How to teach toddlers to read | 7 must-do activities!

How to teach toddlers to read | 7 must-do activities!

How to teach toddlers to read…

I’ve said a few times that there’s no need to ‘teach’ a child to read. That they’ll learn naturally, when they’re ready.

However, that’s not entirely true.

We ‘teach’ our toddlers every second of every day…that’s why toddlers are so wonderfully exhausting!

It’s just that the word ‘teach’ can be interpreted to mean several different things.

None of the teaching that we do at home is prescriptive.

We have no expectations or pre-conceived ideas about what our children should be learning.

We are entirely child-led, meaning that we follow our children’s interests and have no hidden agendas or secret to-do lists.

Things to teach toddlers
Click to read what we teach our toddlers…

Although, we’ve never sat down to formally teach our toddlers to read, our boys have had so many learning opportunities.

It would be misleading if I said that we aren’t actually teaching our toddlers to read…because I suppose we are.

Teaching our toddlers to read

There are several things that we’ve been doing since birth that will give our children the skills they need to read.

So, what is it that we do?

If you’re wondering how to teach toddlers to read, then take a look at our 7 tips…

1. No pressure!

Learning is fun…so let’s keep it that way.

It becomes a chore as soon as we start forcing or cajoling our toddlers to do it.

If your child doesn’t love “story-time” then try a trip to the library, read a magazine, look at a set of dino fact cards or visit the local museum.

How to teach toddlers to read
Most parents are teaching their children all the time. This is organic learning.

There are absolutely no long-term benefits to learning to read younger.

Infact, children who started reading older actually enjoyed reading more than those who learnt to read at a younger age.


2. Read a lot.

Teaching your child to love reading books is far more important than teaching them to read books.

How to teach toddlers to read

Have reading corner, visit the library, read with your child and for your own pleasure.

Learning to read unlocks a whole new world for kids so explore the magical world of stories together until they can do it independently.

Ask them to read you a story too. It doesn’t matter if they are reading by heart, getting it all in a muddle or telling an entirely new story…it’s all part of the process!

How to teach toddlers to read

3. Sing songs.

Some parents get hung up on teaching their toddler the alphabet song.

It’s basically a string of different sounds and doesn’t teach toddlers a huge amount about letters or their sounds.

Choose a song that links each letter to it’s phoneme (sound) as this will be a lot more useful to toddlers who are learning to read.

So, for example…they need to know that “a” is for “apple”.

My boys love this song…

Watching the video along with the text is great too as they get to see the grapheme (written letter) while listening to the phoneme (letter sound).

4. Utilize technology.

We’ve always been happy for our children to have access to a variety of different types of text.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommend avoiding digital media for toddlers younger than 24 months.

However, this can be extremely difficult for parents to implement, especially when older children are around.

Personally,  we adopt a slightly more relaxed view and have seen many positives as a result.

Our boys are surrounded by books, magazines, audio stories and musical books.

They play outdoors a lot and engage in play from the second they wake up.

So, we have no problem with them having a tablet.

They use it to play educational games, read books and watch videos.

There are many interactive apps that have taught our (then) three-year old so much about phonics, vocabulary, writing and rhyming.

Apps to teach reading
Our boys love the Endless apps.

5. Surround them with words.

There are words everywhere.

When your toddler recognizes the Mc Donald’s sign, they are “reading” it.

Encourage this early reading by pointing out the words that you see around you every day.

When the mail man brings a letter for your toddler, read it together.

Read “stop” signs and street names on your midday walk.

Read store fronts before you walk in and food labels on your way around.


6. Form shapes

Make shapes with play dough, draw lines in the sand, drip letters with a non-newtonian fluid.

This type of play is great for developing fine motor skills and is laying the foundations for writing and letter recognition.

7. Role play

I will always remember a parent asking me why her five year olds writing was so “untidy” despite the fact that she sat her down for an hour every night to practice.

What I should have told her was that of you want a child to write well, then don’t ask them to write at all.

There are so many ways to encourage reading and writing that never involve asking a child to pick up a book or hold a pencil.

Play and learning are the same thing.  Don’t teach your toddler otherwise.

Role play was always a huge success when I was an early years teacher.

Set up a garage with some clipboards,  a cafe with a notebook or a post office with some paper and envelopes.

Stand back and let your toddler “write” , read and make-believe…even if they’re doing it “wrong”.

How to teach a toddler to write
Self-directed learning – Leo wanted to send and deliver a letter to Granny.

The most important thing to remember…

…is that children will learn to read at different ages. Some may be two while others may be closer to eight.

There is no need at all for a toddler to be able to read.

Allowing your child the space to develop at their own pace will likely have a positive influence on their attitude towards learning in general.

Reassure yourself with the positive research about late readers and continue to play and enjoy the world with your little one!

So, that’s how to teach toddlers to read…I hope we’ve helped!

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