Teaching toddlers to read: A comprehensive guide for parents

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Teaching toddlers to read means opening a gateway of more imagination and creativity and as parents you are the flag bearers. So here's how you can do it.

If parents develop an appropriate environment at home that fosters a love for reading, then teaching toddlers to read can be easy. And once a child learns to read, other important components of learning, such as spelling and even writing, naturally follow.

Of course, this can be immensely satisfying for parents as well.

At the same time, out of all the intellectual milestones that kids achieve, reading is perhaps the one that worries a parent the most.

We often given them time to start talking, walking and teething. But when it comes to reading, we place immense pressure on them as well as on ourselves.

For instance, many parents of preschoolers buy phonics workbooks and software that can claim to help little ones learn to read and write. Some even hire tutors before their kids begin first grade.

But even as our expectations rise, research suggests that “early introduction of formal learning approaches to literacy does not improve children’s reading development, and may be damaging.”

So keeping this in mind, how do you teach your toddler to read in a fun way that uses play as its foundation?

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Teaching toddlers to read: Everything parents need to know about it

Like most parents, you are probably keen that your child learns to read and write earlier than others. Here are a few things you should know right off the bat:

  • You should know the difference between loving to read books and learning to read books. If you can get your child to love reading, learning to read will follow automatically.
  • You can always begin by reading to your baby. Let your child play and even chew on the books. The idea should be to make books readily available for your kids.
  • As your baby turns into a toddler you can start using games to make words. You can also try reading some rhyming books to them.
  • If you feel they are ready for the next step, you may start using phonetic sounds and blended letter sounds to develop an understanding of words and meanings.
  • When your preschooler begins school, you can set aside a schedule to read their school books at home.
  • Content is king, as they say. So do not force books that may be boring for your kids. Try to engage them in interesting books like fictional story books with lots of engaging pictures.
  • Most importantly, every child is different. So their reading abilities will not be the same either. If one child is able to read something by age three, it doesn’t mean others will be able to do it. Give them time because they will eventually reach the same level.

Now let’s take a deeper look into how to actually start the process of teaching your little ones to read and write. As mentioned earlier,  you can start as early as one or two years.

1. Read with your baby

If you bought books for your baby to look through or just play with, then you have already familiarised them with the concept of reading.

In addition, if you have sat and read these books with them, they know that reading together is a cherished time for togetherness. Reading should not be a chore or a forced activity, and your babies will love it.

If you’ve done these things, you have already set the stage for teaching toddlers to read.

  • You do not necessarily have to read the book each time (otherwise you’ll both be extremely bored). You can get as creative as possible. Make up stories around the images, or repeat the name of the object or animal drawn in the book in a sing-song. At this stage, learning should be about having fun and being creative. So try to make this activity as inclusive and as fun as possible.
  • Also, make sure that at least one book is always accessible to your baby. You can keep it next to his toys on the floor and let him play or even chew on it. Try to get books with different textures and images and colours, and some that even sing when you open them.
  • As your kid gets slightly older, you can get books that have a little text. And, perhaps even a story line. You must always look for toddler-friendly books that include images of animals, objects, or vehicles doing toddler-type activities.
  • Try not to indulge in pop-up books because they will be rip-free for around an entire nanosecond. It is better to get plain books. More durable board books are available for destructive toddlers.
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2. Teaching toddlers to read before preschool

Don’t get tempted to push your child to read and write really quickly. Everything has its time and place.

  • As much as your toddlers loves his books, he needs to learn some pre-reading skills before he truly grasps the idea of reading.
  • As soon as they turn 18 months, toddlers should get the the idea that a book has a front and back and that it has pages in between. They can also understand that pages are read from left to right. In addition, they may start to understand that the words you speak aloud are made up of letters.
  • Of course, you do not have to teach them all of this right now. They will automatically absorb it if you continue to read with them and share books. You can always point to words as you narrate the story.
  • Try to buy books that are funny and clear and have bright and uncomplicated text. Those with rhythm are even better because they help the child absorb the structure of the sentences. This also helps to sharpen their listening skills.
  • Rhymes also encourage anticipation, which is an important pre-reading skill. So if they have been hearing you repeat the same rhyme, try to see if they can finish your sentences based on what they hear. For instance, “Twinkle, twinkle, little star. How I wonder….”

3. Teaching toddlers to read letters and recognise sounds

The third crucial step in teaching toddlers to read is to help them identify sounds and letters. By the age of three (if your child has started preschool) he can pick up on sounds of letters.

If you are confident about his abilities, you can start talking to him about it.

  • By this stage you should ideally buy an ABC book and start looking at all the letters together. Begin with the first letter of his name and then take it from there. Let him dictate the pace at which he wants to learn and do not force it onto him.
  • Pronounce the letters phonetically. For instance, instead of “A” use “ay” or instead of “B” use “buh.” This is actually the way kids learn words in preschool. So by following the same routine, you are setting the stage for them to learn faster. In case you’re not sure how to pronounce the words correctly, you can even use this tool.
  • Another approach is to segregate the letters and use them as toys. Or place them on your refrigerator as magnets. Alternatively, you can buy foam letters that float in a bath (and stick on wet bath tiles). Once kids are familiar with certain letters you can help them spot these letters when you are outside. For instance, “Suh” on the “Stop” sign.
  • If you feel your child is ready for more, you can even mesh letters together to make vowel-consonant words. For instance, “o” and “f” is “of” or “a” and “t” is “at.” Say them once and then keep repeating them so he picks it up. But again, do not try to rush this and take it easy.
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4. Teaching your school-age kids to read and write

Once your kid begins school he will be taught all the basic letters and their sounds. In fact, they might even take it a step further and teach them consonant blends like “sh” or “ch.”

  • If your kid comes back with these words and perhaps with a “key word for the day” task, sit with him and repeat what he has learnt in his class.
  • You may need to keep his spirits high by encouraging him, sitting close to him and even asking him to teach you how it’s done. Schedule time together so you are up-to-date on his classes and can tutor him at home.
  • Sometimes your ward may feel slow because his months-older classmates are learning faster than him. The key is to remember that no two kids are the same. Everybody has their own time and space to learn, so you need to give your child that time and space as well.
  • Some kids start off quickly and then slow down, while some start slow and then pick up. Others might go along gradually with the entire class. Just know that there is no connection between speed of learning and speed of growing brain cells.

However, having said that, there are a few things you can do to nudge your little bookworm-to-be.

Teaching toddlers to read: How to accelerate the process

From teaching toddlers to read to teaching your school-age child, there is much to do in between. But the process is quicker with your complete involvement.

1. Learn with him

Speak to your child’s teacher about the methods they use for teaching toddlers to read and write in preschool or school. You can apply the same principles at home. Usually, the most favoured method is phonics, which is to decode words using their sounds.

You can use this method to begin with. If your kid has a problem with a word, break it down for him. For instance the word “God” can be broken down into “G” and ends with an “odd.”

2. Give them time to enjoy the book

Teaching toddlers to read has to begin with letting them enjoy themselves first. Let him look at the images and pictures before they move on to tackling the words.

Give them time to get a hang of the letters before beginning your phonics class. Once they have figured out a few words, you can talk about the plot and see if they understand what’s going to happen next in the story.

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3. Keep it short and sweet

Keep most of your reading sessions short and simple. Do not force anything and let your toddler take his time. After a while you can try to see if they are able to pick up on keywords.

For instance, some words do not necessarily depend on phonics. So you can teach them by reading them out loud. These can be “he,” “she” or “her” and “his.”

4. Look for books they’ll love

Teaching toddlers to read should never be forced. And one of the best ways to do this is by buying books that appeal most to your kids.

You can take them book shopping, or you can buy books that are about their interests. Keep a variety of books at hand and let them explore.

If you do follow the tips we mentioned, chances are your toddler will pick up reading and writing quickly. But the key is to be patient and persistent. Continue to read with him on a daily basis.

Teaching toddlers to read means opening a gateway to imagination and creativity. As parents, you hold the key to this world. You are the flag bearers. So keep up the good work and enjoy this time together.

Sources: Psychology Today, Mumsnet

Also read: 8 fun and interesting ways to teach science concepts for toddlers

Republished with permission from: theAsianParent Singapore