Advice for Parents: Teaching Children How to Read

In the age of Kindle, e-readers, and audiobooks, it’s difficult to get adults to read paper books instead of digital ones, let alone children. Parents are the first teachers that children have, and as such, can teach their kids a lot before sending them to school and while they’re in school too. Teaching and encouraging reading with your child or children are one of the most important things a parent can do. Children going into preschool or kindergarten with some knowledge of reading are already a step ahead and tend to learn faster. Embracing reading in your family can be easy too, it just takes patience and a lot of love.

The Basics of Reading

5 Parts of Reading

Reading may seem like a singular skill but it consists of several components, five to be exact. These five skills are the basic abilities you need to know to start teaching your child how to read. Knowing what they are and why each one is important can help you be a better teacher for your child by ensuring that they are collecting all the necessary tools to be a good reader.

  1. Phonics: 
    1. Phonics is the process of mapping out the sounds in a word to written letters. Such as the sound c makes in “cat”. This skill introduces the connections between sound and letters, the alphabetic principle, which should be the first skill you focus on with your child. 
  1. Phonemic Awareness
    1.  Phonemic Awareness is the ability to understand how individual letter sounds make words. Phonemes are the individual units of sound that make up the English language, which a child needs to learn to be able to learn to read. For example, the word “cat” is made of the three distinct sounds of c/a/t. Phonemic Awareness is what helps children understand how to break up words and sound them out so they understand larger words. 
  1. Vocabulary
    1. Vocabulary is the collection of words a person knows and understands. Children usually have a spoken and listening vocabulary. The larger these two groups, the easier it will to grow a reading and writing vocabulary over time. Certain words, like I, a, the, and, is, an, be, etc. are sight words that are very high frequency. Learning the first 100 sight words is an important component of building a child’s vocabulary as they make up more than 50% of children’s books’ text.
  1. Fluency
    1. Fluency utilizes the first three skills, phonics, phonemic awareness, and expanding vocabulary, to bridge the gap between word recognition and understanding. Fluent readers no longer need to focus on decoding what words are but on the meaning those words have. 
  1. Reading Comprehension
    1. Reading Comprehension is the combination of the previously learned skills that allows children, teens, adults and beyond to not only understand what they have read but to be able to absorb knowledge from reading materials and be able to relate to it. When referring to fiction, this means understanding the character’s story and connecting to it emotionally, and in non-fiction, it means coming away with new knowledge. This is a skill that is worked on throughout childhood and adolescence and impacts your child’s education profoundly.

You can begin encouraging the first 3 skills at as early 2-3 years old, then the following skills can be learned more gradually throughout childhood. Each skill can be encouraged and taught in different ways. 


The first and most fundamental part of reading is understanding the sounds associated with letters. There are 26 letters in the English alphabet but 44 sounds, starting from kindergarten children will work to learn all of these sounds before the 3rd grade. However, it is an easy thing to mess up. Letters like a and e can sound alike, sh and ch combine letters to make new sounds, and some words don’t even sound like they are spelled, like “the”. It can be easy for even college students to mess up spelling words based on their phonics alone.

In order to help your child without fostering confusion or frustration, you can try a few verbal tactics focusing on the first letter of words. 

  1. Talk about letter names and sounds. Focus on explaining letters as simply as possible by focusing on the name and sound it makes. You can use letter magnets, flashcards, or books you’re reading together to show pre- or early readers what letters look like, then explain the letter, and it’s sound using other simple words your child has in their vocabulary. For example, see the letter “c” as in cat? In this word, it’s making a /c/ sound, C-art. The letter’s name is C and it’s making a /c/ sound.   
  1. Encourage your child to think of other words with the same first letter. If you’re working with C still you might think of carry, can, code, core, etc
  2. Make up funny sentences with the words you came up with and encourage your child to do the same. For instance, “a calico cat was caught carrying carts”

Technology can be your best friend when you’re trying to teach phonics. There are many apps and programs that help build this crucial skill. The two most well-known programs are:

ABC Mouse: AbcMouse is an early learning program that covers not only reading but math, science, and more at levels from preschool through the 2nd grade.

Hooked On Phonics: The number 1 learn-to-read program, Hooked On Phonics contains both print and digital content to help your child learn no matter where they are. 

However there are apps for apple and android that help as well, like Alphabet Sounds Word Study, Montessori Letter Sounds, Rosetta Stone® Kids Lingo Letter Sounds which help develop crucial phonics skills.

Phonemic Awareness

Phonemic awareness is a very important but very difficult skill to teach. It involves listening and learning about the sounds in words, which can be difficult for parents to remember and teach accurately. However, there are a few things you can do to help your child while they learn this skill in school.

Simple listening activities, like rhyming games, can be a great way to help children gain more phonemic awareness. You can start by encouraging rhyming by playing rhyming games, such as a competition to see who can name more words that rhyme with “cat”. Listening to music and saying nursery rhymes can also encourage phonemic awareness in children.

You also play games revolving around syllables, such as clapping for every syllable in words you or your child name, and clapping along with you while you read out loud. In fact, children will pick up a  great deal of phonemic awareness from being read to by their parents. You can also help by speaking in slower, simpler sentences when talking with your child, pointing out every day sounds like dogs barking or creaky stairs or drawers banging. Even just talking with your child can help them develop their phonemic awareness skills.


The first step in developing your child’s vocab is site words. These are words that should be known on-site rather than by their sounds. You can teach this easily by exposing them to these either though reading, flashcards, or games. 

Beyond sight words, children need to be exposed to new words in order for them to be part of the vocabulary, and you can do that through reading together and encouraging them to point out words they don’t understand. When they find one, say it and encourage them to say it back and with you. The more ways a child experiences a word, the easier it is for them to add it to their vocabulary. 

Another way to boost their vocabulary is to adjust your own speech and use more synonyms for words your child already knows. This encourages them to learn these new words and it can be made into a fun game of naming words that all connect. 

There are also lots of great games and apps which can help your child grow their vocabulary.

  • Words with Ibbleobble: for Apple devices teaches new words your child’s own pace
  • Peg and Pog: For Apple and Android teaches everyday vocabulary to ages 2 and up
  • Vocab Victor: For Apple and Android For older kids, teaches new words through fun games

Fluency and Reading Comprehension

The final two pieces of learning to read come from practice. They will take time for your child to develop but can be encouraged. Once your child has had enough practice, have them read to you, talk to them about the books you read together and encourage them to ask questions if there were things they did not understand. Ask them to tell you about what they read and ask simple questions to help them improve their comprehension. Most of all, encourage them to read. Whether it’s paper books, your Ipad, kindle or phone, make sure they have accessible reading material that excites them. Never force your child to read something just because you read it and like it. Let them explore books and reading interests for themselves and let them know you’re there if they need you. You should make sure any material they choose is age and reading level appropriate. 

Reading at Home

Reading is one of the most important skills your child will pick up in early life. Make sure you are encouraging your child’s reading skills and abilities every day. You can help embrace reading by creating a specific routine for reading every day and creating a fun, comfortable space for them to read in. Other tips for encouraging reading at home include:

  • Help your child find books on topics they’re are interested in
  • Do not force them to read something they do not want to read
  • Encourage reading fiction and nonfiction books
  • Ask questions as you read together
  • Re-read favorite books as many times as possible
  • Get them a library card
  • Look into summer reading programs at local libraries
  • Keep reading material around, in paper or digital form
  • Encourage writing and creativity 
  • Continue to read together even as your child gets older
  • Make sure the books they pick are at the right reading level

Teaching a child to read and watching them go into a confident and skilled reader is one of the wonders of life and raising a child. Parents should include themselves in their child’s growth toward becoming an avid reader with enthusiasm and should be willing to help their child succeed. Remember the five skills involved in reading and how they build upon each other, embrace technology and reading apps to help your child advance their skills, and make sure your home encourages reading. 

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