How to raise a reader: Birth to age 8

How to raise a reader: Birth to age 8

Do you want to raise a reader? Do you hope your young child will love books, and have confidence as he approaches any text in school?  If you’re reading this post, you probably do, and you probably agree that one of our primary goals as parents should be to raise confident, happy readers. Sadly, wanting it for our child, doesn’t always make it happen.  The awesome news is that it’s not hard to raise a child who is a fantastic reader, especially if you start doing a few simple things while your child is young. 

In my post, How to help your child become a better reader  you’ll read about my main philosophies of how children become better readers. However, in this post, I’ll talk about specific steps to ensure you raise a reader during their youngest years.

Growing a reader during the toddler years: Ages 1-3

Even if you don’t have school aged children yet, you can start reading to your child as soon as they can sit up in your lap. In the toddler ages, you’ll do a lot of pointing at pictures and letting your child turn pages. Let you and your child’s enjoyment lead you. At this phase I seldom read all the words of a book, but we do a lot of counting and talking about what we see on the pages.

Fill your child’s world with language. Talk to them while you’re at the grocery store about all the things you’re buying. Sing songs with them. Count their toes, and do wordplays. You can join mommy and me classes or take them to the library for story time.

Repetition is important. Your toddler will often have one or two books they want you to read to them over and over again. This is not to annoy you! By repetition they are learning  the words that make up the language they are surrounded in and start to add meaning. Learning that words are essentially symbols for actual things in their world is a big part of what kids are doing during this age.

Confidence with letters during preschool: Ages 3-4

During these preschool years, children learn that letters make up words, and learning the sounds that letters make. Introduce your children to the alphabet so they will feel confident when they see letters in books. There’s millions of different products designed to help kids learn their letter sounds, but some of the simplest ones are my favorite. Look for hands-on letter games, puzzles and activities, that make learning letters and their sounds interactive and fun, instead of “work.” There are also some really great DVD’s, apps, and websites that are free or very inexpensive. I have a post coming soon where I’ll talk about my favorites for preschoolers.

Read lots and lots of picture books. Don’t always stick to the exact text of the book. If it bores you, talk about the pictures, and MOVE on. There’s way too many wonderfully engaging books out there, to spend time trudging through books neither you or your child loves. You can also read chapter books aloud to your preschoolers! Charlotte’s web is my favorite book to read aloud to preschoolers.

Think of ways to make learning letters and their sounds more fun. Incorporate kinesthetic movement or hands on sensory activities whenever you can. I have a whole pinterest board with ideas about raising readers, and most of them are applicable to preschool aged children. Check it out here.


Starting to read: Ages 5-6

Reading is fun, reading is easy. Repeat.

In every way that you possibly can, model that reading is fun, and that reading is easy while your children are starting to read. I first learned of this mantra when I decided to homeschool.  This was after I had tortured my 4 year old through many miserable “reading” sessions. I forced him to sound out Bob Books, and even had a  sticker chart to “motivate” him. He hated it, and I hated it. If only I’d known then what I know now!  If your child isn’t having fun with reading, something HAS to change. Luckily, even though my oldest is my “trial run” kid, he still turned out pretty great and loves reading despite the torture I put him through.

When to introduce early readers

Don’t give kids phonics and early reading books before they are ready. (Like I did.) Torturing kids by making them sound out every letter of an early reading book is one way to be sure that your child will hate reading! When your kids have played and had as much fun with letters and sounds as you can come up with, and you can see that they are making the connection from letters to sounds, introduce them to some early readers or simple Dr. Seuss books (Hop on Pop is a great one!) or just write out some simple words. Take them to the library and ask where the early reader section is and explore the area together for books that look fun to them and that they might have some success with. Don’t force it upon them. If they are struggling, go back to the fun matching games, and puzzles and keep doing them until they gain more confidence with their letters.

Tips for having your children read aloud

Also, children in Kindergarten and first grade need to be playing with letters and sounds, not reading to you or on their own, unless THEY WANT TO! If they want to do it, encourage it, but don’t MAKE them read to you before they are ready.

What about sounding out words? Shouldn’t they sound out words on their own so that they can have practice doing it? I say no. When they are reading aloud to you, and they come across a word they struggle with, tell them the word and move on. Remember reading is easy, reading is fun? Don’t make sounding out every difficult word a big deal. Keep exposing them to high quality language and books, and those hard words will find their way into their word bank.


Learning to love reading: Ages 7-8

Once your child is comfortable with the basics, encourage them to read on their own by providing interesting books for them, and taking them to the library or bookstores.(I have some great tips about how to use the library to help your kids become great readers  here.) However, you also need to KEEP reading aloud to them.   Remember, that at this point, sounding out basic words may still be a challenge. In addition, many of the words they are coming across need to be learned through exposure.  If they don’t hear more advanced language, their only exposure will be what they can read on their own. At this level, they are not reading great literature!   You definitely want to keep reading aloud as much as possible at this point, and not stress too much about your child reading chapter books yet.

Love and immersion creates readers

When in doubt, go back and read my first post in this series:  How to help your child become a better reader to remind yourself of the 2 key ingredients you need to raising a reader:  LOVE and IMMERSION. 

raise a reader, better readers,

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