Teaching children to read

At what age do you begin to read to a child? When do you start teaching them to read?

Birth. When they exhibit readiness, usually between 4-6.

4-6 months?

Ha, sorry no, that was 2 answers to 2 questions.

You can read board books to a baby quite soon, at a few months.

You can teach a kid to read between 4-6 years of age; if you’ve been reading books all along, he will already know a lot of important things like that print goes from right to left, it goes in sentences, letters mean something, etc. You can teach letters in a fun way by 3, and do things like “Can you get me the can of tomato soup from the pantry? It has a T on it.” Start phonics-type stuff at 4 or 5 if he’s ready.

My older daughter began to learn her letters when she was still a baby, from the slogans on my T-shirts.

Real reading, of course, came a lot later.

My school’s literacy coach, in all seriousness, recommended that I read to my daughter in the womb. I thought that was taking it a bit far–but we started reading to her in her first few days. If nothing else, it was a quiet, rhythmic voice thing.

Over the next few months she started paying attention to the bright colors on the pages, and then she started reaching out to play with the pages. By seven or eight months, she would crawl over to her tubs of books, dump them out, choose one, hand it to me, and then lift her arms up so I’d pick her up and read her the book. These days (she just turned one), she hears probably a dozen books a day, snuggled up with mom or dad. Other times she’ll grab a book and look through it on her own.

Teaching a child to read is not a one-off thing. Some of the skills I’ve mentioned (choosing a book, holding it, turning pages) are part of what’s called emergent literacy, the initial skills necessary to reading. Before a kid can read a book, they need to know such things as:
-How to hold a book the right way up
-Which direction you read a book in (i.e., front to back)
-That the pictures in a book tell what it’s about
-That the letters on the pages form words
-That the letters correspond to sounds

And there’s a bunch more things.

I’m already teaching my daughter how to read, in the sense that she watches me and her mom turn pages and read the words. When she’s older and starting to speak, we’ll play with letters with her, and we’ll get her help pointing out the pictures that correspond to the words we’re saying, and we’ll listen to her “read” the story to us by turning pages and telling us what happens, and so on.

By second grade, you hope your kid is reading chapter books. It may come significantly earlier for some kids, and it may come later for others. Be wary, though, of people who claim they (or their children) were reading at age 2 or so: usually such people have a very limited understanding of what it means to read, and have very high opinions of themselves or their children.

I started reading to my kids while they were still in their mother’s womb, but that’s just me.

When my daughter was a little more than a year old, we had a game where I’d read a line from a story, point to the last word in the line, and she’d say it. Granted, that was memorization, not reading, but it got so she could associate the word I was pointing at with the word she was saying, and from that she started being able to recognize those words in different contexts. Still not actual reading, but a step in that direction.

Like the others have said, learning to read is a whole bunch of different processes that happen at different times.

I’d have to ask my mom for specifics, but she was a stay-at-home mom, and each of us 4 kids knew how to read…really, to read, if not understand every single word…before kindergarten.
In my case, I was 3; while I can’t imagine I was reading Shakespeare at that point, I actually WAS reading 'dumbed-down- Shakespeare in first grade, and in 3rd grade I was in 5th grade reading classes…and helping the 3rd-graders with their reading lessons.

My mom had no extended education, but she always stressed ‘the phonics’ and…well, I don’t know how she did it, but I’ve always been grateful and somewhat amazed.

I’m not a parent myself, but I entered Kindergarten able to read years ahead of schedule.

My mom was a bit of an education nut. I do remember her doing reading flashcards with me before I entered school, but I have only a few fleeting memories.

What I do remember, vividly, is Mom and Dad reading to me quite a bit. At the minimum, every night before bedtime. I think this is what got me interested in reading, and well, at that age (3-5) I was an information sponge so I had no trouble in learning. Plus I had the happy associations of sitting on Mom or Dad’s lap while they read picture books to me.

It seemed to work. One of my dad’s favorite stories is how I picked up a newspaper at age 4 and read the headlines to them (asking, after every one - “What does that mean?”)

Read to your kids early and often, it helped me immensely in my education.

I have three children. They’ve all been read to and around books since birth. It hasn’t lead to any particular early development in their reading.

The Taller Girl has learnt at school, just like 90% of her classmates (in a rather high-acheiving professional suburb as it happens … I’m absolutely certain that most of the other parents of school-starting non-readers were reading to their kids every day for years too).

The Smaller Girl is four, and loves books, but couldn’t care less about letters, despite her older sister trying to interest her. The Small Boy totally ignored books until about 18 months, after which he loved them, but under the circumstances I’m not expecting any particular reading or writing abilities to manifest early (and he’s already past the age where Uber-Early-Reader-Cousin could write his name)

Which is all to say - there’s a reason why the school system begins teaching reading at five, it’s when most children are capable of taking it in. Sure you can try 'em at three (or two) if you want to but don’t be surprised if they get bored and want to play with trains instead. And kids usually like being read to, but being read to won’t necessarily lead to any desire to do it themselves.

That elliptical phrase is key. Kindergarten teachers at our school often have to deal with parents who insist that their child is a brilliant reader, but when they assess the child’s reading, the kid has no idea what’s going on in the story. Teachers call such kids “word callers.” They can call out the words, but their comprehension is zilch. There’s a lot more to reading than decoding the words: a truly strong reader will be able to draw inferences, make connections to other texts and to their own experiences, predict what’s going to happen, explain how characters fell, retell the story sequentially, and so on.

Even in second grade I occasionally get a child who can read a page of text to me flawlessly, but when I ask what the page was about, the child can’t tell me anything at all. It’s kind of weird, and it’s a ton of work remediating such a child’s reading.

Nor is it important or virtuous to be an early reader. It does not prove that a child will be a better reader than others or that he’s more clever. Kids mostly get ready to read around 5, but that can be spread between 4-7 without being a sign of something wrong. Just like some kids walk at 9 months and others at 16 months–kids vary on a normal spectrum and mostly will be fine if they’re not forced.

You should read to your children a lot because it’s a great and happy thing to do, not because it will guarantee early genius. It won’t. It will lead to many happy times together, and overall a better academic career than would otherwise happen.

My parents claim I was reading when I was 2 or so, and I was reading the daily newspaper when I started school. Not that I spoke much. In fact, in first grade I was originally assigned to the “dumb” class (our school tracked students by perceived ability, creating three separate classes for above-average, average, and below-average students). A few days into the school year, while waiting to see the counselor, I picked up a book & started to read it to pass the time. When the counselor finally came out to take me into her office, she was very surprised to see me reading – turns out it was a book for third-graders.

Needless to say, I was rapidly re-assessed – the next day, I was moved to the “smart kids” class, where I showed the other smart kids how it was done :D. Pretty much every class I was in from then on had the same students, and I almost always set the curve, all the way through high school, where I was unofficial valedictorian (our high school didn’t really care that much about academics back then, so they didn’t give those titles).

Getting back on topic, earlier this morning, I saw a commercial for some “teach your baby to read” course – basically some videos & flashcards. They had several very young children – old enough to speak so they could be seen to recognize the words on the flashcards, and one ecstatic parent claimed she’d taught her 9-month old how to read using this miracle product. Whether or not the kids were actually reading, or whether they understood what they “read”, didn’t seem to come up, for some reason ;).

My son is one and a half. I tried reading to him soon after his third month, but I felt a bit silly, and he didn’t seem to notice or care. At about6-8 months, he started discovering books as toys; the mechanics of turning the pages. Past a year or so, he really started to look at pages and point out familiar things, like birds, elephants, umbrellas and washing machines. :slight_smile: Now, at 18 months, we have about two ten minute sessions a day where I ask him “where is the elephant? Can you point out the flower?”. A great way to find out how his vocabulary expands.

He always liked to sit quietly on my lap or my husbands lap. But we do that with movies as well as books. For instance, when my son wants some quiet cuddle time and entertainment time, I put him on my lap when I sit behind the computer. I surf the dope on one half of the screen. On the other half of the screen, I play my sons playlist of favourite youTube clips.

My husband has put several disneymovies, and short baby clips, on his Playstation Portable. Comes in handy early morning when we want to sleep a bit longer. We put our toddler in between us on the bed, Psp in hand.

Interestingly, my sons word for “book” and “movie” is the same.

Being able to read is probably the most important thing one can learn, and the key to learning to read is phonics. Without knowing the sounds letters make, one can’t “sound out” an unknown word; unknown words become known words, one builds their vocabulary accordingly.

The easiest way to teach phonics, I think, was the way my first grade teacher taught it. She had a typical classroom in the '60s, blackboards at the front and side, and over the front board the alphabet cards – capital and lower case letters at the top, and a picture of something that began with that letter. One of the drills she would do with us was to call someone’s name and point to a letter. You then had to say (for example), "My name is A and I say “ah”, as in “apple” (which was the item on the card). You weren’t only saying the sound the letter made, but when you used it, it was reinforced. Later, you would learn about the long and short sounds some letters made, but in the beginning, this was fine.

When I started having kids (two daughters), my then wife and I read to them at least once a day, and usually more than one story (they had a lot of those “Little Golden Books”). Eventually, by the time they were five, we worked our way up to Nancy Drews. In between, though, I put alphabet cards up in their rooms and we did the same drill I learned in first grade.

By the time they got to school, they already knew how to read, which was good, because the way school is these days, they never would have learned how to read there.

Yep yep, totally agreed. I sure hope grade school still focuses on what used to be called ‘story problems’, in order to get kids to understand what they’re reading, and not just parrot it.

I read two books to the other kids in kindergarten, and my mom had absolutely no idea that I could read, though she had read to me quite a bit. I must have absorbed it at some point.

I’m sorry I don’t have a cite (all my language acquisition textbooks are at school and I’m at home), but there is evidence to show that language development begins in the womb, so, yeah, read on!

As far as reading to a child from birth to kindergarten…most experts say it’s a big help. Even if it doesn’t actually help with the act of decoding, it most certainly will help with comprehension. The larger the vocabulary and the more experiences a child has, the easier it is to comprehend.

Amen. Reading is a lot more complex than most people realize. (Ugh…I know some teachers who think it’s only about decoding!)


You teach them to read pretty much as soon as they develop object character recognition.

My two year old already knows the entire alphabet and has pretty much since she turned 2. She can count to 50 in English and 20 in Spanish.