Preschoolers Who Read & Write

Parent Q&A

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  • Reading Activities for 4-Year-Old

    (3 replies)

    My 4-year-old son is reading at a Kindergarten or 1st grade level and he loves it. He’s also jealous that his older brother gets to do piano and chess lessons, but he does not (yet!). Can anyone recommend any organized reading activities/groups/classes/tutors to make reading even more fun and engaging for him, and to scratch his itch to have lessons of his own just like his brother? It's tough to find something like that at his age, but we want to know what's out there. Thank you!

    Berkeley north Library has two cool events every week a “read to dogs” day where you schedule a slot of time to read with a service dog, and also a “chess” day with a librarian (who is a great chess player) who proctors the group. The chess group is open to all and is a really nice event for beginners or more advanced players. 

    Just wanted to mention that 4 is definitely not too young to start music lessons, especially piano. Many teachers are happy to start teaching kids that age. 

    My son is now six but was an early read around age 4 - it was also during the height of the pandemic so we tried out a homeschool reading course and ended up really enjoying it. It's called All About Reading and can be found online. He's now starting Level 2 (he did the pre reading and L1 courses). Really easy to follow and you can see the reading progression clearly. Outside of reading I think your son could start music/piano if he's interested. There are piano teachers that teach this age as well as programs like music together rhythm kids that help foster music as a family. Hope this helps!

  • I am helping my kindergarten son to learn how to write. He can sound out and spell rhyming words after some thought (for example, cat/bat/sat; ball/call/hall; say/hay/lay) and he can write them as well, but his handwriting is what we call "wobbly" (a Winnie the Pooh reference). He doesn't like the activity books that we have that are supposedly for his age and he thinks they're a chore. However, he's got a big appetite, and beyond his regular meals he asks for at least a couple of snacks a day, so we've gotten into a habit of negotiating snacks/treats in return for spelling and writing. For example, if he wants 5 chocolate covered blueberries, I'll say he needs to spell 20 words, and after he spells 20, if he feels confident, he'll up the ante and say he'll write 10 more words for 5 more chocolates.. My sister tells me I'm treating him like a dog and using food as incentive is bad. But it works for us, and I would've given him the snack anyway... Besides chocolate covered blueberries, we also might use mochi ice creams, chocolate covered strawberry, yogurt pretzels, etc. 

    So I guess my questions are (1) how do you motivate a child to write, and (2) is using snacks a good or bad way to motivate? 

    We are low screen/TV/video games family, so that can't be used as the reward. 

    Oh my! That sounds like a very dangerous practice in so many ways! Isn’t he getting enough writing practice in school? If his kindergarten teacher has specifically asked you to work on writing with him at home then you should ask them for advice about how to motivate but DO NOT use snacks! If your teacher has not asked you to work on writing at home with your child, then let it be! Kindergartner often have wobbly writing but it will get better! If he has serious writing challenges (again, ask his teacher), then consider an Occupational Therapist for help.

    I’m not an expert so take this with a grain of salt, but this doesn’t seem great to me. Kid’s and adult’s relationship with food is a complex one, but I know some adults struggle with weight/food when food is viewed as a “reward” that gets deserved for things. It feels like you are setting your kid up for this. I think what type of food it is (healthy or not) doesn’t really change that. Food should be viewed as something we eat when we are hungry. It also seems like he is hungry so he in theory needs these snacks, so making him “earn” them also seems a little weird. Not that there is never a time and place for a snack or dessert as an occasional reward for something extra special, but as a daily thing seems a little risky.

    You mention no screens, but there must be something he does for fun? Can’t it just be that he can’t do the next fun thing until he has done the task?

    Hi there, we had a son with poor pencil grip, poor writing, lack of desire to write and a Fondness for snacks. I don’t think using treats as rewards is good in this context. Ideally what you would like is to encourage a natural desire to write and get better and giving rewards can get in the way of that. Using food as a reward can also make food even more appealing which can lead to eating issues down the road.  Also, kindergarten is just so young to be worrying about it.

    We took it on as a serious project in the summer after third grade and explained to our son that writing is a skill that he has to get better at so that he can progress in his education and we set aside regular times for him to work on it. We started really slowly with pencil grip and coloring and making sure his hand was comfortable and moved on to letter formation and writing words. I’m not sure he was ever super motivated to do it but we just explained what we were doing and why and made it part of the routine and at 9am we told him it was time to sit down and do it and the sooner he starts the sooner he will be done and we sat with him to do it.  Over time his fear decreased and his confidence improved and he became less reluctant  

    After two months he was doing great and we stopped it. The following summer we tackled free form writing (writing a few paragraphs answering a prompt). Again we started slow and easy (one paragraph on what you did last weekend type thing) and ramped it up over a few months to writing an essay with 3 or 4 paragraphs and a conclusion on different topics. Again he made so much progress through the summer he was in great shape heading back to school. 

    So my advice would be to give it at least another year, then pick a short time period (1-2 months) and pick an exact time when your child will work on it each week then let them make progress and end it. Don’t make it something you nag about constantly for months on end. At that time sit down with them and work on it together, do a high five then let them go play.  

    Hi there, what a great question. I highly recommend not using snacks or food as a motivator. I know how hard it can be to find motivation, but I’d be concerned this could lead to complicated feelings around food or even disordered eating behaviors later on. Does their teacher has recommendations? What else motivates your child? Maybe there’s ways to make it more fun or engaging? Does he have ideas for ways to make it more fun? Wish I had some more ideas but the take away would be to find another way to motivate. 

    I don't think it's "bad" to use snacks as an occasional motivator but I would also suggest you not put so much pressure on improving his writing. Most kindergarteners have "wobbly" writing and also don't like to do repetitive practice for anything. 20 words seems like a lot and he already sounds "advanced" in his skills for the average kindergartener. My basic understanding of developmental skills is that writing will naturally improve by 7-8 years old and putting more pressure on it too soon won't actually accelerate that.

    My only other suggestion would be to have someone else (family friend, babysitter, etc) be the one to help and to make a game out of it, instead of pressure from a parent. This helps my kindergartener. Writing (very basic) letters to family to send in the mail or adding captions to pictures to make a "book" (with help from parent) can make this more fun.

    I use prizes a lot to motivate my son to do "extra" work. He'll do his homework because his teacher requires it, but it is like pulling teeth to ask him to do one extra worksheet, or practice his handwriting. The idea is to offer temporary prizes in the short term to develop a long term routine, and then slowly take away the prizes till your child is self-motivated to do the work himself without being offered a reward. This works for almost all behaviors, not just extra homework. So for example, I'll put up a chart on the wall and every time he does a worksheet/practice/brushes his teeth, he gets a check mark. At 3-5 check marks, he'll get a small prize. (You need to start your prizes very small or else "prize inflation" will get you.) After a while I'll say, "You did so well on this, we need to raise the price." Then I'll ask for 10 check marks to get the prize. I keep it up every day until he forgets to put a check mark on the chart for a while, and then I'll say, "You did so well you don't even need prizes to do your work. Good job!" Since you're using something as small as a blueberry, you could start with one worksheet = one blueberry, and then delay the prize for 3 check marks = 3 blueberries later. The idea is not to reward the child one-to-one for every behavior, but allow him to earn the prize over time.

    One thing I would say: I would not call a chocolate covered blueberries a snack. I'd call it a treat, along the lines of ice cream and candy. Feed your son a filling snack when he gets home from school, like fruit, crackers, cheese, yogurt. Children work much better when they are well fed and their tummies are full. Then you can offer him a "treat" to do some work. Over time he might get tired of chocolates, and then you can try stickers, cheap toys from Daiso, etc. But the idea is to phase out the prize but keep the behavior.

    Good luck!

    The basic problem with using any kind of reward to get children to do things is that it doesn't give them a chance to develop intrinsic motivation to do those things. They will learn to look for external rewards as motivation. I would suggest that the reason you have to bribe your child to write is that because developmentally he is not really ready for tasks like sounding out words and spelling. Give him a chance to develop a natural interest in words and writing. Toss the workbooks and give him lots of paper and pencils and encourage him to write his own stories and let him write away. At kindergarten age they need open-ended, hands-on learning experiences and lots of opportunities for play. The writing and spelling will come easily when he is older, especially if he has been given the chance to develop his own motivation for learning to do these things.

    Former preschool teacher

    Food is a pretty basic and primal reward. If your child is capable of a higher level reward, use that, with the ultimate goal of an intrinsic reward.  I think of it like food is the first level (may be necessary for kids with severe intellectual or neurological differences, but most typical kids can move beyond this by toddlerhood), then stuff (a sticker, etc), then non tangible rewards (listening to their favorite music, a 5 minute dance party, 1:1 cuddle time, etc.), then praise (verbal- "you did it, super speller!", physical- like a high 5, or written- like a star on their paper), then it starts to move intrinsic. By kindergarten, he's probably ready for non-tangible rewards- 10 minutes where you just play with him and give him 100% attention or helping you make dinner when he's done, listening to favorite music while he works (but only while he's working, not taking a break), a wiggle break after every 3 words, etc. For my kiddo, who has ADHD, I made sure there was a visual right there so he could see what he's getting after X words- my phone for music, the toy he wants to play with together, the cutting board, etc.

    Also, consider that using food may be teaching him an unhealthy relationship with food- that it's for rewards, rather than for nourishing and fueling our bodies- which could lead to eating struggles later on, especially if he's already a big eater. AND, if he's that hungry at homework time, he may need some fuel for his brain so he can sit and focus. Try offering a healthy snack FIRST so he can concentrate, or doing the work after dinner.

    I got a bunch of beads from a bead store and used them as rewards -- our kid could exchange so-and-so many beads for something she wanted. The on-hand exchange items were sparklers and something I don't know the name of, little paper-wrapped things that come in boxes of 20, each one a bit bigger than a pea, makes a bang when thrown on a hard surface like the sidewalk.  Both sparklers and the banging things are available at paper&party stores and maybe places like Mr. Mopps.  You can suggest a bead "price" for a desired toy --for example,  if he gets one bead per day of doing his worksheets, maybe 10 beads buys a small ball.

    Some parents use beans; when the bean jar fills up to a certain line, the kids can trade them in for something they want.  You can also use stickers as a trade-in item -- as a reward in themselves, stickers get old, but they could be used like beads as currency.

    My kid is 16 now, and hasn't "bought" anything with her beads for a long time, but she still has them. 

    A big part of giving rewards is that they tangibly express your appreciation for the kid's work.

    This truly sounds like a recipe for food issues later in life -- there's a massive body of child development research that warns against using food as an incentive because of the psychological links it creates. You wouldn't force your child to eat food he hates as a punishment, right? And if your son has a 'huge appetite,' it's probably because he's growing and burning a lot of calories in his muscles and his brain. And denying food to a growing child for any reason sounds, uh... Well. You get the idea.

    You also don't mention why it's so important to you that your son's handwriting gets de-wobblified so quickly. It sounds like he's already at or ahead of the curve in terms of reading and writing skills. And even if he's behind the curve right now, so what? He's in kindergarten for a reason. Unless your son's teachers have said that drastic action needs to be taken, this seems like the sort of thing that will work itself out with time.

    If you are absolutely determined to push him on this, there's plenty of non-food and non-screen motivators: stickers, for example. Or check the local free groups to see if someone's giving away a bag of old Hot Wheels that can be meted out one at a time. Artist & Craftsman on Shattuck has tiny rubber animals for about 50 cents each. I'm sure you can think of something that your kid would be into and that wouldn't take up too much space in your home!

    And I know you said you're a low-screentime household, but if the problem is that the workbook is boring, I will say that there's a few great handwriting practice apps for kids out there. Duolingo has Duo ABC (free, no ads), and our 4yo loves "Writing Wizard for Kids" by L'Escapadou ($5, free to try).

    Just my thoughts. Hope this sparks some ideas!

    I think the real issue is that rewards for behavior of any kind aren't beneficial for children. Your child isn't intrinsically motivated to learn how to write better, but is instead relying on external motivation (treats). He's going to start expecting treats whenever he doesn't want to do something at school, as that's the association you're setting up for him now. Is his teacher concerned about his legibility? What if his handwriting is a wobbly for a while? To be honest, my husband has TERRIBLE handwriting and it hasn't hindered him at all in his life/career.

    Also, this practice can create an unhealthy relationship with food.

    I am no expert at this, but one approach might be not to make the snack an explicit reward for doing the spelling exercise, but simply scheduling the spelling before the snack --  say 2:30 for spelling then when the little hand points to the 3, time for snack.   Sounds like he is ahead of expectations for kindergarten.  Best if you can make the spelling and reading  a game in themselves.  Like you draw pictures of a cat, ball, dog, and he writes underneath what they are.  Wobbly handwriting -- standards of handwriting have deteriorated in the last 40 years (in the 1950s they taught "penmanship", but he should improve with practice and muscle development.  Maybe get him a fat pencil that is easy for him to hold.  Check how he is holding the pencil -- I see a lot of people using strange hand positions that look difficult to me.  You also should be reading to him from books while he can see the words on the page so he will recognize the connection. 

Archived Q&A and Reviews



Preschool Reading Madness

Jan 2010

Please someone, some perspective for me. If one more of my friends tells me about how ''Johnny'' can already read at age 4 I'm gonna spit! My child is bright, has always been read to (constantly), including plenty of rhyming stories, but is just, at 5, mastering the alphabet. Should I be worried? Should I be doing something else? Please, folks, be gentle, part of me knows this is insane.... new year, new worry...

Do not worry about your child at all. My son did not read in preschool, and not much in Kindergarten (in fact, at the end of Kindergarten, he still couldn't really differentiate between vowels -- pit, pot, and pat were routinely confused). He didn't really start to ''read'' (i.e. voluntarily pick up a book and read it to himself) until almost the end of first grade, though he loved (and still loves) being read to.

Now, in third grade, he's at the top of his class in reading. Routinely scores above the 90th percentile. And loves, loves, loves to read to himself. Gets mad if he doesn't have enough time to pick up his book and read it to himself at bedtime.

Research shows that the majority of normal kids who don't learn to read until Kindergarten or later, catch up by grade 3, as long as they have plenty of books read to them, and as long as they don't have a problem such as dyslexia -- which your child is too young to be diagnosed with. You are doing the right thing. Pushing your child to read early would actually create problems. You're right, it's craziness.

This used to drive me crazy too when my boys were little. Kids learn at different ages. Dont' put pressure on your little'll all happen in good time. Make this a fun to learn time and don't judge yourself or your child for being where he/she is. anon mom

Relax. A kid's brain will read when it is ready. Pushing/obsessing cannot make a brain develop faster. My oldest son was fascinated with symbols, and knew all his letters and numbers at 18 months. He read early. My younger son had no interest in learning letters, and was not remotely reading in preschool, or early in kindergarten. During spring break in kindergarten his brain kicked in, and his reading level jumped a year in one week. Fast forward: The older one (the early reader) is 18, and doesn't read much. The younger one (the late reader) is 14, and takes a book everywhere he goes. (He just read Machiavelli's ''The Prince'' for fun.) So don't worry about ''Johnny,'' or competitive parents desperate to believe their kids are gifted. Life (and certainly education) is not a race. Mom of Teenagers

Just stop talking with those extremely pushy parents. My girl had never read (couldn't even spell her last name) until the summer before she turned six. Additionally, she spent a whole year prior to that going to French immersion school. When you need to prepare your kid for Kindergarten, teach him/her and he/she will catch up pretty fast. No point pushing them into academics too early. That's just my perspective since I spent literally twenty years of my life in school! Plenty of time for school later. Let a child be a child. Monique

It sounds like you and your child are doing fine. Neither of my sister's kids were reading when they entered school (though they had gone to preschool, were read to regularly, watched Sesame Street, etc.), and now in 3rd and 4th grade they are near the top of their respective classes. Keep doing what you are doing as long as you are both enjoying it, and trust that your child will learn to read when he/she (i forgot which) is ready. t.

I have read over and over again that precocious readers do not necessarily evolve into gifted students in middle childhood. Like walking, and teething, and the myriad of benchmarks a parent encounters with their child--there is a range of development. My daughter is four. So far, no one in her class can read (thank GOD!), but I am constantly checking my ego because she has no desire to learn reading. I read to her an hour each day. When I begin to sound out the words with her, she gets irritated and implores me to just read to her. I will my ego into submission again and remind myself that she is four and her work right now is play. She has only eight more months left to *just play*, and it will be over. Forever. Play Is Their Work Now

I worried about this too, especially when I heard that Berkeley public schools expected children entering kindergarten at know their alphabet (seriously--they told us this at a parents' evening for incoming students). We ended up going to an out-of-district public school where the K-1-2 teacher had a Montessori and Waldorf background. His contention was that most children are not developmentally ready to read until late first or second grade. Sort of like pottie training: They do it on their own schedule. He advised me to put away the alphabet flash cards and stop pushing my child to do something she was not ready to do. Best advice ever! With the pressure off, we could enjoy what she was ready to do and concentrate on helping her grow into happy, well-adjusted learner. Fast forward: Reading finally clicked in late second grade, and in fourth grade she is an avid reader, reading well above grade level. By and large, it all evens out later, so who cares when they start?

But in the meantime, dealing the parents of the over-achievers was tough. I tried to remind myself that their comments were very possibly a reflection of their own insecurity. Nonetheless, I worked up several smart remarks: ''We're concentrating on her social skills instead!'' ''We're certainly enjoying our happy idiot!'' ''We're still working on blocks!'' Loving the last laugh

There is no value in preschoolers reading unless they choose to. I have heard many kindergarten teacher complain about reading being part of the curriculum. I read a study that said children who are pushed to be early readers/learners often struggle around second grade when school work becomes more challenging. I think most children start to read between 5 and 7 years of age.

Our family philosophy is to have our children enjoy being children, learn how to be make friends, and how to contribute to the family and community. There are so many ways and things to learn besides how to have an academic edge in preschool. anon

Please...there is so much pressure in this area for kids to do everything early...and then to let everyone else know about it. Some kids just ''get it'' and are early readers. It doesn't mean anything except that they are early readers! I was a 1st grade teacher before having kids and if a child entered my class knowing their alphabet, most of their letter sounds, and a few sight words, I was thrilled. And that's after kindergarten! Of course, things have changed since I was teaching and everything had been pushed down in the effort to meet the standards of No Child Left Behind. But it's not always developmentally appropriate. What you are doing with your child at 4 is perfect: reading to them, singing, engaging them in conversations about the world, etc. Don't get caught up in this madness. Kids will read when they are ready

Please don't worry! I read at 3 and figured my son would do the same. I worried when he was still not reading comfortably by age 7. His teachers kept telling me it was normal and then, boom, one day he was reading! For boys especially later reading is perfectly normal. He will get there. For now, enjoy reading to him whenever you can. I don't get to do that nearly enough these days! Mom of reader

Our preschool coop (run by the Hayward Adult Ed part of the school district) was very much against trying to teach pre- schoolers or even kindergartners to read. They taught us that most children learn to read by age 7 no matter what you do, so you may as well teach them other things in pre- school such as music, pre-reading language development skills, social skills, brain development activities, a foriegn language, manners, etc. Also they taught us that physical activity is related to brain development, so that swinging, twirling, leaping around on the play structure, etc. is going to help your child learn to read. France does not teach reading until age 7, which leaves them time to teach a foriegn language at an early age, and probably leaves the teachers more time to help kids with real reading problems such as dyslexia. We must work to change No Child Left Behind; moving standards down a grade level (making them age-inappropriate) is too blunt an instrument for fixing problems with under-performing schools. As one kindergarten teacher says, ''We can teach 'em long division in kindergarten, but it wont leave much time for anything else.'' - you'll probably get a flood of e-mails, so I'll leave off here -

Learning to read is like losing teeth. Every kid does it, some sooner, some later.

Most parents with young kids don't realize this. Kids that read early are perceived as geniuses, to the detriment of all. Try to get over it. - all kids read

It is hard to do...especially is this is your first child...but, ignore, ignore, ignore...

My elder daughter had the alphabet mastered at 3, but didn't start reading much beyond the first set of BOB books until 1st grade. My younger daughter didn't master the alphabet until a few months ago (at 4 1/2) but is now reading at a 1st grade level.

My father - a former superintendent of schools in a large California District - told me don't worry about where your kids 'are' at 4 and 5. Apparently, all kids end up 'where they are supposed to be' by 3rd grade. He means that a kid that missed out on the $15,000/year montessori preschool, may start K & 1st a little behind, but if he is smart, he will end up in the top math/reading groups by 3rd grade. The kid given every advantage in the book my excel in 1st grade and kindergarten, but end up in the middle of the pack by 3rd grade. Also, there is a HUGE divergence in achievement at younger ages, but gets closer as they get older.

That doesn't address whether or not something is 'wrong' with your child. My eldest niece turned 5 and still struggled with the alphabet despite having brilliant parents. It turned out that she had a couple of issues that were corrected with some therapy (I can't remember what the issues were, because they were really a bit odd, but totally correctable within a few months.). My younger daughter, refused to claim any knowledge of the alphabet until one day she read something to me off of a cereal box. She refused to exhibit a skill until she had already mastered it (and this often shows up with her...refused to take swimming lessons until she already taught herself to swim, etc.) -anon

Teaching my three year old to read

Jan 2009

My daughter is three years and seven months old. She is dying to learn how to read. Please no one jump on me about pushing my child too early. This has all come about by her own free will. For a few months she has been able to identify all the letters and the sounds they make (word world maybe? not from me!) When I noticed her interest I did start spending time talking about the letters with her, because she enjoyed it so much. She can also spell some three letter words by sounding them out.

Recently though she has become upset she can not read! She will open a book and say mommy I don't know how to read this, teach me to read. Both me and my husband have been really floored by this as none of her friends are anywhere near this (as far as I know, I try not to brag about my kid) While I don't want to push her, I feel if she really wants to, I should help her.

So my point to all this, where do we go from here? I tried to get her an easy reader book, but it feels like she needs more instruction. Anyone out there been in this situation? Should I get her a program that helps her to read? Is there a better approach I can take? I want to keep it fun too, so she is not turned off from reading. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thanks! Mother of a book worm

Good for you for spending time with your child and really paying attention to your daughter's passion around books. So many parents get sucked into the craziness of wanting to train their babies and little children to perform all sorts of tricks (for showing off purposes). Clearly, that's not what's going on with you and your daughter--she's lucky to have you! My little boy also LOVED to read from a very early age. Everything, from street signs, to name tags, to single letters, to of course books, were a source of wonder, and of course, sometimes, frustration as he struggled with the desire to put together shape, sound, word, meaning. You can do so much together. Explain to her that there are so many ways to read. Literacy isn't just about sounding out letters and words (which is precociously beginning to do). I LOVE wordless books for kids at this stage (and you will probably love them too. Go to the public library (I'd recommend alone first, just to see what's there, or even to check some books out and bring them home for her, or to come back with her and find them easily). The wordless books tell beautiful stories, but the children must supply the words. They build literacy and verbal fluency without the disruption and stumbling (counterproductive, really, at this early stage) of sounding out the letters).

This is one suggestion I have. There isn't one single best approach to this, but I think this is a really great and fun approach, and so developmentally tailored to where your daughter is at the moment.

One thing I also did with my two when they were little was draw with them and then we'd each ''read'' the scene in our drawing to each other. If they wanted, I would take dictation of their caption, so we still have quite a bit of illustrated, captioned art which is a reminder of these times when they were learning to read. I look at language skills at this stage as a ''package'' that includes speaking, listening, drawing, and observation, among many other things. But above all, as you know, all of this happens in a nurturing and social atmosphere where curiosity is encouraged but not overstimulated. Have fun! sara

Your daughter sounds very bright and motivated, and I'm sure she will quickly learn to read with some guidance. There are many systems and books out there that would be helpful, but my favorite aid in teaching my own daughter has been this website: I very highly recommend it to everyone trying to teach a child to read. There are sections appropriate for nearly every reading and pre-reading skill level. Plus, it's free! Good luck! Maile

I bet you'll get a lot of replies here, and most of them should be positive and encouraging! I learned to read early (like your daughter - at my own instigation), and it was a joy, not an obligation. Reading opens up the world to a kid - don't ever feel like it's the opposite of ''playing'' and ''being a kid.'' It's great! My stepmother recommended a book to me when my daughter was born - Glenn Doman's ''How to Teach Your Baby to Read.'' It's a little dated, but the concepts are sound. He and his followers recommend teaching kids as young as 6 months old to read! We haven't started this very much yet at my house (my daughter's 1), but his claim is that it is vastly easier for the brain to learn reading at that age than it is at 5 or 6. Here's a review of his book that gives a good recap: Good luck, and have fun! Alexandra

How wonderful that your child already loves reading! It's hard being a parent of a smart kid, because you're always unfairly accused of ''pushing.'' Just ignore those people and be proud of your intelligent and curious child! If your child asks to learn to read, go ahead and teach her.

I recommend Dr. Seuss books and the Bob books for early reading. Sit with your child and put your finger under each word and show your child how to sound out the letters. Explain some words are ''sight words'' and don't sound the way they are spelled.

My mom used to read Dr. Seuss books to me. We would sit together in an armchair, and she would put her finger under the words as she read. I loved the closeness of the mommy time and loved hearing the stories. I ended up reading at age three. Today I still love reading and find comfort from it. In the end, I believe learning to love reading is much more important than the age you learn, so share your love of reading with your child, teach her if she asks, but never force it. Loves to read

I have a daughter almost the same age, and while she hasn't shown signs of reading (she likes to 'read' by just reciting stories from memory or telling stories based on the pics in the books), we did get her a LeapFrog Tag system for Christmas, and that might be something you could consider for your daughter. Its pretty cool - its a pen that you use with special books (bought from Leapfrog) and it helps kids with both phonetics & words.

Anyway, just a thought - it would be fun for her and maybe she would feel like she's actually reading. Laura M

Hi! My daughter started reading at 3 without any pressure. Like your child, she had been interested in letters and words from an early age. We did a lot of drawing with bath tub crayons and eventually, around 2.5 she asked me to label the pictures--simple things like cat, lion, elephant and ball. She began to recognize those basic words and from there jumped to sight recognition of a lot of the words in her picture books very easily. At no point did we push her at all, we never used flashcards or any sort of program. She just really wanted to learn to read. Now she is almost seven and would still rather read than almost anything. reading is fun

Learning to read at your daughter's age is uncommon, but certainly not unheard of. Both of my kids could read before they were three. We never pushed them or even thought of teaching them to read at that age, but that's what they were interested in and we responded when they asked. We didn't feel it was right to hold them back when they were eager to learn on their own.

I would suggest just doing it the old-fashioned sound-it-out way starting with really simple words like cat, go, etc. My son wanted to know all about letters, sounds and reading at the age of two and that's what my husband did with him. He picked it up quickly.

I'm sure there are educational methods for this but we just went the simple way and it worked out fine. And as an anecdotal data point, being able to read earlier than their peers has had absolutely no detrimental effect on our kids--it made their lives richer. Other kids are now catching up, several years later, and they are all friends and work well together in school. Kids are sponges, give them something to soak up

Our little bookworm is 3 years and two months. Like your daughter, she can identify all the letters of the alphabet and their sounds (and, also like you, NONE of this came from her dad and I!). We've encouraged her and provided lots of early-reading activities since she showed such a strong interest, and we read to her a lot. Sometimes, she gets very sad and frustrated (to the point of crying) because she can't read to herself. Of course, this breaks my heart. I've tried two things: Since I learned to read from memorizing Dr. Seuss books, I sat down with her and we went over The Foot Book (which repeats the words ''foot'' and ''feet'' a million times) until she could recognize both those words and had memorized the few other words in the story. Bingo! She could ''read''! This little trick is still working, and whenever she gets upset about not being able to read to herself, I whip out The Foot Book and remind her that she can.

My dad recently gave her a set called Your Baby Can Read, which is a DVD program to encourage early reading. The DVDs are enjoyable and are definitely helping her word recognition. I think you can buy them online. You might want to check them out. Good luck with your book lover! Lora

Have you seen the BOB books? They build up from three-letter words, with just a few new letters introduced in each book. Your little girl may very well be able to read a whole book very soon! I see from the website that they now have ''My first bob books,'' but frankly, you can probably skip those and start right at Set 1, book 1. katy

My son began reading, spontaneously and fluently, after just turning 4. The best thing you can do for your daughter is just to continue to read to her. There are things like that she might enjoy, but reading to her is the best thing. Point to each word as you read the story.

Have you check the library to see if they have the Bob Books--early readers? You could read these together, and see if she picks up on it. Puzzles are really good for developing the skills needed for reading. Write books with her--let her dictate and you write the words sounding them out as you write. Read these over and over again, and it might be helpful for her to 'read' the books if she wrote the words, even if they are nonsense words (this is how kids figure out language).

I wouldn't spend money on any 'hooked on phonics' or anything like that. Spend that money on good books. You do not want to push academics too early (even if the child asks for it). My seven year-old really wants to learn to drive, but somethings will happen when the child is really ready for them to happen. follow the child

Why don't you stop dithering and just teach her to read? I learned how to read at 3 years old by sitting in my dad's lap while he read the newspaper, and it was one of the best gifts he's ever given me. get a grip

Have you tried BOB books? You can teach her the letters and the sounds (which sounds like she already knows). The books go in sequential order teaching letters and their sounds and using only those with other sight words to create simple stories. The order is based on how frequent they occur in the English language (so M and S are in the first book since most words have one or both of these letters in them). The sets of books build on earlier skills. You can find them online or I've also seen them at Barnes and Noble. BTW, it's not pushing if it's the child whose asking for it. 1st grade teacher and mother of a preschooler

Not sure if this is what you are looking for, but my daughter loves They teach letter sounds with graphics and repetition and have different levels as your child progresses. Plus, it's free. starfall camp

That's great that your daughter has an interest in and an aptitude for reading. If I were you, I would just get some simple books like ''Hop on Pop'' and start showing her how different letters form different words. Like you said, keep it fun--she'll probably ''teach'' you what the appropriate pace is.

Our daughter was eager to read as a toddler, too, and she became a fluid reader at age 3 with no particular plan or program on our part. Here's how it happened. I loved reading to her, so we would stack up the books at bedside and read together for as long as she wanted each night. I would point to each word as I read, so she could make the connection between the spoken and the written word. We would re-read a lot of books, so pretty soon, if she recognized a word she would jump in and say it before I did. Occasionally, I would pause at a word and point at it to give her a chance to say it if she knew it. If she didn't, I'd help her break it up phonetically. But we wouldn't spend a lot of time on phonetics. The goal was always to enjoy a lot of stories together. Pretty soon, she was taking the books out of my hands and reading them entirely to me. At that point, I let her read to herself books that were within her reading range, and I would select more difficult books for our read- togethers. By the fourth grade, she was independently reading Victor Hugo and Charles Dickens. Those hours snuggled in bed reading with her are some of the best memories I have of her toddler years. Good luck! CCH

Go for it! She'll need to know the alphabet and the sounds each letter makes. Once she knows those, she'll be able to start sounding out words. My girls didn't read until kindergarten, but they were both very interested in books way before then. The first book they actually read was a Dick & Jane book of several stories--the old ones we used to read way back when. There are plenty of pictures, which teachers have told us really help kids get the hang of comprehension when they are first learning to read. And the stories are very short, with short sentences: See Dick. See Dick run.... So after reading about 10 words, and flipping a few pages, the child has already read a whole story, solo. The girls read them over and over again, and were completely delighted and proud. The stories gradually get more difficult as the book progresses. heidilee

How wonderful that your daughter wants to learn to read! As a former elementary school teacher, I have found that there are a few things that really help early readers take off:

1. Language Experience: Have your child dictate a story to you. Write or type one or two sentences per page and have your child illustrate them. If you can, laminate and bind the pages so it becomes her special book. Since the words are hers, she'll be able to identify them easily. It may seem like she is just memorizing the pages, but she is actually learning to identify the words and will eventually be able to pick them out of other books.

2.Phonics games: It sounds like you are already doing this, but encourage her to make the sound of the letters she sees and try to put them together into words.

3. Read books to her and have her repeat sentences after you read them. The logic is the same as with Language Experience.

4. Pick up some books on tape from the library and have her follow along as they are read.

I hope this helps! Have fun! Anon

If she is begging to read- teach her! My daughter sounds very similar to yours. She has always noticed letters and words way earlier than others her age. Once, at about 20 months at the playground she pointed to another kid's shirt with writing on it and said ''Look ABCs!'' At just over 3 she sounded out ''Gilman'' on a street sign and I almost fell over. We have always encouraged her when she was interested in something, but never tried to push things. She is now four and has been reading and writing simple words for over a year. The things we did were this: After she knew all her letters by site, start teaching the sounds that they make, especially easy consonants like C, T, M, S, etc.., then playing I spy with sounds/letters- like ''I spy something red that starts with C (or making the c-sound), yes it's the C-c-ar! (enunciating the c sound). We had some nice coloring/workbooks that had pages where you matched the letter to pictures that began with each sound. Then when reading books, point to the words as you read so she'll get it that each word goes with different sounds- or just point to the short, easy words. Any Dr. Seuss book is good for this, but I think Hop on Pop is one of the best. There is also a great set of books called the BOB books- They are old and some of the stories very contrived to use only 3 letter words, but my daughter loved that she could read EVERY word! My daughter now has stopped being so obsessed with reading, and if I point to a word and ask her, she'll sometimes say, ''No mom, you read it'' so we just follow her lead. Congrats on having a daughter who is so interested in reading. We have had fun with it! Mom of a reader

I read the first bunch of replies to your question and wanted to add something. I have two early readers (one learned at two, the other at three) and my experience is that the younger the child, the more they learn by memorizing sight words and putting together word 'chunks' just like putting together a puzzle (i.e. st-ar vs s-t-a-r) and the less they utilize/understand phonics. Besides, the English language is incredibly full of broken phonetic rules, so I wouldn't focus too much on phonics at this age. Specifically, I would not recommend the Bob books because the words look too much the same which can be confusing for a young reader, the print is really small and the pictures are uninspired. Dr. Seuss books didn't do much for us either because they are just too long and the kids want to read a WHOLE BOOK! I would look for a good quality picture book with big print and very few words per page. Don't worry about how 'hard' or 'easy' the words are. Then follow the others' advice and read it over and over, pointing out each word until she can read it herself. Repeat often and she'll be reading before you know it. Good luck! been there, done that

Reading in English: How to teach a 3.5-year old?

June 2008

Here's our situation: my husband and I are not native English speakers, but having spent over 12 years in this country and graduated from local universities, our English is pretty fluent at this point and more or less grammatically correct. Of course, there is always the accent, but that I guess that will just have to be our trademark for the rest of our lives. We have a 3.5-year old, whose primary language is English, although he also understands his parents' native tongue. We have been reading to him in both languages since he was a baby and at this point would like to start teaching him to read in English (with kindergarten on the horizon, etc.). The problem is - I have no idea how to approach this. In terms of learning how to read, my native language is probably a lot easier, as it is, what I believe is called, phonemic -- basically, you pronounce it the way you read it. Therefore, by learning the sound of various letter combinations you should be able to read most of the words even if you have no idea what they mean. As a result, by grasping a fairly limited number of ''rules'', you are able to read. English is a completely different story, it is not as ''logical. For example, the combination of letters E, A and R sounds differently in ''ear'' and ''bear''. Therefore, it seems to me, that in order for a child to learn how to read in English, he or she has to memorize the words, as opposed to learning the sounds formed by particular letter combinations. So, my question is, how do I teach my son to read? Are there any books on the subject? Are there classes for clueless parents? Any specialists in the area who can advise us? Thanks. anna

I'm currently watching my 4.5yo learn to read; here's my advice: First of all, I don't think at 3.5 you have to ''teach'' him to read. Read aloud to him in English, work on recognizing letters and their sounds, but don't push anything. When my son showed an interest in reading (sounding out words in books, on signs, etc.) we bought some books geared toward beginning readers and helped him through them, but we've kept it very low key. While it's not unusual to read at 4, I don't think it's universal, either, so let him go at his own pace. Kids seem to take in stride all the craziness of English phonics. I don't think they're memorizing all the words -- just learning the various ways different combos of letters can be pronounced. And they get better with practice -- it's ok if they make mistakes as they're learning. Hey, I'm a native English speaker and in my 30s, and I still pronounce new words wrong sometimes. My advice in a nutshell: Relax, provide him with the tools (simple books, hearing you read, guidance on letter sounds) and let him set the pace. When he's interested, he'll learn. Reader's Mama

You are right that English is a hard language to learn to read. Your kid may be especially advanced, but at 3.5, most kids are not developmentally ready to learn to read. You should just continue to read him lots of books, as he is interested. If he does become interested in learning to read, start by teaching him the sounds of the letters in the alphabet.

Almost all schools these days teach reading using a phonemic approach. First they teach the sounds of the letters, then they teach the kids to sound out simple words that do follow phonemic rules like hat, cat, etc, just like they do on sesame street. Eventually, they teach ''families'' of words that do not follow phonemic rules, but all sound alike, like look, book, cook, or bear, wear, etc, and sight words - words that you just can't sound out like of, the, is, etc.

In about a year, you might want to try this book: ''Teach Your Child To Read In 100 Easy Lessons.'' This is a proven method for teaching kids to read, and works very well for kids that are developmentally ready to learn to read, are interested in learning to read, and enjoy very personally involved learning (this is a direct instruction method). For kids that are more independent, try a series of phonics books like ''Primary Phonics'' or the ''Bob'' books. The words in these books are preselected to follow phonetic rules, so you can teach them one rules, like ''a'' makes the ''a'' sound like in ''apple'', and the kid can then be successful at reading a whole story independently. -Former reading tutor

My advice is that it is WAY too early to ''teach'' your 3.5 year old child to read, and any ''pre-reading skills'' that you'd like to introduce to your child in the form of fun and games will really be language-independent (well, this will be most true if your native language has an alphabet and not characters as in Chinese). Age appropriate skills (dressed up as games) can include learning the letters of the alphabet (those in English and your native tongue would be fun), their sounds, and playing with words that start with those letters. Some 3-year-olds are also interested in trying to write a few letters, some not at all. The most important thing is to let your child's interest level be your guide. If they are not having fun, back off! The worst thing you can do is to turn your kid off to reading, and it might be better to just let time take its course. Indeed, many early childhood education specialists believe what we've done to kindergarten in California and much of the rest of the US is horrible, and that forcing 5-year-olds to read is not productive and, further, for kids who are not physically or mentally ready to read at age 5, even counter-productive. Most kids will be reading by the age of 7 or 8, and recent studies have shown that whether they learned to read at age 4, 5, 6, or 7 simply didn't matter by the time they were 8 in terms of their reading skills or their intelligence levels. For some kids, reading comes naturally at 3 (especially those with older siblings), for others not until later. So give your kid a break. Play games, don't try to ''teach'' them to read. Expose them to you reading, other kids reading, take them to the library, read lots of books (see if they're ready for chapter books like Little House on the Prairie books, Beverly Clearly books -- some 4-year-olds are ready for this and it really will help them with reading and vocabulary in the LONG RUN), give them lots of arts and crafts, play games with letters, talk to them a lot using a rich vocabulary in your native language and perhaps in English if you already do this. But focusing on the act of reading itself and trying to teach it to a 3.5 year old because *you* want to do that is likely to be counterproductive. kb

This might not be what you wanted to hear but I would say, don't teach your baby to read English. 3.5 is still very young and teachers at school will teach your child to read and then you will reinforce that by reading a with your child in the evenings. My parents are non-native English speakers. I was born in the States but didn't speak English until I went to school and turned into an avid reader and writer. (I am now a published author with a PhD from Berkeley.) I have siblings and the story is the same for them. I now have a toddler of my own and we speak as little English around her as possible. The challenge, we have realized, will not be making sure that she speaks/reads/writes in proper English but in making sure she she speaks/reads/writes proper Italian and can communicate with her grandparents, cousins etc. I would say read as many books as possible in your native language. Making sure your child has access to a lnaguage other that English is a great gift only you and your partner can give. Read in your native language

My mother is a retired reading specialist. She recommends that parents not try to teach their children to read in the early years. It's a waste of time because it will all be repeated in elementary school, and is boring to your child when they're too young. The very best thing you can do to increase your child's literacy and love of reading is to read aloud really great stories with great pictures and interesting vocabulary. It's also not so important what language you read to your child in. Children's brains have incredible language facility. Your child's ability to speak and understand a foreign language actually enhances his ability to speak, understand and (eventually) read English (or any other language.) So, my advice is to enjoy really great children's literature with your child, don't worry about pronunciation, and don't worry! amelia

My advice - don't bother. He doesn't need to know how to read before kindergarten. If he isn't in a preschool that does some ''pre-academics'', go ahead and teach him letter names (use ABC books, puzzles, etc) if it makes you feel better, but reading to him a lot is more important now that trying to figure out phonics. anon.

Visit the library frequently, check out lots of books. Read them. If you do screen time with your child, is great resource. There is a leapfrog video called ''Letter factory'' and ''word factory'' that teach phonics and even address blending.

I am not at all advocating that you let your child watch tv use the computer to learn to read, but only recommend these things if you do screen-time already... Just reading and having lots of pencils/crayons/ paper around are great.

Montessori Read and Write: A Parent's Guide to Literacy for Children by Lawrence, Lynne is a great resource, some people like
Or phonics Pathways :

Have fun, your child will learn to read. I wouldn't press a 3.5 year-old to learn to read unless they are truly interested. Many children do not read until 7 or 8, and English is everywhere and not that difficult to read... when the child is ready homeschool is fun mama

i would start with letter recognition & phonics. these links might help
good luck! avid reader

Am I hearing that you want to teach your 3.5 year old to read because of kindergarten--which is probably at least one and a half years off and a child doesn't have to read to start kindergaten? You child sounds like he will have a wonderful and valuable bilingual life (quite lucky) and, it's great that you are thinking about the complexity of languages, but I'd not push him to learn to read like you are describing (or worry about how to teach to read). It's just too much for a little one to grasp and for you. From your post, it seems like you might think that he'd be behind if he doesn't read now. That couldn't be farther from the truth. anon

My advice is just to enjoy reading with your son. There is no need to ''teach'' him to read at age 3-he will be taught this in kindergarten. He should know his letters before K, and you can teach him this-and what sounds they make, if you like. Otherwise, unless your child just starts to spontaneously read on his own, and he's interested in learning more...don't push it. anon

Teaching My Toddler to Read

Dec 2006

Hi - my daughter is in a daycare that is primarily play based. She's doing well and her social skills are fine. I would like to supplement her development by focusing on the next stage of learning (reading & simple math). My problem is that I don't know how to ''teach'' her to read or do simple math. Any recommendations for books or websites that can help me? We already read books each night and she's got a great vocabulary. I just think we're ready to take it to the next step, but I don't know what to do to move forward. Thanks for your help! How to Primer

Be very careful about doing this. I would only advise teaching reading and mathematics if your child is either a bit of an early-developer in verbal skills or really, really wants to, and is already asking ''How do you say this'' ''How do you add that?''. It can be very frustrating for both the parent and the child when a parent tries to force this kind of thing. Some kids learn at 7, and I've know of one who was reading by 18 mos. Try not to push it. Besides my little warning, the best way is non-pressured, simple games and activites. Of course, you're probably already reading to her, so if she's already learned the alphabet start having her look at simple words while you're reading, and ask her ''What do you think this word is?'' or ''What do you think this letter is?''. As for mathematics, you can use blocks, small items, etc. for counting, adding and subtracting. It will probably take a while to get beyond the numbers 1-20 and how you subtract them. Despite my warning, if you child is ready, learning to read and do mathematics early can be wonderful. The main things is that if you child isn't ready, not to force it Aleksandr

My advice is not perhaps what you want to hear, but it's based on that of most experts who really understand early childhood: DON'T teach your child to read or do math. If your child is the one who expresses interest, by all means allow her to pursue it. But formal teaching of reading or math (as they are defined in school) can actually be counter productive and result in difficulties later. On the other hand, there are lots of play activities you can do that will help.

By all means, keep reading to her -- and ask lots of questions about what just happened, what will happen next -- so that she can be involved in the process. Get her magnet letters and allow her to play with them. Allow her to do lots of ''writing'' and drawing -- as she wants to. Play counting type games with her, and clapping games, and building games (blocks etc.). But let her interest guide you. This will be a much healthier way for her to learn Karen

Visit Lakeshore Learning in San Leandro. (The San Leandro Store has a discounted back room.) If you do so on Saturday from 11 - 3 your daughter can work on the craft project, and build independence while you roam the store.

My daughter who was reading simple sentence and doing simple math before kindergarten learned by using counting bears (various sized), a balance scale, weights and write on place mats.

She also learned to read by logos. Target, Safeway, Oakland, Peet's, Bank of America, etc. My daughter became aware that written words help us know where we are going. We also talked about Peet's sounding like Uncle Pete, but being spelled differently.

In first grade my daughter is top in her class in homophones (we used to call them homonyms) and compound words. It all goes back to logos. It's also a lot of fun to learn by counting, weighing and reading common, everyday items Learning is Fun

My advice to you is ''DON'T!'' The reason your daycare/preschool is ''play oriented'' is because that is what your child should be doing at this age -- not striving for intellectual prowess. Most kindergarten teachers will tell you that the recent push for reading/math in kindergarten is WRONG and that children don't need to start learning these things until they are at least 6 or 7. They don't fall behind or learn less if they wait!

Your child can be intelligent creative caring happy and BALANCED without learning to read and do math in the toddler or even preschool years.

Lighten up! Spend the time playing with her in the park or yard -- have quiet time together playing finger games & singing songs. She doesn't have to prepare for that Ivy League school yet! anon

I have found to be a valuable website for getting materials to develop my toddler's and preschooler's reading, math, critical thinking skills. Sylvia

Just continue to read to you child. Read, read, read... all kinds of books. Big books, picture books, etc. Pick up early readers at the library (Bob books, etc.) and read them to your child. Point to the words as you read (you don't have to do this with every single page, just a few pages/every other page...).

If you'd like, go to the bookstore/library and look at the homeschooling/teacher section. But I would caution you to not spend money on these books or phonics programs--they tend to be a waste of money when you could just buy good books to read and enjoy with your child. DO NOT force a preschooler into any kind of real structured learning that is not child-lead. My son is 5 years old and reads at a 1st grade level, and we just read and talked about letters...

Simple math can be introduced--adding, subtracting and kids love geometry... but don't worry if she doesn't seem to ''get it''--there is a lot going on and you don't know what she gets and doesn't, really... looking at patterns in nature is also wonderful happy homeschooling mom

I'm not sure why you feel you need to teach a toddler to read and do math. Just engage with her and let her play! That's how kids learn. Age-appropriate books introduce letters, colors, counting, word sounds, etc. Also your daily interactions with her introduce concepts she will later build on. For example, ''do you see the white chickens? I see one, two, three, four, five chickens.'' AS

Teaching my 2 year old to read

May 2006

My 2 year 4 month old son has known his alphabet since 18 months, and was able to recognize all of the letters by the age of 22 months. He has begun to take serious interest in books, and ''reads'' all of the time. He is also looking at words and naming letters in the correct order, and can tell you the sounds that almost every letter makes. I honestly think it's time, but I have no clue where to begin! Any ideas or books for me? Lauren

Begin with vowels, a,e,i,o,u Put them into short words with the consinents he knows the sounds of. Find short board books for beininng readers at the library or book stores. Read to him following what you read with your finger so he can hear it and see it. Get a fun flash card game. Go to the dollar store and buy magnetic alphabets (several sets, one is never enough) that can be used on a cookie sheet or jelly roll pan. He can spell, read, & sound out to his heart's content. Just keep an eye on him, or buy all capital letters sets - there may be a risk of swallowing if he is not out of the mouthing stage Ex-preschool teacher

I had this same thought when my daughter was almost 3 (she's almost 4 now), but ultimately decided against it. First, I would question what really makes a child ready (I don't know-maybe you'll get feedback from teachers), but I don't think knowing letters and sounds and having an interest in books is necessarily the full spectrum of skills needed. Like your child, mine talked really early, knew all her letters at 18 mos. (and the sounds they all made before 3), can recognize many words and loves to be read to and ''read'' herself. She can write many letters and has figured out how to spell simple words on her own. I believe she could probably be ''taught'' to read at this point, but I really don't see the value-it might destroy her natural enthusiasm. I'd question why you want your child to have a skill like this earlier than the norm. Kids will learn to read at the appropriate age in school, or on their own. I'd recommend instead lots of fun activities to encourage interest, like spending lots of time in libraries, storytelling, writing down a story s/he tells you, making up games about the alphabet, etc. Some type of preschool program, at whatever age you choose, would also probably be fun for your child. I also think developing one skill/interest area to the exclusion or minimization of others at this age is probably not healthy. Better your child is encouraged to develop at his/her pace in all areas: social, physical, artistic, etc.-even the ones s/he doesn't appear interested in or have much aptitude for. Time will come soon enough that you will have to be concerned with grades and homework and ''how much is my child learning?'' For now, just enjoy and let your child do the same! Julie

Our son also learned his letters and sounds quite early-- he's now 4 and can read quite fluently, including chapter books. We never taught him exactly, we just spent a lot of time reading books to/with him and made a few resources available to him with which he seemed to teach himself. These included a couple of fun videos on phonics (I forget exact titles but they are made by Leap Frog-- one is on letters and the other on words); also my husband found a cheap (and old) copy of Hooked on Phonics on Ebay. I thought it was kind of absurd, but my son would spend hours looking at these cards and booklets, totally fascinated.Also, the old Dick and Jane series has been republished, and he loved the kid-friendly pictures and story lines and simple words. I doubt this approach would work for most kids, but reading is our son's area of particular interest, so we just tried to follow it and provide him opportunities. mom of another early reader

Helping Preschooler Start Reading

May 2006

My 3 1/2 year old daughter is exhibiting an interest in ''reading''-she has started spelling out words and can recognize a few. I feel like I have heard that schools (or at least some) don't teach reading by phonics. What other ways are there to begin reading other than with phonics? Or maybe when ''phonics'' is referred to in this sense it means something different than what I think which is sounding out words by the sound of each of the letters? Confused Reading Mentor

Both of my kids started reading early as well. I didn't use a curriculum. I just read to them, helped them sound out words using my fingers (c-ah-t), etc. I didn't push them in any way; they really did do it themselves. Early readers will display their interest and just break the code on their own. It's a good parenting lesson to watch, observe, and facilitate their learning. Have fun Laurel

Teaching a toddler to read

April 2003

I have a 16-month-old girl who loves books and is insistent that we read to her out of books, magazines, and newspapers. A friend has recommended the book, How To Teach Your Baby To Read, by Glenn Doman. Is anyone familiar with this book or its theories? Could it be damaging developmentally to teach my child to read at this age? I want to encourage her to be an avid reader, but I do not want to push her in anyway or make learning unpleasant. I would appreciate any thoughts regarding this topic.

If your baby loves book and loves to be read to to her! Studies have shown that very young children who are ''taught'' to read do so often times to please the adults around them. Later, when they enter school, they are often ''ahead'' of their classmates, and receive the adult approval they need. But other children don't particularly like these kids, and many have not learned the social skills they need to deal with other kids.

Later, in second or third grade, these ''advanced'' children who were ''early readers'' begin to slip, because ''the rote learning processes they'd used to learn earlier didn't generalize to the more complex learning they needed in later grades. They seemed stuck with more primitive learning methods.'' This is from Brazelton's Touchpoints book, page 213. He goes on to say that these children then lose the adult approval that they had before and are left feeling pretty bad.

To end, my son entered (and exited!) kindergarten without knowing how to read. By the end of first grade, he was the most advanced reader in the class, and had WAY surpassed his peers who came into kindergarten already knowing how to read.

Brazelton ends his passage by saying that there are many materials out there that say you can teach your baby to read. His advice: Don't do it. Read to her, and if she really wants to learn to read at such a young age, she will teach herself! A mother and educator

I can't comment on the book -- I've never read it -- but I do think actively trying to teach a child under 3 to read is probably misguided. If your baby loves books and asks to be read to, you're doing everything right thus far. A child who loves books, associates reading with pleasure (especially with pleasurable social interaction with parents), and is read to often will usually learn to read without difficulty, and will tend to keep reading. Specifically trying to teach a child letters or phonics or some such at this age might take some of the pleasure out of it for her, especially if she's pressured at all.

If you're thinking that maybe if your child read, you could read to her less often, that's probably not the right approach. In fact, most reading experts encourage parents to read often to kids long after they can read themselves -- as long and as often as their child wants them to. Karen

I was in your shoes a while ago. Both my husband and I were reading at age 3 and I thought that my son would read early, like us. I was somewhat dismayed when he wasn't reading at age 3! Then I realized that I was setting unrealistic expectations, and I took some time to get a reality check: How important, is it, really, to read early? It turns out he can read now, at 4.5, which is still pretty early. It's really great and I am definitely proud of him, but now we can't spell words in front of him and he can read the newspaper with the awful headlines. I would rather he not read headlines like, ''Bomb kills children.''

One thing I learned over and over again in school (I have a degree in child development) is that children develop at their own rate. It can be difficult to let go and let them do their thing on their own and it's very hard not to compare your own child's growth with other children's. I guess this is all my longwinded way of saying, don't TEACH your child, take it easy. Don't freak if your kid isn't reading early. It will happen in his own sweet time.

So, how did my son learn to read so early? Hmmm... My husband and I read books ALL the time. We do not have a TV. He plays educational computer games that help teach letter/sound recognition. He plays those LeapFrog games (my husband used to work for LeapFrog so we got all the toys for free). We made letter pancakes, letter cookies, letter biscuits, drew his name on the foggy car and house windows. We read books to our kids every night before bed, while they're sitting on the toilet, and when we're sick or sad. Because we have no TV he picks up books out of boredom and just reads to himself (usually while I am ignoring him by reading my e-mail). We go to the library. We read street signs. That's how he learned to read.

I don't think it would be damaging developmentally to teach your child to read. But it would be like trying to potty train your child if they're not ready -- you'd be working for a year until FINALLY they were trained. When you could have spent your year not stressing, just playing, and then when they were ready (a year later) they did it just like that. From my perspective as a mom of two, I'd say, just let it be. Your kid will get it when she's ready. My two cents Laurel

I, too, would like my child to be an avid reader, and she sometimes is, but I have some doubts about teaching infants to read (and about the whole idea that children must and should share their parents' interests). Children read when they're ready to. Being read to and seeing their parents read will serve as encouragement. In the meantime, let babies be babies. They have plenty of time to learn to read. Melanie

I'm very uncomfortable with the ''genius-makers'' who want to teach a baby to read. There are so many many things that your baby is learning on her own right now, why disrupt the natural process that she's going through? I think that you should read read read read read read read to her, some new things every day but also the same books over and over so that she begins to memorize them and feel the pleasure that we all feel from hearing a familiar ''liturgy'' of words. She will surely grow up to be an avid reader at her own pace if reading is associated with parental love and closeness, not ''lessons.'' Letitia

I expect you'll get a lot of response to your question because 16-month-olds cannot be taught to read. It is unbelieveable to me that someone claims they can. My daughter, 19 months old, also LOVES books. So we read to her constantly and let her flip through books anytime, anywhere. That is the best you can do now to encourage your child's love of reading. Hopefully that will translate into a continued interest and eventual ability to read herself, when it is developmentally possible (which won't be for a while). a developmental psychologist

I am an elementary school teacher for 7 years and now I am a reading specialist and a mom of a two year old. First, let me say that your baby is so fortunate to have parents reading to her. This love for reading will lead her to be a successful reader. What she really loves is hearing your voice and having your undivided attention. Hearing and seeing repeated stories and patterns.

Your baby is in the first stages of becoming a reader. That is, she is being shown a love for books. Next, she will open books and look through them, bring them to you so you can read to her. Later she will even say what is happening in the story with a one or two word response. Like, when I read ''if You Give Mouse a Cookie' my son says 'milk' when we get to that page. He is not reading the black symbols on the bottom of the page , he is reading the pictures and remembering what we call that, from his life and from my talking about milk. This, in my opinion, is the beginning of reading.

To force those black symbols on the page to take on meaning at such an early stage in develepment is, to me, unnecessary and a bit silly. Your child will eventually take interested in those symbols and may know some letters of the alphabet, and you can tell her a little bit about how those symbols work and why they are there. Let you child be the guide to what you teach her. Some children get really interested in that early on and take it on.

I have seen children who come into kindergarten ''reading'' Harry Potter and the parents think she is a genious. Well, the child has learned the skill of decoding letter symbols into sounds, decoding. Do they understand or comprehend what they read, no. This is a problem because they begin to decode too fast and they have to find a way to comprehend the story in a sea of symbols and sounds and known and unknown words.

My point, a child should have massive exposure to books at their level. Exposure from infancy throughout their entire childhood.

By the time they enter kindergarten they should know their alphabet and even the sounds of what the letters say. They may even know how to decode words like, c-a-t . Let's not forget writing as an important part of reading. Teach them to write letters and some words, they'll love it. You can read story books to them, with the aim of teaching them to comprehend and understand.

You'll be busy enough with this much. The aim is to have fun with books with your child. Relax, the interaction and one on one oral language development is what is most valuable. Do you know how many children come to kindergarten and can't say anyone has ever showed them a book, don't even know where the front of a book is, and have had very little 'real conversation' about life around them? Have fun. anon

4 year old's huge interest in reading

October 2002

My four year old daughter has recently developed a huge interest in letters and numbers and spends much of her time pretending to read. She also enjoys learning to ''draw'' letters of the alphabet. What should I be doing to encourage her? Should I be doing anything? (I hear there are pitfalls to ''forcing'' academics.) I have two younger children so I'd love to know what I can do to channel this interest in the most efficient way possible. My husband or I spend about 15 min. per day reading to her. Is that enough? She's my oldest and I'm pretty clueless about how (and when) kids learn to read and write and what I should or should not be doing to make it happen. Thanks very much! Katherine

How wonderful for you that your daughter is showing such interest. I'd say make it all a game. Have a ''letter of the week'' (or day) and try to find that letter on road signs, cereal boxes, books of course, computer games, etc. Show her how to write the letters of her name and let her ''practice'' with you holding her hand as you write. Help her to trace letters with tracing paper. Write large letters on paper and have her ''decorate'' the letter with crayon drawings. Teach the ABC song. I'm sure as you go along you'll think of more! Have fun! anon

I am a speech-language pathologist with a home business in reading tutoring. My advice is that all parents should be working on ''pre-reading'' skills with their preschoolers. It's especially nice that your daughter is showing such interest, but if she wasn't I might encourage some time on reading skills even more! It's good to make the activities a game and not to try to work on everything all at once. 10-15 minutes a day may be enough. Many things you can do ''on the fly'' - in the car, while eating, while reading...Plus reading to her as much as she wants to listen.

Here are some good things you can ''play'' at home: Sing the alphabet while pointing to the letters Find letters - Can you find a 'b'? Name letters - What's this letter? Work on learning to write her name Ask questions when you read to her - What happened? Who....? Where...? What do you think is going to happen next? Why...? General ''when'' questions like day or night, winter or summer... Play rhyming games - you can get flashcards for this and play games like ''memory'' and ''go fish'' to find rhyming pairs Talk about words that start with the same sound - ''let's think of words that start with the *sound* 'buh'. Bat, ball, big, boy...'' (It might start out as mostly you, then eventually can ask her if she can think of one - or you can give choices - Which one starts with 'buh', boy or girl? Or play ''I spy'' -I spy something that rhymes with... Your turn. or I spy something that begins with 'buh'. Help her learn to trace letters in textures - popcorn kernels in a tray, beans in a tray, sand, shaving cream, finger paint, etc. Hope this helps! These ought to keep you busy for a while. Kristin

I don't think you have to worry about ''forcing'' academics if the child is clearly interested in reading and writing. The more you read to her, and the more you do ''pre-reading'' activities (e.g. helping her draw letters, pointing out letters and words in books, getting her magnetic letters and naming them for her, helping her to ''spell'' words with them, having her find the first letter of her name, etc.), the better, as long as it's what she wants to do. Karen

Yes, it's okay to encourage your daughter to learn to read if she WANTS to! You only don't want to FORCE her to read if she has no interest. I learned to read at 3. All my mother did was read me a lot of books, and spend time with a flash card set of basic words. My daughter, on the other hand, learned much later, at 5. Yet today, at 7, she is a voracious reader, urging me to take her to the library every day (''because I already finished the four books we got yesterday''). Here's what we did: read to her a lot, bought books with large print and simple words, put our fingers underneath the words as we were reading, and read books ourselves around her. We never ''taught'' her to read or made her read when she didn't want to. On the other hand, we answered all her questions, encouraged her to read and write letters, praised her when she recognized letters or words. Loves reading

I am a teacher and a reading specialist in the elementary school. Be happy that your daughter is showing a natural progression to know more about books. This is not the beginning of her being a reader. The beginning was the first time you opened a book to show her......I assume when she was a baby, the best time!! She probably used to point to pictures and study the pictures a long time to get to know what they were. After she knew a picture she would flip through the book quickly to see what else she needed to figure out. Now she has progressed to look at symbols. She may ask what letter this is, or what do you call this. It is a symbol, just like pictures were for her. Tell her what it is when she asks. No need to start getting the practice books out or flashcards. Just let her lead the growing need that will eventually turn her into a fluent reader. Your child doesn't NEED to be a reader by Kindergarten. When we push our children passed what they are ready for.......we put them in a place they are not ready to be in and which feels foreign to them, in turn, they feel unable and that turns into feelings of inadaquacy which turns into a brick in a wall that blocks learning. Just go with her flow. Make it a happy time, the same as it was when she was a baby and you read to her. You weren't worried that she must know what that picture of the ball is. You just asked, ''What is that'' and she said,''ball'' OR you said,''point to the ball'' and she did or didn't.....if she didn't, you pointed and said calmly, that's a ball and talked about the ball that she played with at the park today. Most of all have fun and feel happy that you have set a foundation that is turning her into a reader. Yes, keep reading every day for 15 minutes or as long as she wants, or less if she wants. When she is in grade school 2nd &3rd the time increases to 30 minutes or more. Good luck! anon

Since your child is interested in letters, I would definately encourage her learn more. I didn't do enough for my oldest child because I didn't realize how much they learn in kindergarden and first grade. I left it to the schools to educate him and he ended up behind. The standards are being raised. Kids are learning to read in kindergarden. Having learned from my first child, I am sending his younger brother off to school with reading skills. If you can help your daughter with her sounds and early reading skills it will help her. There are lots of great products available. We had an audio tape that came with little cards on a ring that taught phonics. When we drove around in the car, I would play the tape. My four year old enjoyed following along with the audio tape. Also helping her to continue to be phonemic aware is good. When she's just hanging out with you, you can say rhyming words or sounds. Or say words together that start with the same sound. Buy beginning reading books and read them with her. A four year old that is interested in letters is not too young to start learning reading skills. Susan

When my kids were small, I bought them those workbooks you can find in with the coloring books. The more simpler ones are like coloring books plus simple puzzles and tasks. Your daughter can move along at her own pace. We'd do puzzles and learn to draw the letters. They were reading before I knew it. And they always wanted more workbooks. By the time they were in Kindergarten, I was buying 1st and 2nd grade workbooks. They enjoyed them. it wasn't work, it was fun. There are a lot of workbooks out there for pre-school kids, icon-related and non-icon related for those who don't get much television exposure. You can get any kind you want. You can start off by helping her with it, but don't be surprised if she doesn't want your help for very long. Since she's pretending to read and write already, the workbooks will help her to really do it without forcing anything. Marianne

2.5yo has memorized his books - bad for reading?

Jan 2001

I have a 2 1/2 year old son who has memorized all of the books that we read to him. He does not read them but rather has them memorized and recites them when we pull them out or whenever he feels like it. (in the dinner etc.) My mother (who is a retired teacher) scared me when she said: Oh my...those are the type of kids who don't want to learn how to really read later on... Does anyone have any insight into this? Should we be reading a certain way to him? thanks

I TOTALLY disagree! I think it's absolutely wonderful that your child is so engaged with books that he memorizes them. This forms a solid basis for his verbal development and keeps him fascinated with books. Memorizing also probably gives him a sense of accomplishment and pride, this way he can feel competant, like his parents. I would bet that he will be good at lyrics to songs too! He is lucky to have parent(s) who enjoy reading with him and who read enough, and with interesting inflection, to help him develop favorites that he chooses to memorize. I can imagine that the memory of these times will stay deep within him as he begins to learn to read - reading will feel like a special, intimate experience. In our home, we don't do any TV and we have tons and tons of books (mostly because we adults get bored reading the same ones!). What we found, as our daughter left the rote memorization stage, was that it was fun to pause after some of the pages and ask funny questions - like, would you like an elephant like that to share our house?, could he fit in your bedroom? what would we give him to eat? But sometimes she still prefers the ritual and the rhythm of an old favorite book and she can do without our editorial comments! Good luck, and keep reading! Diane

I would call the reciting that your 2 1/2 year old is doing pretending to read, and that is one of the many little steps involved in becoming a good reader. Just like scribbling and drawing for kids is pretend writing. What's great is that they see it as something enjoyable and important enough to want to pretend doing it. Karen

I wouldn't be too worried about what your mom said. I did the same thing (according to my mom)and so did my brother and sister. All three of us are avid readers and I am a librarian to boot. My mom's only complaint was that she couldn't skip the pages of the books because we knew how the story was supposed to go!

Lots of bright kids memorize books (and songs and videos). As prechoolers, both my boys knew countless books by heart, just as I did after reading them over and over. Both are readers now. Don't worry, and keep reading to them. Leslie

You have a very bright child. It sounds like you've spent a lot of time with him and done a great job. He has a wonderful memory (which will serve him well) AND he'll learn to read when he's the right age--he's only 2 1/2!! Relax!

here's my brief opinion based on my experience as a teacher: your son is going to be in GREAT shape when he is ready to learn to read. memorizing is exactly how many children learn to read. eventually he will learn to associate the printed words with the words he has memorized. you must read to him a lot, which is the best thing you can be doing. keep it up! read, read and let him finish the sentence, talk, question, comment, just enjoy, don't pressure him. i'd be happy to respond to any more specific questions you may have.