When should we begin teaching our daughter to read?

What Do Beginning Readers Need and When?

Today’s Mailbag Question comes from parents of a 4-year-old who ask a common question. Dr. Linda has great insights and a few suggestions.

when-should-we-begin-teaching-our-daughter-to-readDear Dr. Silbert,

Our daughter Megan is 4 years old. She’ll go into kindergarten next year. Should we start teaching her to read now so she won’t be behind?  Or is it better just to let the school do it. Of course, we want her to do well in school and will help her in any way that is appropriate. Thank you for your help.

Patti and Mike

Dear Patti and Mike,

Many concerned parents have the same question, wondering whether they should start teaching their kids to read at home.

Megan doesn’t need to know how to read by the time she gets to kindergarten. But as a beginning reader, it’s helpful if she has some basics down and is looking forward to reading.

If she really wants to learn to read now, that’s fine. She should be encouraged as long as it’s fun and not taking time away from playing.

Beginning readers play, run around, skip, sing, and imagine. They love learning new things about their world. They’ve got questions, energy, and enthusiasm.

Most, especially if they’ve been read to or introduced to books, look forward to reading themselves.

What they don’t have is a long attention span. Sitting still and being quiet for long periods of time is not their strength. Boring is out.

So what do beginning readers like Megan need?

I wrote a blog post on that on October 14th, but let me take a little different approach…

They need fun activities with room for imagination, moving around, and interaction. And they need materials that will instill a love of reading.

Before a child can learn to read, they need to be able to hold a book properly, turn pages one at a time front to back, and look at pictures sequentially as part of a story sequence.

Children who have books and have been read to often pick up early reading skills quicker than children who have not been read to.

After you’ve read Megan a story, ask her questions about the story and talk about it together. Can she tell the story herself? Can she relate the pictures to the story?

Recognizing the alphabet is the next step. Start by showing Megan a few letters in the alphabet like A, B, C. Kids enjoy recognizing their name in print. Encourage her to recognize the letters in her name.

Magnetic refrigerator letters are a fun way to help kids learn the alphabet. Many kids enjoy old fashioned wooden or plastic alphabet blocks. Play with your daughter. For example, suggest dumping all the blocks out on the floor. Then ask if she can find the letters in her name.

Once kids are familiar with the alphabet or most of it, they can work on recognizing the words in simple signs around the neighborhood such as the word “stop” on the stop sign.  And they may begin to recognize a few words in their books.

Now that they know most of the alphabet, they need to be able to put sounds with consonants and relate the sounds to pictures beginning with the specific letters, for example, D for dog. When beginning readers have learned Consonant Vowel Consonant words (CVC words) such as cat, pig, hop, run, etc. and beginning sight words, they’ve started to read.

You can continue helping her learn to read if that’s what she wants to do but only until she doesn’t want to continue. She’ll get the rest in school.

Nagging and pressuring Megan to read isn’t useful. She’ll learn to hate reading and to think something is wrong with her since she can’t read yet.

Bottom line, reading fun books to her and talking about the stories with her is enough right now if she isn’t asking to learn to read. Learning to read before kindergarten should be her choice.

Dr. Linda Silbert

P.S. If Megan does want to read, I recommend reading games. You can pick up a complimentary reading game from me at http://store.stronglearning.com/free-phonics-game Please let me know how you and Megan are progressing!

If you have a question for Dr. Linda Silbert, please email her at Linda at StrongLearning.com.

Phonics Centered — Consistent with Orton-Gillingham — Multisensory