English Champ

How to kick start reading with your child – Part 3

How do children learn to read?

Start to make word-sound associations. Before you even start getting into the alphabet and sound specifics, help your child to recognize that the lines on the page are directly correlated to the words you are speaking. As you read aloud to them, point to each word on the page at the same time you say it. This will help your child to grasp the pattern of words/lines on the page relating to the words you speak in terms of length and sound.

Teach your child the alphabet. When your child has developed word awareness, begin breaking down words into individual letters. Although the alphabet song is the most classic means of teaching the alphabet, try getting creative. Explain each of the letters with their name, but don’t worry about trying to incorporate the sounds the letters make yet.

  • Teach lower case letters first. Capital letters account for only five percent of all letter in

written English. Therefore, pay more attention to teaching the lower case letters. Lower case letters are far more important in developing reading skills.

  • Try making each of the letters out of play-dough, playing a toss game (where the child tosses a beanbag/ball onto a specific letter on the floor), or fishing for foam letters in the bathtub. These are all interactive games that encourage development on multiple levels.[2]


Develop phonemic awareness. One of the most important steps in teaching reading is associating a spoken sound with a letter or letter-pair. This process is known as phonemic awareness. There are 44 speech sounds created by the 26 letters in our alphabet, and each sound must be taught paired with its letter(s) counterpart. This includes the long and short sound produced by each individual letter, as well as the specialized sounds some combined letters make (like ‘ch’ and ‘sh’).

  • Focus on a single letter/part/sound at a time. Avoid confusion and build a solid foundation by working at a steady pace through all of the speech sounds.
  • Give real life examples of each speech sound; for example, state that the letter ‘A’ makes the ‘ah’ sound, like at the beginning of the word ‘apple.’ This can be turned into a guessing game, when you speak an easy word (like apple) and have the child guess the letter that it starts with.
  • Use games similar to those used when teaching the alphabet, that combine critical thinking on the part of the child in order to determine sound/letter correlations. See the aforementioned list for ideas, but substitute in sounds.
  • It is easier for children to develop phonemic awareness when words are broken down into their smallest parts. This can be done with the clapping game (clapping out each syllable in a word) or by sounding-out words into their individual letters.


Teach your child rhymes. Rhyming teaches phonemic awareness and letter recognition, in addition to the most basic English words. Read nursery rhymes to your child, and then eventually make lists of easy-to-read rhymes such as mop, top, flop, pop, and cop. Your child will begin to see the patterns of sounds that are made when certain letters are combined – in this case, the sound ‘o-p’ makes.

Teach your child to read using explicit phonics. Traditionally, children are taught to recognize a word based on its size, the first and last letters, and the general sound. This method of teaching is known as implicit phonics – working from the largest piece down. However, studies have shown that readable vocabulary dramatically increases (from 900 words to 30,000 words by the third grade) when taught in the opposite fashion: breaking each word into the smallest parts, and building them up into a full word – explicit phonics. Help your child to begin reading by having them sound-out each individual letter without looking at the overall word first.

  • Don’t move onto explicit phonics until your child has developed adequate phonemic awareness. If they cannot associate sounds with letters or letter pairs quickly, they need a bit more practice before moving onto complete words.


Have your child practice decoding. Classically known as ‘sounding out’ words, decoding is when a child reads a word by making the sounds of each individual letter, rather than trying to read the whole word at once. Reading is broken up into two primary parts: decoding/reading a word, and comprehending its meaning. Don’t expect your child to recognize and comprehend words just yet; have them focus on decoding and sounding out word parts.

  • Don’t use whole stories or books yet; have your child read from word lists or from basic story (not focusing on the plot). This is another great time to use rhymes for practice.
  • Decoding aloud is typically easier for the child (and you) to learn how to say the word. Have them break it into parts with clapping if necessary.
  • Do not be rigid in how the child pronounces the sounds. Regional accents and weak auditory skills make it hard for children to say most sounds in an academically correct way. Accept a reasonable effort. Recognize that learning sounds is only an intermediate step to learning to read, it is not the goal.


Build up an archive of sight words. Certain words in the English vocabulary are spoken often, but don’t follow the typical phonics rules. These words are easier to memorize by shape association than by sound, and are therefore known as ‘sight words.’ Some sight words include ‘they,’ ‘she’, ‘an,’ ‘said,’ and ‘the.’ The complete list of sight words, called the Dolch list, can be found online and broken down into sections to work through.


Your everyday interactions and involvement with your child can make an invaluable contribution to your child’s development. Turn everyday activities into literacy opportunities for your child.


Written by English Champ

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