Teaching Your Child to Read (Part 1)

The Building Blocks to Teaching Your Child to Read

As parents, we all want to make sure that our children succeed in learning. And we all know that reading is extremely important in that success. You have SO much influence in your child’s reading development and it starts long before your child is in preschool. So if you are interested in teaching your child to read, keep scrolling for some really great information and practical tips and activities.

Stack of children's books on a bookshelf. Text: "The 1st step in teaching your child to read."

FYI-This post contains affiliate links, which means I receive a small commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase using the links below.

Fair warning: this is a long post. And it is a bit technical as well. The purpose of this post is not to give quick tips on helping your child read. Rather, I would like to walk you through the technical progression of how children can learn to read, and how YOU can make the difference for them. In this post you will find the necessary information for getting your child started with reading, including lots of examples and book ideas. So, hunker down and join me in taking the 1st step in teaching your child to read!

*Helpful hint: when you see these “//” around a letter in this post, it indicates the letter’s sound is being used rather than it’s name. For example: /c/ makes the “ck” sound in “cat.” Happy reading!

Reading to Babies

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents begin reading to their children at birth and states that “reading exerts a positive effect on the developing brain.” Starting reading early with your baby is sweet and promotes a strong bond, but it also helps the baby’s brain develop and instill a love of reading at an early age.

There are many great options for baby books. I really like this black and white book set, since newborns can only see white, black and gray and like to look at contrasting colors.

Reading to babies is great, but make sure that as your babies grow they get to see YOU enjoy reading as well! They want to do what their parents do and will be excited to follow in your footsteps!

Mom and Dad reading to their baby.

First Step for Teaching Your Child to Read

As you read to your child, they will start to naturally develop the building blocks of reading. They will begin to figure out that you read from left to right and that there are letters and marks (punctuation) that are involved in reading. Those things seem basic, but they are necessary for children to recognize.

Here are some of our family favorites:

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault

This book is filled with rhymes and helps kids learn to recognize capital and lower case letters. I point to the letters in the pictures as I read the book to my kiddos to help them connect the sounds to what their eyes are seeing.

Dr. Suess’s ABC (Beginner Books, I Can Read it All By Myself)

This is another fun book that keeps kiddos engaged with silly illustrations and rhyme. I like to point out the letter name and the letter sound as we read this one. For example, the text says, “Big A, little a, what begins with A? Aunt Annie’s Alligator a, a, a.” So I say the letter name when I read “Big A, little a” and at the end I say the short /a/ sound.

Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You: Dr. Seuss’s Book of Wonderful Noises

Here is another Dr. Seuss favorite. Both of our kids love jumping in to make noises that rhyme with words in the book.

Peek-A Who? by Nina Laden

This is a fun, interactive book that encourages children to guess what’s peeking through the hole by using rhyming words.

5 Essential Knowledge & Skill Elements for Teaching Your Child to Read

There are 5 main elements that children must master to achieve reading excellence: phonological & phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, and the ultimate goal-comprehension.

This post will only focus on the phonological and phonemic awareness piece. Without this foundation, children will struggle with reading fluently. I’ll tackle the rest in another post!

What is Phonological and Phonemic Awareness?

Many parents assume that phonological and phonemic awareness are the same as phonics, and they often skip this important piece of their child’s reading progression. Dr. Pat Cunningham, professor of education at Wake Forest, explains: “Phonological awareness is the broader term and includes the ability to separate sentences into words and words into syllables. Phonemic awareness includes the ability to recognize that words are made up of a discrete set of sounds and to manipulate sounds.”

So you can think of it this way-phonological and phonemic awareness deal with the sounds that you hear and phonics deals with the letters you see.

Skills Encompassed in Phonemic Awareness

Here are some of the things that you will be working on with your child to help them have strong phonemic awareness:

  • Hearing syllables within a word.
  • Hearing the first sound in a word.
  • Rhyming
  • Figuring out which word does not belong with the others (maybe the first sound in the word is different from the other words that are given).
  • Blending sounds together orally to make a word.
  • Segmenting words orally.
  • Manipulating sounds orally to create new words. 

How Can I Help My Child Develop Phonemic Awareness?

This piece of teaching your child to read is pretty simple. They will develop this skill through hearing you read. Nursery rhymes, songs, poems, chants, and Dr. Seuss books are really great options for strengthening this area of reading.

Boy reading a book.

Books That Help Build Phonemic Awareness

The books that I mentioned above are great options for phonemic awareness development. Here are some more great options compiled by 1st grade teacher and auther, Dr. Maria Walther:

Books with alliteration (repetition of the initial consonant):

Books with repetition of vowel sounds within words:

Books with substitution or segmentation of sounds

Books with rhymes and other elements that promote phonemic awareness

Alphabet books

Tongue-twister books

Read these books over and over. Encourage your child to comment how they feel about the book. Did they enjoy it? What did they like about it?

Point out the language play in the book. For example, “Those words all start with the same sound!” and go on to read those words again for emphasis. Ask if they know any other words that start with that sound.

You can also challenge your kiddo to guess which sounds, phrases or rhymes come next and ask them why they think that.

Children's books on a shelf next to a lantern, plant and building blocks.

Phonemic Awareness Activities

Teaching your child to read can feel really overwhelming, but once you have an idea of what it looks like, it is really simple to incorporate the ideas into your day. Below are some activities found in Beverly DeVries’ book, “Literacy Assessment and Itervention for the Elementary Classroom,” that you can implement at home with your child to help ease some of your stress!

Clap syllables to familiar words and rhymes

Some nursery rhymes and poems that you have been reading repeatedly with your child will stick. Once they know some songs or rhymes, you can challenge them to clap their hands for each of the syllables.

Try to stick to one or two syllable words for younger kids. Some good nursery rhymes that fit that requirement are:

  • “Jack and Jill Went up the Hill”
  • “Little Boy Blue, Come Blow Your Horn”
  • “Hey Diddle, Diddle”
  • “Humpty Dumpty”
  • “Down at the Station, Early in the Morning”

“My Very First Mother Goose” contains all these nursery rhymes, if you want to have them all in one place!

Pop-bead syllables

Start by giving your kiddo some pop beads. Once they are ready, say a word to them and have them decide how many syllables the word has. Have them put pieces together based on how many syllables there are. Start with two syllable words, and when they are ready, move up to three and four syllable words.

Sound boxes

Sound boxes help a child understand that a word is made up of smaller pieces. You can draw, print out or make sound boxes out of construction paper. Some kids who are very visual might benefit from each box being a different color to represent the beginning, middle and end of a word.

Multi- colored sound boxes for teaching your child to read.
Multi-colored sound boxes.

Put the sound boxes and either some pennies, chips or any manipulative in front of your kiddo.

You will give a word to your child and help them decide which box each sound will go in. Start with words that contain three sounds and follow a consonant-vowel-consonant pattern.

For example, say the word “cat”, and ask them if the /c/ goes in the beginning, middle, or end of the word. When they figure out that it goes in the beginning, have them move their penny to the first box as they say /c/. Do the same with the /a/ and /t/ sounds.

As they get more practice, they will be able to do this without much guidance and will be able to practice with longer words as well. You will just have to make sound boxes that contain the appropriate number of boxes for the word.

Alphabet booklets

Give your child an old magazine (you still have one of those laying around, right?) and have them find pictures that start with a specific consonant. Have them cut the pictures out and glue them onto an index card. You can bind the cards with a ring clip and write the consonant on the “cover” of the booklet.

Silly rhymes

This silly game will have you and your kiddo laughing. Say a sentence that is silly but can be easily corrected with a word that rhymes. Encourage your child to find the rhyme that makes sense.

For example: “I want to drink some iced tree.” At this point, your kiddo would say, “No! I want to drink some iced tea!” Or, “I have five fingers on my land.” “No! I have five fingers on my hand!”

This is a fun car game, since you don’t really need anything in front of you. Our kids have gone 20+ minutes playing this with my husband on long drives!

Odd word out

This is another great one for the car. Give your kids three words. Have two of them start with the same letter. Ask your child to tell you which word has a different sound in the beginning. For example, you can say “bat, bones, sun”. They should be able to identify that “sun” does not belong.

Onset and rime blending card game

For this game, and the next two, you can use these cards that I made just for you! Just subscribe to my emails to get the download! Once you have downloaded the printable, print it on cardstock, cut apart and play with your kiddo!

Picture Cards for Phonemic Awareness Activities. Free Download

Use these cards to play games with your child to help them build phonemic awareness!

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Put three cards in front of your child-for example, the cards with the ball, map, and pin. Then say the the onset (the first sound) “plus” the rime (the rest of the word). So you would say, “I see a /m/ plus ap.” Your kiddo must pick up the map card and say the word. Continue playing by adding a new card to the other two. For all of these games (and reading in general), do not worry if your child doesn’t choose correctly on their first try! Repetition will help them learn.

Blending independent sounds card game

Use the same cards as you did in the last activity, but this time just put two in front of your child. For example, the cards are pictures of a dog and a cup. Ask, “Which picture is /d/ plus /o/ plus /g/?” Make sure that you say each sound separately and that you do not add an “uh” to the sound. This is important! You do not want your child to hear “duh-o-guh.” Have your child pick out the correct card.

Separating individual sounds card game

For this game, your child will draw a card (from the printable found above) from the deck and segment each sound. If they draw a picture of a ball, they would say “/b/ + /a/ + /l/.” If they segment it correctly, they get to keep the card as a point. When you take your turn, have the child check to make sure that you have separated the word correctly. It’s fun for them to be the judge sometimes, and this helps them learn as well!

Pop off the beads

This activity will help your little one practice deleting sounds from a word. You will use these beads again for this activity. Each bead will represent a sound in a word. If the word has three sounds, you will give them three connected beads.

Tell your child, “I’m going to say a word and ask you to take off one sound from the word. I want you to first say the entire word, and then I want you to pop off a bead and say the new word. For example, here are three pop beads. The three beads are the word bat. The first red bead is the /b/, the middle yellow bead is the short /a/ sound, and the last green bead is the /t/. Now I am going to take off the /b/ bead, and I have the word at.”

Start by using words that have three sounds, and as your child is ready, move on to four sound words.

Best Curriculum For Teaching your Child to Read

So, at this point, you might be thinking that this information is great but feels very overwhelming. I have heard moms say that the thought of teaching their child to read is terrifying, and they feel unqualified to do it.

Yes, teaching reading is complicated, but you can do it! If you feel like you still need some extra help, I have just the thing for you-All About Reading!

All About Reading

All About Reading is a curriculum that I love and use with my daughter. As a reading teacher, I am PICKY about what I choose for my kiddos.

Why I LOVE All About Reading (And You Will Too!)

  • Most importantly, this curriculum has all five elements of reading to help your child succeed. In the beginning of the post, I wrote that when teaching your child to read, you have to teach phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency and comprehension? Well, this program covers each of these elements comprehensively.
  • This program is also a multi-sensory program that helps your child learn through sight, sound, and touch. This approach helps all students, even those who struggle with reading!
  • Everything is taught in context, meaning that a concept is introduced and the students use what they have learned right away. The skills build upon what was already taught and practiced, which really gives children a sense of pride and accomplishment.
  • It is an open and go curriculum! YOU can do it. You do not have to prep in advance or look over lessons ahead of time. For me, this is a must. The teacher in me loves to plan, but y’all, I know my limitations and sometimes there just isn’t enough time.
  • Finally, I have looked over many, many, many curricula and have read countless reviews. I am not alone in saying this program really works.

What Level Should My Child Start At?

All About Reading makes it really easy for you to figure out what level you should start at. They have placement tests that can guide you to decide which level is best for your child.

Their pre-reading program focuses a lot on phonemic awareness and helps your child develop those essential pre-reading skills.

Enjoy Teaching Your Child To Read!

There you have it! You now have the foundation of teaching your child to read! You CAN do it! Don’t stress about it, and if you can’t help it, please reach out. I love talking about all things reading!

Also, if you’re looking for some other “all-inclusive” preschool curricula or you’re trying to figure out what it might look like to teach your preschooler at home, check out my post here to help you get started.

A stack of books on a desk. Text: "Steps to take to help your child become a great reader! (what to do even before kindergarten)
A stack of children's books on a bookshelf (Text: How to help your child become a great reader! (steps to take even before kindergarten)
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