Reading is similar to an entrance gate to the world of knowledge and development. Medical research has established that the brain’s development is most rapid between birth and three years of age. Therefore, it may be helpful to teach a toddler to read by introducing colorful storybooks at this tender age (1).
Reading is a habit that can never let you feel lonely. With time and structured education, toddlers begin to understand the rules of the alphabet, process letters, and begin to understand their sounds and meanings (2). We elaborate on tips about how to teach your toddlers to read in this post.
Can You Teach A Toddler To Read?
Yes, to an extent. Children could acquire the needed skills on their own, but this might not happen at the same pace for all children (2) Research states that a range of environmental factors, such as family atmosphere, economic situations, and care and attention from the parent, influences the reading development in children. Genetics may also affect how easily children can learn reading (3).
As each flower blooms at its own pace, so do children; however, you can always help your children develop reading skills. First, let us look at the various skills needed in the process of reading.
Skills Involved In The Reading Process
Reading is a process that involves many skills, which include (4):
1. Phoneme awareness
Phonemes are the sounds we make while pronouncing a letter or a word. To learn the skill of reading, toddlers should have phoneme awareness. By the age of one year, toddlers tend to recognize some important sounds. Children usually learn phonemes by listening to family members talk.
2. Alphabetic knowledge
Toddlers should also acquire the skills to learn and identify the alphabets. They should be able to identify individual letters and when letters are used in words. It is found that children who went to kindergarten with the knowledge of shapes, names, and how to write the letters might find it easier to learn reading.
This is the skill where the toddler will relate the sounds of spoken letters to letters in their written form. Understanding phonics helps children to quickly recognize familiar letters and figure out the pronunciation of words while reading.
Fluency is the ability to read quickly and accurately. If your toddler has a better grip on phonics and phonemes, then they could become fluent readers. Such toddlers would promptly recognize the letter and its sound.
Vocabulary is the set of words that your child knows. Studies found a strong connection between the size of a toddler’s vocabulary and how well they can understand what they read. Toddlers learn new words through reading and listening.
Comprehension is the ability of your toddler to understand the meaning of what they are reading. To acquire this, toddlers need to practice understanding letters, writing small words, and learning their meanings simultaneously.
7. Knowledge of the world
Toddlers who are aware of their surroundings and the world around them may better relate to what they learn at school. For example, if your toddler knows how an apple looks and feels, they might relate to the fruit while learning about it at the school.
Even before toddlers start school, they may acquire certain pre-literacy skills that eventually strengthen their reading and comprehension. Some pre-literacy skills include:
- Holding the books. By seeing you do it or being taught, toddlers will learn how to hold a book, turn pages, and acquaint themselves to the letters and pictures in the book.
- Paying attention. Toddlers might notice pictures in a book and connect them to real-world objects or images. They might also point towards familiar objects that they see in a book.
- Even before toddlers can read, they may interact with a book through memory power. For example, if you read the same story to them every night, they might mimic your words and actions while looking at the book’s pictures.
According to research from Washington University in St.Louis, children as young as three years begin to recognize and follow important rules and patterns of how letters in the English language fit together to make words (5).
Parents should keep in mind that not all toddlers are the same. Some might learn to read by the age of four or five, while some learn it at six or seven. Many factors influence this, one of the primary being the home literacy environment. These include the activities parents and caregivers take-up that encourage children to learn the sounds and meanings of words (6).
How To Teach Toddlers To Read?
Some studies suggest that children who regularly read and get immersed in rich conversations about books learn to read better than those who are less exposed to books (1). Therefore, it is important to expose your toddler to the literary world early on.
When toddlers take their first steps into the world of reading, parents need to teach them the right way to do it. Encouragement and constant practice are essential for improving reading skills. Read on to find out various ways to encourage your toddler to read.
Eight Activities To Help Toddlers Read
Every toddler learns to read at their own pace, but you can make reading interesting to them through specific activities. The key here is to make them enjoy the whole process, give them the freedom to explore, let them scribble, make up stories, or sing songs.
Here are a few activities you could try at home to help your toddler read.
1. Talk to them
This is one of the easiest activities to do together. Ask your toddler questions about what’s around them while they are playing or when you are shopping for groceries. Encourage them to talk and describe what they see. Teach them the names of your family members and ask them to name them one by one.
Make conversations interesting by adding humor, suspense, and rewarding them every time they do well or attempt to tell you a story.
2. Read to them daily
A good way to foster interest in reading in toddlers is by reading to them every day. It could be a bedtime story or their favorite storybook. Also, while reading, show them the book, and point out the pictures and words. Pronounce the words loud and clear so that your toddler could relate to the pictures and the words.
You can also encourage your toddler to tell the story on their own by pointing out the pictures and words in the book.
3. Relate to the real world
Another interesting way to enhance your child’s vocabulary and phonics is by relating what they have read to the real world. You can do this through easy assignments.
- If you taught them the names of fruits, you can show them the real fruit and the picture and spell the word out loud.
- You can take them to the zoo or an amusement park and show them the animals and relate them to the book you have read already.
- You can show them billboards or birthday cards and spell out the word and pronounce it.
4. Make them practice
To help your toddler learn how to recognize, pronounce, and read letters, make them practice tracing and writing the letters independently. You can also encourage them to pronounce the letter while tracing it. Printable worksheets might help them in their practice.
When your toddler masters the alphabet, give them small puzzles such as filling in the missing letters or asking them to write down the letter that you pronounce.
5. Teach sing-along songs
If you are looking for a fun way to help your toddler read, songs are among the best options. You can start with the ABCs song for learning letters, and then move on to other songs for rhyming and phonemic skills.
Researchers recommend rhymes, such as“The moon is round…,”for age-appropriate early reading development. Another suggestion is “Rollypolly….” for vocabulary, and “If you happy and you know…” for vocalization and language play (7).
6. Play word games
Toddler’s attention usually wanders quite easily, so word games and interactive activities are good ways to help them concentrate and learn different words with their meanings. You can easily conduct a word game using flashcards, sticky notes, or balloons to help improve a toddler’s phonics and comprehension skills.
You can also play games that help memorize high-frequency sight words, which are words that cannot be easily sounded and need to be recognized through sight. A few examples of high-frequency sight words are “I,”“am,”“had,”“to,”and “we.”
7. Teach practically
You can also help your toddlers learn words through real-life objects. Use sticky notes to write the names of items in your home, such as TV, chair, bench, swing, and others. Ask your toddler to stick the note to its corresponding item. You may start with simple words and proceed to tricky ones.
8. Use alphabet toys
Use alphabet toys, like blocks or letter magnets,to help your toddler learn letters better. Once they get familiar with the letters, you can arrange the letters to form simple words and teach them their meanings. Pronouncing a word and then pointing towards the item can help a toddler understand the meaning of words better.
Parents can try these activities regularly to reinforce the toddler’s knowledge of reading and writing letters. You can also consider books to help you with the process.
Books For Babies And Toddlers To Teach Reading
Books can play a vital role in teaching toddlers to read. Below is a list of books that could be appropriate for early learners. These books might help introduce basic skills, such as language, vocabulary, phonics, and comprehension, to the toddler(8).
- Slinky Malinki by Lynley Dodd
- Love From Louisa by Simon Puttock
- Mmm, Cookies by Robert Munsch
- I’m A Frog! by Mo Willems
- The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson
If your child is a toddler, go for books with simple stories, morals, and humor. Here are a few books you could consider buying for two to three-year-olds.
- The Wonderful Things You Will Be by Emily Winfield Martin
- Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin
- Grumpy Monkey by Suzzanne Lang
- The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
- Where Do Diggers Sleep At Night by Brianna Caplan Sayers
- Blue Hat, Green Hat by Sandra Bounton
Keep the following points in mind while shopping for books for your toddler.
- The books should contain colorful pictures
- The print should be bold and big
- Pick books featuring animals, children, and objects relatable to a toddler
- Consider books with rhymes and text patterns
Frequently Asked Questions
1. When should I start teaching my toddler to read?
You may start teaching your toddlers to read by around the age of one, when they start communicating with sounds and gestures, understand more than 50 words, develop interest in stories and pictures, and reach out for books to turn pages (9).
2. Why is early reading important for toddlers?
Early reading is important for toddlers because it helps build vocabulary, enhance brain development, improve language, social, and emotional skills, and increase their awareness of the world (10).
3. Are early readers more intelligent?
According to the National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented, children who start reading fluently by the first grade may be considered gifted and should be eligible for differentiated programming (11).
Reading development in children can be influenced by multiple factors, including family atmosphere and genetics. To develop this skill, children need to develop several skills such as phoneme awareness, alphabet knowledge, vocabulary, and fluency. Thus, to teach toddlers to read, ensure they are exposed to plenty of books early on. You could also introduce them to reading activities such as playing word games and singing nursery rhymes. With sufficient encouragement and practice, your child will be able to improve their reading skills with time.
- It is important to expose your toddler to the literary world, so they learn to read at an early age.
- Talking, reading to them, and making them practice can gradually accelerate the process.
- You can take the help of various books available for toddlers that help introduce basic skills, such as language, vocabulary, and phonics.
2. Learning to Read and Write: What Research Reveals; National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC)
3. Charles Hulme, and Margaret J. Snowling; Learning to Read: What We Know and What We Need to Understand Better; NCBI
4. A Child Becomes a Reader; National Institute for Literacy
5. Toddlers begin learning rules of reading, writing at a very early age, study finds; Washington University in St. Louis; Science Daily
6. Frank Niklas, Caroline Cohrssen, Collette Tayler; The Sooner, the Better: Early Reading to Children; Sage Open
7. Ginger Mullen; More Than Words: Using Nursery Rhymes and Songs to Support Domains of Child Development; ResearchGate
8. Andrea Lynn Koohi; Five Books, Five Literacy-Building Ideas!; The HanenCenter
9. Reading Milestones; Nemours
10. Emergent and Early Literacy; Raising Readers
11. ARE EARLY READERS GIFTED?; The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented