Teach a Toddler to Read
How to teach toddlers to read…
There is absolutely no expectation for a toddler to be reciting ABC’s.
Infact there is no long-term benefit to teaching a toddler to read at all.
However, incorporating literacy into toddler play is a great way to develop new skills naturally.
This fun, ‘no pressure’ approach can really help children to develop a positive relationship with reading and learning in general.
How do you teach a toddler to read?
Early readers are not necessarily better readers.
Research shows that later readers actually become more enthusiastic readers later on.
Believe it or not, most children will just learn to read when they are ready. Provided they have a literacy-rich environment.
You could probably quote me a few times as saying that I don’t ‘teach’ my children to read…but at the risk of being misunderstood I’ll elaborate…
How I teach my toddlers to read…
In all honesty I taught/ teach my toddlers to read everyday.
Whether we’re scrawling shapes in the sand or baking cookies.
Out toddlers are always learning.
However, none of the learning that we do at home is prescriptive.
I have no expectations or pre-conceived ideas about when my child should be able to read.
As a preschool teacher, I know that my 4 year old who wrote his name at age 2 COULD be reading full books by now.
He’s not…because he shows little interest.
He can read simple sentences but he prefers that I read him dinosaur encyclopedias 🤣 so that’s what we do!
There are several things that we’ve been doing since birth that will give our children the skills they need to read (when they are ready):
1. Take away all pressure!
Toddlers love to learn is…so let’s keep it that way.
As soon as we start forcing or cajoling our toddlers into doing something then it risks becoming a chore.
Read together…if your child doesn’t love “story-time” then try something else.
A trip to the library, read a magazine, look at a set of dino fact cards or visit the local museum.
2. Read a lot.
Teaching your child to love reading is far more important than teaching them to read books.
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!
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.
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 using 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.
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 read it together.
Better still set up your own post box and ‘write’ some letters of your own (take a look at this letter posting role play printable).
Read “stop” signs and street names on your midday walk.
Just generally talk a lot!
6. Play with words
Play is everything to young kids and it is all they need to do in order to learn.
There are so many easy activities to teach toddlers letters that I’ve combined our favourites into one post.
Activities that develop fine motor skills will also help to lay the foundations for writing later on.
Click to read the full list of toddler letter activities here.
7. Role play
I will always remember a parent asking me why her five year old’s 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 if you want a child to write well, then stop asking them to practice for an hour each night.
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”.
The most important thing to remember…
…is that there is no age that a child should be able to read.
Some may be two while others may be closer to eight or older.
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! Enjoy!