How Young Is Too Young to Teach Your Child to Read?

Help your toddler connect letters, words, and meaning with frequent exposure to books and educational toys.

Would you be surprised if I said it’s never too early to teach your child to read?

Children’s brains are ripe for learning. They are making new connections every day and, as a parent, you have a unique and exciting role to play in their exposure to and exploration of the world around them.

But you might be surprised with what I mean by teaching your child to read…

Read to your toddler every day

Reading is one of the most effective things you can do to set your child up to be a successful reader. The amount of learning that takes place while your child sits cuddled in your lap is remarkable.

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Before they are even aware of what is happening, your child is learning that letters and words have meaning. You are teaching them how to hold a book and turn the pages correctly. Additionally, you are showing them that we read from left to right and teaching them about language, fluency, expression, and inflection.

Reading a variety of books is important, but there are a few types to focus on at first. Books with one word with a corresponding picture are a great place to start. As you are teaching them what a cat looks like while pointing to the word cat, for example, their brains are making the connection to be drawn upon later when they are ready to read.

Books with repetitive or predictive text are a good next step because as the child becomes familiar with the book, you can leave out words and have the child fill in the correct word.  Board books like “Head to Toe” by Eric Carle and “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you See?” by Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle have wonderful pictures to go with the repetitive text.

Expose your toddler to letters

My daughter loves to read books so it’s natural that much of her knowledge of letters and their sounds first came from reading ABC books. As she was learning words as an infant, I would ask her to point to the ball, baby, book, etc. while telling her that these words start with the letter B and pointing to the letter on the page.

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The toy maker Melissa & Doug make wonderful puzzles, and a particular favorite in our house is the ABC puzzle that says the letter and an associated word.

Another well-loved toy for us is the LeapFrog Fridge Phonics Magnetic Letter Set. My daughter puts letters into the bus, and then hears the letter name and the sound each letter makes. I am often surprised to see how many letter sounds my 3 year-old knows, just simply through repeated exposure.

A really great way to introduce letters in a personal way is by using your child’s name. My daughter’s name is hanging in capital letters over her bed so it is natural to talk about each letter. She was able to recognize and spell her name before she knew any other letters.

So, you see, teaching your child to read is not just about sounding out words in books, but also about exposure and repeated interaction with books and letters. Enjoy playing and engaging with your child and watch their eyes light up as they make connections.

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For more advice on how to get your Children ready for Kindergarten, you can read these articles:

Jeff & Annie Wiesman

Jeff & Annie Wiesman

Dr. Jeff & Annie Wiesman are coauthors of “Education Begins at Birth: A Parent’s Guide to Preparing Infants, Toddlers, and Preschoolers for Kindergarten.” Jeff is an associate professor of education who mentors future elementary school teachers, and Annie has numerous years of experience teaching preschool, kindergarten, and first grade. They reside in New York with their five-year-old daughter.

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