Wednesday, July 24, 2013

How (and why) I'm teaching my four year old to read

Over the last month a few friends and one of Bug's therapists have asked me questions about reading. Specifically how to help their young children read. I gave them a couple of general suggestions or some books to try. Honestly I don't think there is one answer for everybody. Every family and child is different.

I am teaching Bubby to read because he is interested, and he is able. He has known his letter sounds for a long time. He could identify his letters before he was two. Letters and words are a strength of his, so I have been trying to find a balance in not pushing him but not holding him back either.

So how does this look in our house, and what advice can I offer?

  • I have read to both boys almost every single day since the day they were born. Even in the NICU we would bring books to read - our favorite then was Are You My Mother? Each of my boys in their toddler years have fixated on Brown Bear, Brown Bear - a book I honestly hate because it reminds me of my year I taught first grade. But since they liked it, I keep reading it. All of that to say - read. 

  • Read aloud to your children daily. Throughout the day. Read the same books over and over again, and introduce new ones.
  • Another thing I know that has been important in our house is for them to see The Hubs reading. Not only do the boys see The Hubs read his Bible in the morning, but they also see him studying, they see his "books for enjoyment" around, and The Hubs reads to the boys.

  • Go to the library at least once a week. Let them pick out their own books. The pick out books for them, too. Our library has a great online system, so I use that and go to the library drive-thru probably three times a week to pick up our new books.
  • Get letter magnets. Find both capital and lowercase if possible and play with them together. Point letters out everywhere and what sounds they make.  

  • I am not a huge fan of many "educational" toys/movies, BUT the LeapFrog Letter Factory was given to the boys, and they both have loved the repetitive song with the letter sounds. They also have liked the LeapFrog bus and magnets. I haven't found the other LeapFrog movies as helpful, though, but maybe that is just our family.
  • Speaking of movies, I strongly believe in limiting tv time.  We watch DVDs here because quite honestly, there are times when Mommy needs a break. But the boys know that unless it is a sick day, they won't get to watch more than one show a day. Some days we don't watch any. But we will always read!

That's all nice, but how do you teach them to read?

If you are reading to them regularly and they recognize letters, you can probably start if they are interested.
Start with teaching the letter sounds.  Then when they have those down work on sounding out three letter words with a consonant-vowel-consonant. ("CVC words")  We did this a lot with Bubby with his letter magnets - changing the first letter or having him change it. (for example: -at words: cat, bat, sat, rat; -ad words: dad, bad, sad, mad, etc.) Once they get good at that game, you could probably begin with simple phonics readers or a program.

I've started Bubby on lessons from Ordinary Parents Guide To Reading. The first 26 lessons are about the letter sounds - we didn't do all of those since he knew them. About lesson 30, I figured out Bubby would do well with these lessons if I I wrote them out in my own handwriting. (The print is kind of small for a three/four year old.) It is a pain, but it works so much better for us.  I'm hopeful that someday soon I can transition back to reading from the book.  We average a lesson a week, but I usually do a lesson more than once with him. Repetition is a very good thing.

We are also reading some of the BOB books. He likes the simple pictures, and it really helps his confidence. Often the books that are labeled "easy readers" are not for true beginner readers. I would recommend not starting with those. I am a strong believer in focusing on phonics more than sight words. (Though sight words do have a place). As Bubby has learned to sound out words, the words he sees more often he has started knowing by sight.

As wonderful as it was to have lightbulb moments with my students back in my teaching days, there is nothing like watching your own child learn something new - whether that be reading new words, riding a bike, or singing a song.

I'll end by saying this. I think there is a lot of pressure on parents and kids to be the best or the first or both at everything. It is hard not to get sucked in. Children do not need to know how to read at four or five or even six. As long as you are providing consistent, natural opportunities (and there isn't some learning/developmental issue), your child will learn to read in his/her time. Just keep reading, let your child learn to enjoy reading, but most of all become a student of your own child and enjoy him/her.

Disclosure: There are Amazon affiliate links in this post.


  1. I LOVE this! Thanks for sharing! My four year old has always loved to be read to and will spend hours looking at books, but she has yet to show interest in trying to read words herself. I completely agree that it is best to teach reading within a child's own timing, and by being my child's teacher I can afford her that luxury!

    1. Exactly! That is why I love being "in charge" of what they are learning. For instance, Bubby isn't really into writing/using a pencil. He loves to paint, but coloring and "writing" - not so much. So I don't push it. I give opportunities now and then, but I figure if he doesn't want to for a couple more years, it is no big deal. I'm TRYING to remember that about his swmimming and bicycle riding (or lack thereof).

  2. I have 2 avid readers and two coming up in the ranks :) These are great tips. Thank you

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  3. Great tips! I find myself in the same position with my four year old--searching for balance. She's ready, but I don't want to push either. We're also using BOB books this year and gently introducing some important sight words.

    1. It is a hard balance, isn't it? Bubby loves books, so sometimes when we are reading I have him help me by reading the words he knows. He is so proud when he reads "the" or "has." :)
      Thanks for stopping by!


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