When my husband and I tell people that our daughter was reading her first books at around 26 months old, their first reaction is a little amazement. The second thing that always comes is the question, “How did ya’ll do it?” The truth is we did not set out to have her reading so early. We knew we wanted to give her a good educational foundation and wanted her to read before she entered school. So, quite frankly, we were equally as shocked and amazed when we heard our daughter reading for the first time. We knew she could identify a few small words, but it wasn’t until we opened that easy reader book that day and heard her reading almost all the words in the book without any help did we realize just how many words she really knew.
Since then, we have reflected on the things we believe contributed to this amazing result. The list below is a compilation of some of the things we have learned and would like to share with you.
We are not professional educators or pediatric experts. We are simply parents who believe that a child’s parents should be his first teachers and have seen mind-blowing results from this approach.
So, let’s get started…
1. Start Early
It’s never too early to start teaching your child the fundamentals of reading. As a matter of fact, start before he is even born! Yes, you can start teaching your child to read before he even comes into this world. Well, sort of…Before our daughter was born, my husband and I would talk and read to her often. Reading to your child in the womb is the start of laying a foundation for language development. Research has shown that babies begin to listen, absorb, and remember language during the last stages of pregnancy. During my pregnancy I would sometimes put headphones on my belly and let our daughter listen to music and audio recordings of the Bible. If you do this though, you want to make sure the headphones are not too loud because the womb is already a noisy place. You may want to invest in some headphones specifically designed for this purpose like Belly Buds just to be safe.
Once your little one is here, talk to her a lot. Talk to her about the schedule for the day, the weather, and the recipes you use as you make the family meals. Tell her stories, real and fiction. Every time you talk to your little one, she learns new words, and her vocabulary grows by leaps and bounds.
2. Create an Environment for Learning
One of the best things you can do to help your child learn to read early is to create an environment that is conducive for learning. Surround her with the things you want her to learn. Decorate his room with alphabet letters, or quotes from children’s books. Start her off with a library of books that she can easily reach and access. Play nursery rhymes and other kid friendly music during the day. Put magnetic letters on the refrigerator for her to play with while you cook dinner. Create a special reading nook in his play area. Over time, your child will take in all of this information naturally.
3. Limit Screen Time
There is a lot of debate about whether or not young kids should have any TV and mobile device time. We won’t get into that debate here, but you can do your own research about children and screen time and determine how much is appropriate for your child. I will say that studies have shown that excessive amounts of television watching for kids under the age of 2 alters their brain development. We do not have a television in our home. During the age of 0 – 2 yrs. old we tried to limit our daughter’s screen time (videos & computer) to 30 mins. per day. Now that she is older, she get more screen time, but almost all her screen time is watching educational videos, online learning sites, and educational iPad apps. We’ve found that the less screen time our daughter has, the more she is able to concentrate when working on tasks.
The types of images that your child sees are important as well even in educational videos and games. Try to avoid shows and games that have a lot of fast moving images. There are some educational videos that we will not allow our daughter to watch simply because it is jammed pack full of fast moving images. Some researchers believe that children who have prolonged exposure to rapid images during the critical period of brain development will be proned to inattention later in life. This TEDx Talk can explain it more.
By limiting your child’s screen time, he has the opportunity to play, explore, use his imagination, and develop a love for books.
4. Read, Read, Read!
I can’t stress enough how important it is to read to your child EVERY DAY. Pick at least two times a day when you sit and read to your little one. Read a variety of books – picture books, fiction, non-fiction, poetry, etc. Also, let your little one share in the things that you are reading. If you are reading the newspaper or a magazine article, let your toddler sit in your lap as you read aloud (as long as it is age appropriate). Don’t worry about whether she will understand all the big words. You are modeling for your child a love for reading, and she will eventually do the same.
Reading does not have to just take place at home either. You can read to your child even when you are on the go. Read road signs, store names, product packages in the store, names of produce, and artwork and banners in a restaurant. Reading can take place almost anywhere!
5. Invest in a Few Good Resources
I believe that you do not have to invest a lot of money into the latest programs and systems for them to be an early reader. Your biggest investment should be in TIME. However, investing a few dollars into helping your child learn to read early can also be beneficial. Here are a few of the ones that we have found to be effective. In the upcoming weeks, I will be giving more detailed product reviews on some of these products.
- Meet the Letter Sounds & Meet the Sight Words by Preschool Prep Company – If you don’t purchase any other thing in this list, you need to purchase this system! This is by far the most effective early reading program we have found to date. The sets include DVDs, flash cards, easy reader books, and workbooks, AND they are not expensive at all! Our daughter absolutely loves them! They are fun, entertaining, and do not contain a lot of fast moving images. We’ve found that the best way to purchase the Preschool Prep products is through Zulily. They have sales on these products almost weekly.
- Hooked on Phonics Letter Sounds CD - We purchased an older version of the Hooked on Phonics Kindergarten set at a garage sale years ago. It included a letter sounds CD, and when our daughter was an infant we would often let her listen to the CD as she played or sat in her bouncer. This was great during those early stages because it didn’t require any screen time.
- ABC & Sight Words Flash Cards – You can find these very inexpensively at consignment sales, school supply stores, The Dollar Tree, or Target’s Dollar Spot.
- KneeBouncers.com & Mobile App – These games are great for babies and young toddlers. The online learning website is a subscription service, but there are some free games available.
- Your Baby Can Read Learning System - Before you buy it directly from the YBCR website, check deal sites like NoMoreRack to see if they have it for a discount. We were able to get ours for $40.
6. Teach the Alphabet Early
In order for your child to be able to read, he must first know the alphabet. So, start teaching him as an infant. Here are some ways you can do this.
- Say the alphabet every time you change your baby’s diaper.
- Sing the alphabet song while you wait at a traffic light.
- Create an ABC wall in the nursery or playroom like the one here.
- Read and spell out words when you are out and about (example: “Look, Sarah! There’s a red STOP sign over there. STOP is spelled S-T-O-P.”)
- Get the Kneebouncers Vol. 1 app that includes a simple letter identification game.
- Buy or make a set of alphabet flash cards.
Once your child can identify all the letters in the alphabet, begin to teach her the associated letter sounds. This will lay the foundation for phonemic awareness.
7. Make Sure Other Caregivers Reinforce What You Do at Home
Unless you are a full-time stay-at-home parent, chances are your child is cared for by someone else part of the time whether it be a daycare, nanny, or preschool program. You will want to make sure that all of your child’s caregivers are on the same page as to what strategies are to be used in teaching your little one. For example, it does no good to not allow screen time at home, if your infant’s daycare has him in front of a screen for two of the four hours he is there every day.
8. Use Alternative Books
Let’s face it, there are some times that you just don’t feel like reading Good Night Moon for the millionth time. That’s o.k. We all need a break every now and then. There are other alternatives to traditional print books. Here are a few we like to use.
- Free Online Book Sites like We Give Books
- Audio Books (CD/Digital Downloads)
- Children’s Book Reading Videos – Try out Storyline Online’s Youtube channel. It features professional (SAG) actors reading notable children’s books
9. Use That Library Card
Your local library is a great way to expose your child to a wide variety of literature for free. You can keep a fresh stock of books to read to your little one so she (and you) do not get bored reading the same books. Many public libraries also offer toddler and preschool storytimes once a month or weekly.
10. Buy Age Inappropriate Toys & Books
Whenever you buy toys and books, there is always a “recommended age” range determined by the manufacturer. This is important for safety reasons especially when there are small parts involved. However, just because a book or toy is intended for a 3 yr. old does not mean your 2 yr. old can’t use it. As a matter of fact, I believe giving a child more challenging toys and reading materials helps him develop his problem solving and critical thinking skills. Very early on, my husband and I figured out that when we gave our daughter developmental toys that were in a higher age range, she always rose to the challenge and mastered it with a little time. If your child is 18 mo. old, trying giving her some toys that are developmentally for age 2 yrs.+, or read to her books that are for a 3 yr. old. You will be amazed at what your child can learn!
11. Let Your Child Set the Pace
When teaching your child to read, be sure that you are not pressuring him. The last thing you want to do is make learning a chore. For children, learning is play and play is learning. If your child is not interested in doing what you have planned for the day, that’s o.k. find out what she does want to do and find a way to incorporate your learning objective into what she is interested in at the moment.
If your little one is more interested in building Lego towers that day than sitting and reading a book, just print out some letters or sight words, tape them to the blocks and build word towers. With a little patience and creativity, you can teach your child at his own pace. Don’t stress! Your child will learn little by little.
12. Act It Out & Have Fun!
When reading to your child, have fun! Be silly and super animated! Use funny voices for the different characters. Use inflections in your voice. Don’t be monotone. Treat the story as if it is a play. The more ridiculous you feel, the more your little one will love it! She will begin to associate reading with fun, and she will be able to comprehend what is happening in the story better. So, grab a book, let loose, and make your little one belly laugh with joy as you read together!
By no means am I an expert on teaching kids to read. These are just a few of the things my husband and I have done to teach our daughter. Every child is different and learns at his or her own pace. Do not get bogged down trying to compare your child to anyone else. He or she is unique and brilliant in his or her own way.
If you would like to keep up with the new tools and “homeschooling” resources I find, you can follow me here on Pinterest. I am always finding and pinning new things.
So, what are some of the tools you use to help your child with reading and language development? Please share your ideas below.