vowel Bingo games, and lists of books the child can read to practice the skills he or she has just learned. To teach short “a,” use pages 1 – 56 in Steps to Reading, Book 1.

To see sample pages click here. 

To order the book click here. 

Tip: Remember less is more! When a child is new to reading, it's a good idea to have the child complete just a few pages each night in “Steps to Reading.” Brief and consistent practice will wire your child’s brain to remember the information much more effectively than doing a lot of pages one day and nothing at all for the next few days. 

4. Teach the word“the.” “The” is the most frequently used word in the English language. Because it does not follow phonics rules, your child will need to memorize it. “The” is one of the words teachers tend to refer to as “sight words.” Sight words are also referred to as “Dolch words,” in honor of Edward William Dolch, Ph.D. In 1948 Dr. Dolch went through many children’s books and compiled a list of the 220 most frequently used service words. Service words are pronouns, adjectives, or verbs like “was” and “are” that cannot be easily illustrated.

In time, those words came to be referred to as “sight words” because the child needed to simply know the words when he saw them, as opposed to being able to use a picture to help him figure them out. Not fully understanding why these words were called “sight words,” some teachers began explaining them to parents as “words that don’t follow phonics rules and, so, need to be memorized.” Actually, many of the words on that list did follow phonics rules. For example: and, is, in, that. Other words did not follow those rules. For example: the, said.

Soon, various versions of this list proliferated. Many of these lists presented the sight words in alphabetical order, rather than in order of frequency of use. That meant that some unfortunate children were learning how to read “brown” before they learned how to read “said,” which obviously appears much more frequently than “brown” in stories. Today, sight words are often introduced in an order that has nothing to do with the stories children are trying to read. The sight words listed in this article are presented in order of frequency of use in the little books your child will soon be reading.

Tip: A great way to teach your child the word “the” is to have him simply write the word over and over again. (Writing a word definitely reinforces learning to read it.) Your child will take great delight in spotting the word “the” in anything you are reading, as well as in books you read to him. Allow him to do so! Have him read the word “the” every time you come to it in stories you read outloud to him. (Simply point to the word and pause to give your child a chance to read it.) This is great practice and he will take great pride in being able to spot, and read, the word. Kids feel great about every little step they take in learning how to read and will want to show off their ability whenever possible. Make sure you let your child do this since feeling good about what he is doing will motivate further learning!

5. Teach the two next most common sight words: “is” and “on.” As with the word “the,” the best way to teach these sight words is to have the child write them on a piece of paper and look for them (and read them) in the stories you read to him or her. You can also make flashcards for the three sight words the child now knows (the, is, on) and have her practice reading them.  On page 38 in Steps to Reading Book 1, you will find a game called “Silly Sentences.” Play it to reinforce the words “the,” “is” and “on,” as well as the short a words the child has learned to read up to this point in the book.

6. Your child can now read books! Wait until you see how excited your child gets when he reads his first book. And then realizes he can read another one! You will be thrilled too. The excitement is equivalent to seeing your child take his first step. Actually, it may even be more exciting because the two of you have worked towards this moment together. 

The hardest task teachers and parents face when teaching a child to read is finding books beginning readers can actually read. Many of the books on the market labeled “for beginning readers” have some very hard words in them and are impossible for new readers to get through.

Bob Books, Set 1 to the rescue. The 12 little books in this boxed set of early readers were created by a kindergarten teacher named Bobby Lynn Maslen when she couldn’t find books to use with the kindergartners she was teaching how to read. The books are cute and not at all intimidating since there are very few words on each page. After completing just a few lessons in Steps to Reading, your child will be able to read the Bob Books called “Mat” and “Sam” all by himself. 

You can order the books here. 

7. Teach the sight words “as” and “has.” At this point, if you are using the materials in Steps to Reading Book 1, your child knows how to read all the short “a” words, as well as the Sight Words “the,” “is” and “on.” He has read sentences presented in Steps to Reading and has read two Bob Books. He is feeling pretty great about himself as a reader! Teaching him “as” and “has” will allow him to read two more stories. Tell him how great and exciting this is. He will feel so proud!

8. Your child can now read a longer book! Have her read the first book in the series recommended on page 56 in Steps to Reading. The set contains 10 books and your child will soon be able to read all of them. I highly recommend getting them, either online or at your local library.

9. Have an ice cream party! Or celebrate in any other way that feels right to you and your child. Tell your child he can now read all words that have short “a” in them as well as five sight words. Tell him he should be very proud of himself. (One of the great benefits of a systematic, phonics-based approach to teaching reading, is that your child can really see how much progress he has made and, so, can feel really great about reading very early in the process.)

10. Teach the sound of short “i.” Have the child complete the worksheets, play the games, and read the stories on pages 57 – 89 in Steps to Reading, Book 1. 

11. Teach the sight words “to” and “was.”

12. Have the child read stories containing short “i” and short “a” words, as well as the sight words he has learned so far. You will find book recommendations on pages 75 and 89 of Steps to Reading, Book 1.

13. Teach the sound of short “u.” Use pages 90 – 115 in Steps to Reading, Book 1. You will find an adorable cartoon that will help your child remember the sound, as well as lots of worksheets, a board game, Bingo games, lists of books for the child to read, and more to support you.

14. Teach the sight words “of” and “off.”

15. Have your child read stories containing words with short “u,” “i,” and “a,” as well as all the sight words she’s learned so far. See pages 109 and 115 in Steps to Reading, Book 1, for book recommendations.

16. Teach the sound of short “e.” Follow the instructions and use the materials provided on pages 116 – 138 in Steps to Reading, Book 1.

17. Teach the sight word “his.” 

18. Have the child read stories containing words with short“e,” “u,” “i,” and “a,” as well as all the sight words he’s learned so far. See pages 132 and 138 in Steps to Reading, Book 1 for book recommendations.

19. Teach the child how to tell the difference between the letter “b” and the letter “d.” Almost all children mix up their “b”s and “d”s when they start to read. See pages 139 – 144 for something called “the bed trick.” It’s a trick that will have them easily reading “b”s and “d”s in no time. There is also a board game on page 144 that will allow them to pratice reading words with “b” or “d” in them. To access this lesson online go to:

Click here to access b and d sample pages

20. Teach the sound of short “o.” Use pages 146 – 169 in Steps to Reading, Book 1 for this lesson.

21. Teach the sight words “dog” and “for.” 

22. Have the child read stories with all the short vowels in them, as well as all the sight words he has learned so far. Use the books recommended on page 164 in Steps to Reading, Book 1.

23. Celebrate! When your child reaches the end of Steps to Reading, Book 1, he will be a happy and confident early reader! Celebrate by presenting the child with the adorable “I Can Read!” certificate of accomplishment at the end of Steps to Reading, Book 1. Hang the certificate on your refrigerator, or in some other prominent place in your home. Your child should feel really proud and so should you for what you have accomplished with your child.

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