So you’re considering teaching your little one how to read? That’s amazing! The fact that you’re even thinking about this means your child is off to a good start. This can be a daunting process full of struggle and challenge, or it can be beautiful and rewarding. Like with all learning and teaching, there are things you can do to improve the process and things you can do to slow it down.
Children Do What You Do, Not What You Tell Them To Do
Before beginning the process, it might be worth thinking about how often you pick up a book for pleasure. If the answer is never, now might be the time to remedy this. If your child sees you reading regularly, a large part of the work might be done for you. Children are interested in doing what their parents do, and getting your child interested in reading is one of the most helpful things you can do when teaching them to read. You might find your child playing more with books or pretending to read as a result. If your child wants to read, the first half of the process is already done.
Likewise, you can spend time reading to your child before you start teaching them how to read themselves. Find a book that has whatever they like in it. Dinosaurs or insects or fairies or dragons – whatever your child loves can be found in a book, and then read it to them. The first goal is to kindle their interest in reading and build within them the idea that reading is fun and interesting. It is not a chore or something that has to be done to make people like you or think you’re smart.
Only after this is well underway should you begin looking into how you want to teach your child. There are countless approaches to teaching reading, and the method you use will depend on your particular child. Most methods have a useful review or two available online that will give you an idea of the right approach for you and your child. If it turns out that it isn’t working, there’s no harm in switching things up and trying something new.
As With Everything In Life, Your Mindset Matters
The first thing you’re going to want to do is to get your mindset right. Many of us have negative memories from our childhood having to do with school and learning, and you don’t want your personal experiences to present themselves now (or be passed on to your child). More than that, you’re going to need to become aware of your motives and expectations.
Why do you want to teach your child to read? To enrich his or her life with the magic of stories? To keep up with the Joneses, whose daughter started reading a year ago? To jumpstart a ten-year plan of yours to produce an overachiever? To compensate for the fact that your parents never spent the time to teach you, and first and second grade left you feeling worthless because of this?
It might not be fun to analyze your motivations, but this must be done. Children are profoundly intuitive, and they will be able to pick up on why you want to teach them something. If your reasons result in negative feelings in your child (I’m not as good as Jones’ daughter because I can’t read), you can bet that this is going to harm the learning process.
If you’re feeling stressed about the state of your child’s reading, look into the most recent studies. Studies consistently prove that there are no advantages of learning to read from the early ages our culture has become obsessed with. Every child is different, and they’re going to be learning different things at different times.
You’ll also want to think about your expectations of the process. How often will you be working on this with your child, and for how long? Can your child handle an hour of drills on letters and sounds? Can you handle an hour without becoming frustrated or feeling like a failure? (Again, you know your child will pick up on this). How long do you expect it to take? If it takes longer, will you be disappointed in yourself or your child? (Again, your child will feel this.)
All Methods Agree You Should Start With The Basics
There are so many parts of our world that we have absorbed and forgotten about that are new and interesting to children. A child might not have picked up on the idea that in English, we read from the top of the page to the bottom of the page, and from left to right. Start with the letters of the alphabet and the sounds they make. Children love making sounds (you know this, we’re sure).
Once they’ve got that down, you can begin sounding out short words with lots of simple rhymes available (cat, hat, sat, mat). Once the child understands A+T=at, and they know their alphabet, they’ll make a lot of words. You can expand from here.
With these internal shifts and external practices, your child will be well on their way to reading. If you find yourself frustrated, take a break, remind yourself that it is not a competition. Young children typically learn only one big thing at a time, maybe your kid isn’t learning to read right now, but perhaps they’re learning to share, or be kind, or basic mathematics.