How to Teach Your Child to Read

You have laid the foundations for your child to start learning to read. She speaks well and knows the alphabet. Most children can reach this stage by four to five years old, if you give them enough help and encouragement. Some children may get there earlier or later. The same general rule we have previously mentioned still applies. Do not push your child too hard if she is not ready -- it only has a negative effect.

The learning timelines can and do overlap. The child will be learning new language long after she has learned to read. She can start learning to read a few words before she has fully learned the alphabet. However, the alphabet is the base of her reading development so it is best to complete her alphabet training before making any serious attempt to start reading lessons.

Remember the greatest reward you can give your child is your attention. This is what she wants more than anything so make your reading lessons a thing you enjoy together. This way they will be something she looks forward to rather than a chore. A child will always learn better if she is engaged and happy.

Where to Start?

The first word most children learn to read and write is their own name. This is the obvious place to start. It is a word the child can easily identify with and use.

Of course, it is better to start learning with a short word so if the child's name is Benjamin then teach the shortened version, 'Ben'.

Teach the child to recognise their name from the letters -- "B-e-n spells Ben". Proper names should start with a capital letter. Teaching grammatical rules is not important at this stage but since you should write names with a capital, that is how you should teach it. You could also teach it with all capitals -- "B-E-N spells BEN".

This simple lesson is already introducing the child to the concepts of reading. You are introducing the idea that stringing letters together forms words.


You are also introducing the child to new terminology. The child probably does not even know the meanings of 'word' and 'spell'. These are new concepts directly related to reading and writing. If you charge straight in and ask the child "How do you spell the word 'cat'", you will have a confused child.

You need to introduce the child to this new terminology. The child needs to learn that letters spell words -- "c-a-t spells the word cat". It will take your child time to grasp these new ideas. You should keep using the words 'letter', 'spell' and 'word' in context until your child starts to grasp their meanings.

Phonics or Total Reading

Should you start with the phonics teaching method or the total reading (whole language) method? We have already discussed this debate. The debate goes on and you will get strong and contrasting opinions from both sides. There is no conclusive answer to which method is best.

In the end, it is a parental choice which method to use but we strongly recommend that a combination of both methods is the best way to give a child a strong reading skills base. We believe that the first introduction to reading should be the total reading approach. We take this approach not because we think this method is superior but because it gives the child quicker access to reading skills. This encourages the child.

That does not mean that you cannot also quickly introduce the concept of phonics. You have taught the child her name via the total reading method. That is, she recognises the whole word. Now you can explain that the letters make sounds.

"B-e-n spells Ben. B makes a 'buh' sound, 'buh' for Ben."

Read Books Together

Up to now, you have been reading books to your child. Now it is time to start reading books with your child. Choose books with simple words and pictures. Stories with repetitive themes such as 'Little Red Hen' or 'The Three Little Pigs' are good because the same words appear page after page.

As you read, point to words on the page and spell them. Ask your child to spell them back and read the word. Start with a single word -- "h-e-n spells hen". Read the rest of the page and then go on to the next page. Ask your child if she can see the word 'hen' on the new page. Help her find it and repeat the process on the following pages until she can find the word on her own.

The next time you read the book introduce a new word as well as repeating the process with 'hen'. Try to choose simple words that the child can easily identify. It is good if the words combine on the page. If you add 'red' to 'hen' then the child can start to combine the words to read 'red hen'. You can slowly expand this process until the child can read short sentences from the book. This helps the child feel that she is progressing.

If you keep repeating this process, the child will eventually be able to read the book to you. However, the child may be memorising the words from the context. To re-enforce this learning process, you need to introduce the same words into different contexts.

Start Writing the Words

You should combine learning to read with learning to write. The two skills are closely related. Your child will enjoy participating in the lesson and writing words will help the child to memorise the letters of the words. Once you have reached this stage, you can start to make your learning sessions a little more formal but you still want to keep them fun.

Sit down with your child, paper and a pencil. Another good idea is a whiteboard and marker pen. Your child will enjoy writing on the board and then rubbing it off again.

Help your child to write the words she has learned so far such as her name and the words you have learned from reading books together. Slowly introduce new words to add to her reading and writing vocabulary.

Then start to combine these words into simple sentences. You should mostly use words the child already knows but put them into new contexts to re-enforce the learning process. Use the same words again and again but in different combinations -- 'Ben is a hen', 'Ben is not a hen', 'Ben is a boy'. The sentences can be silly as this helps keep the lessons fun for your child. You should use your child's name as this helps involve her in the lesson. You should try to write about things your child likes -- 'Ben likes his bike', 'Ben is in a car'.

Your child will still want to draw pictures. This is fine. Help her to add words or captions to the drawings.


The teaching methods above are total reading methods. The child is learning to recognise whole words. We want to give the child a more rounded reading skills base. We also want her to understand the phonetic rules that form the words. As the child starts to increase her reading vocabulary, it is time to introduce some phonics teaching methods.

You should start with the simple phonic rules. Each letter of the alphabet makes a sound (some letters can make two sounds but do not muddy the water yet). You may have already introduced this concept during alphabet training.

"A makes an 'ah' sound, B makes a 'buh' sound, C makes a 'cuh' sound," etc, etc.

Now you need to start using these sounds to form simple words. Every word has a vowel sound so start with A.

"A makes an 'ah' sound like in 'at' -- 'ah' 'ah' 'ah', 'at'."
"A makes an 'ah' sound like in 'an' -- 'ah' 'ah' 'ah', 'an'."
"A makes an 'ah' sound like in 'ant' -- 'ah' 'ah' 'ah', 'ant'."

This is a completely new concept for your child and a difficult one for her to grasp. Teaching the concept is the first challenge and it usually takes time before the child starts to understand that you are rolling together the sounds of the letters. It is a frustrating stage for teacher and pupil. You must remain patient because this really is a big step for the child. Once she makes the breakthrough, the rest of the phonics learning process is much simpler.

Try to emphasize the sound you are teaching without making it sound unnatural. Ask your child to repeat it. Try to show that all the words that start with 'A', start with this sound. Hopefully, your child will start to get the idea. Even if she does not yet fully understand, you can re-enforce the idea by adding letters to the front of two letter words to make rhyming three letter words. Take the word 'at'.

"B makes a 'buh' sound like in 'bat' -- 'buh' 'buh' 'buh', 'bat'."
"C makes a 'cuh' sound like in 'cat' -- 'cuh' 'cuh' 'cuh', 'cat'."
"H makes a 'huh' sound like in 'hat' -- 'huh' 'huh' 'huh', 'hat'."

Now give a different approach to the same rule. The child knows the word 'at'.

"If you add 'buh' to 'at' you get 'bat' -- 'buh-at', 'buh-at', 'bat'."
"If you add 'cuh' to 'at' you get 'cat' -- 'cuh-at', 'cuh-at', 'cat'."
"If you add 'huh' to 'at' you get 'hat' -- 'huh-at', 'huh-at', 'hat'."

The child will eventually make the crucial breakthrough and will understand the concept. Once you have made that breakthrough, you can teach the child all the simple phonic rules for each letter of the alphabet. You can also teach the simple exceptions such as 'C' makes a 'suh' sound if it comes before an E' or 'I'.

Another method you can use to re-enforce phonics development is to challenge the child to spell simple new words. Ask her how to spell 'mat'. Help her by asking what letter makes a 'muh' sound, what letter makes an 'ah' sound, etc.

Eventually, you can start teaching the more complicated phonic rules. Combination consonants such as 'ch', 'sh' and combination vowels such as 'ea', 'oo'. There are at least 90 phonic rules in the English language so you have a long way to go. You can teach them as you meet them in new words.

Of course, the child will also come across many words that are not phonetically consistent. This will confuse your child but the good thing is children are adaptable and accepting. You should explain that there are words that do not match the rules but it is still good to know the rules.

Teaching your child the phonic rules can be a long and gruelling process. This is why we suggest that you combine it with the total reading method. The total reading method gives the child much quicker access to reading skills that will keep her positive and motivated. The phonics method will give her the long-term base to learn new words.

Punctuation and Grammar

You do not need to introduce your child to punctuation immediately. It does not matter if your child's early writing attempts are unpunctuated, not capitalised or even a mixture of capitals and lower case letters. These finer points will come with time so initially you can concentrate on the basics of spelling.

Eventually, your child is going to start pointing at the punctuation marks in books and asking what they are. This is a good time to start teaching them.

Advance and Vary the Lessons

You now have the basic techniques you need to teach your child to read. As your child's reading skills develop, you need to make the lessons more advanced and introduce variations on the theme to keep them interesting.

For example, try writing questions. Ask the child to read the question and write the answer. You can start with simple yes/no questions. 'Is Ben a dog?', 'Is Ben a boy?' Ask the child to write yes or no next to the question.

Then move on to more open questions. 'What colour is the car?' 'What is your name?'

Another technique is to ask your child to teach you. Children like the opportunity to lead. They will revel in the opportunity to play teacher. They will try to read you a book or show you how to spell words and of course, all the time they are actually teaching themselves.

Be imaginative. You know your child better than anyone. Find ways to make the lessons interesting for your child and she will learn faster.


If you keep repeating and advancing these lessons from ages four to six years old then by the time your child starts primary school, she will have a good reading skills base. This will be a major head start in her educational development. There is no reason why you should stop there but you have already given your child a wonderful present. You should continue to involve yourself in her reading and educational development for the rest of her school life but you have already completed your greatest achievement.

We wish you all the best in raising a happy and literate child.

ClickN KIDS Teaching KIDS to READ and SPELL One Click at a Time