Many parents are excited to teach their children to read. When deciding what to teach first, I imagine that many parents start with what they know— sounding it out.
/C/ /a/ t/. Caaaat. CAT.
Sounding out words is a developmental skill. We can introduce it gently, reintroduce it later, and provide opportunities for practice when it’s finally “clicked.”
But did you know that kids need to know quite a few things about reading before we should teach them to sound out words?
1. Concepts of Print
If yours is a reading house, you may find that your children develop concepts of print without a lot of instruction from you.
- They hold books correctly and turn pages in the right direction.
- They know that each word on a page represents a spoken word.
- They understand that text is read from left to right.
How to develop concepts of print
- Read to your child often.
- Introduce books by their title. Sometimes, draw attention to the author and illustrator.
- Make sure some of the books you read have large bold print, and point to the words as you read.
- Point out signs in your environment (the Cheerios box, an EXIT sign, and the sign at your grocery store). Help your child see that print is all around you.
- Learn concepts of print with nursery rhymes. I created my nursery rhymes concepts of print pack so that my son could learn important pre-reading skills with ten fun rhymes.
2. Language and Listening Skills
As you read to your children, they’ll develop language and listening skills which they need before they can become readers.
- They can retell a familiar story in their own words.
- They engage with a story as you read to them — asking questions (“Why did he say that?”) and making personal connections (“I wish I could have that much ice cream!”)
- They can answer simple questions about a story.
How to build language and listening skills
- Ask open-ended questions as you read. Ask more “why” and “how” questions than “who” and “what.” (For sample questions, download this free printable.)
- Explain unfamiliar words as you read.
- Encourage your children to play pretend.
3. Letter knowledge
Obviously, kids need to know their alphabet before they’re ready to sound out words.
- They recognize both upper and lower case letters. Obviously if you teach your child to sound out words with capital letters, he doesn’t need to know the lowercase alphabet. But since most books are written with both upper and lower case letters, it’s helpful if your child can recognize lowercase letters as well.
- They can name each letter’s sound.
One note on this point: If a child does not know every single letter and sound, he or she can still learn to read. Some letters, such as q and z, for example, do not appear frequently enough to be a huge hindrance to learn to read.
How to teach the alphabet
- At our house we start with our kids’ names.
- We learn the rest of the alphabet by reading alphabet books and by playing a variety of games.
- We also like to explore the alphabet letter by letter in many hands-on ways. Check out my letter of the week curriculum!
4. Phonological and phonemic awareness
While we’re learning the alphabet, we play games and do activities to lay a solid foundation of phonological and phonemic awareness. Sounds like teacher talk, right? Just remember that these are different from phonics because they are about LISTENING, not LOOKING. The following statements are true of children with phonological and phonemic awareness.
- They can count words.
- They can count syllables in words.
- They can rhyme.
- They can put sounds together to make a word. If you say these sounds to your child, /f/ and /ish/, can he put them together to make fish? If you stretch a word and say it like this — mooooon – does your child know the word is moon?
- They can identify the first and last sound in a word. This is not the same thing as knowing the letter. For example, if you ask your child the first sound in the word phone, she should be able to answer /f/.
How to promote phonological and phonemic awareness:
- Give your child a cup with counters. Say a sentence in the normal way and then recite it very slowly. (“The sky is blue.”) Can your child give you a counter for each word of the sentence?
- Teach your child to count syllables by starting with his own name. Then move on to other familiar words.
- Read rhyming books. (Check out my rhyming book lists for babies here. Also visit my list of rhyming books for toddlers and preschoolers.)
- Play rhyming games. (I’ve got a great collection of these in this post.)
- Looking for fun ways to build this important skill? I highly recommend my Phonemic Awareness bundle.
5. An interest in learning to read
If you’re attempting to teach your child to sound out words and one or both of you are consistently frustrated, it will not end well. It may be that your child simply isn’t ready for this skill (see the above points), or it may be that it’s not on her list of priorities. If children are motivated to learn to read, you can expect the following to be true:
- They enjoy being read to.
- They frequently ask you to read aloud.
- They pretend to read.
How to help children get excited to learn to read
- Let your child see the value of knowing how to read by reading in a variety of ways in her presence. This might mean reading a recipe, your favorite magazine, devotional material, or even your e-mail.
- Let your child choose books he loves when you read to him — but don’t feel tied to books you’re bored with. Pull out some winners from my book lists so that you’ll both enjoy yourselves!
- We use and recommend the LeVar Burton Kids Skybrary app. You can use it on mobile, tablet, and desktop. The interactive books and quality read alouds are a great way to get kids excited about books!