How to Teach Kids to Read: the best resources, curriculum, and tips for parents

Teaching kids to read can feel overwhelming. Whether you are homeschooling and the responsibility is solely on you or if your child is in school but needs extra support, it can feel like a lot – especially if your child doesn’t seem interested. As a former kindergarten teacher, trained in Early Reading Intervention, and a homeschooling mama to five, I have had a LOT of practice teaching kids to read. I’ve also made a lot of mistakes, so I hope that this post will give you some tips, share some favorite resources and curriculum, and help you NOT to make the same mistakes! These tips are for homeschoolers or parents who are are trying to support struggling or beginning readers at home during the summer or when they are home from school.

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Before teaching kids how to read, you need to know that the age of five is not a magical age when kids learn how to read. Many children are not developmentally ready to learn at five years old. If your child is not showing interest in reading or signs of readiness (learning letter sounds, pointing out letters, attempting or practicing writing letters, understanding that letters put together make words, etc.), pushing too hard could make them dislike reading altogether. If you have the ability to wait until your child is developmentally ready, consider holding off until your child is showing signs of readiness.

There are no legitimate studies that show kids who learn to read early have any academic advantage over those who learn later, and this is definitely true for my own kids, who have all learned at different ages, but now all read the same books. One of my boys who learned to read at nearly eight reads more than his older brother who learned at three!

It is much more typical for kids not to learn to read until 7-8 years old. In many countries outside the United States, kids don’t even begin formal schooling until seven! Pushing your child to read too early could cause them to dislike reading. We want our kids to love to read, not hate it! I’ve personally found that if a child resists learning to read, and you can wait, it is better than forcing it too early.

If you are homeschooling, you have the privilege of waiting until your child is ready. If your child is in the traditional school system, you may not have that advantage. If that is the case and you feel your child is being pushed to read before he or she is ready, talk with your child’s teacher to see what accommodations could be made. Sometimes children do need intervention or evaluation for dyslexia or other learning challenges, but many times a child just needs more time to develop and be ready to learn. You don’t have to say yes to interventions that you feel are unnecessary. You can advocate for less pressure, more play-based learning, and do less pushing at home.

No matter your situation, there are so many things you can be doing to begin teaching your child to read or what you can do at home to support what your child’s teacher is doing in school.

What can you do at home to encourage your child to learn how to read?

Exposure to words, letters, and books

  • Read to your child daily
  • Provide your kids with lots of quality books to read (you can see a variety of lists I recommend over in my Amazon storefront)
  • Encourage your children to read on their own and practice writing
  • Watch The Letter Factory or The Talking Words Factory from Leap Frog (these movies are personal faves here – I’m not ashamed to say that my oldest learned his letter sounds from The Letter Factory!)
  • Encourage your child to retell familiar stories through pretend play, like with a Story Basket

Become familiar with letters and letter sounds

  • Wooden letter tracing boards are a great way to practice writing letters
  • Use wooden letters, letter tiles, or magnet letters to practice letter sounds or practice forming words. These Read, Build, Write mats are FREE in my shop and perfect for this:

  • Use playdough to form letters or stamp letters into the playdough
  • Learn through play: play restaurant, store, post office, etc. and encourage your kids to write down words or sounds they know; write a menu or grocery list together with your child’s favorite foods and he or she can become familiar with the words
  • Encourage your child to point out letters they know and tell you their sounds
  • Tracing or writing letters in sand, salt, shaving cream, etc.
  • Practice writing letters with the letter tracing cards from my shop:

This post has more helpful tips specific to teaching letters and sounds:

Sight Words

Schools put a lot of emphasis on memorizing and learning to spell sight words. I would discourage you from using tools like flashcards or sight words lists, however. This takes the words out of context and makes it harder for kids to identify them. The context of the story is actually a very important tool in learning to read!

Instead of drilling your child on sight words on their own, use them in context. Magnetic sentence builders like the ones shown in the picture above are a great tool to use for this.

This Word Families interactive chart is a fun way for kids to learn concepts like rhyming, sight words, and begin to understand word families and spelling concepts. My kids have had so much fun with this over the years! You can hang it on a peg board, on an over the door hanger, or just on a nail on the wall.

Games

Games are a a great way to practice something in a non-threatening way. If your child pushes back on learning to read and you are feeling frustrated, games are a perfect way to gently encourage reading and phonics in a fun way. Some games we like:

You may also find online games or apps that your child really enjoys! We love the Teach Your Monster to Read app, but there are many others out there.

Easy Reader Books

Read aloud

Reading aloud to your child is an incredibly important part of the learning process. Read books that are at their level and books that are more advanced. Audiobooks are a great way to read aloud to your kids even when you’re busy and can’t sit down with them. Learning to read isn’t just phonics, but also understanding the content you read in a book. What’s the point of knowing how to say the words if you don’t understand what the book is about, right? So you want to encourage your kids to connect to the book beyond just phonics.

Don’t discourage your kids from looking at the pictures! Many parents think it’s “cheating” if kids are using the pictures as clues to help them figure out the words on the page, but it’s actually a great way to use the context of the story to recognize or confirm the words on the page.

Keeping a journal is a great way to help your kids take what they read (or listen to), retell the story, relate to the characters, and remember the plot of the story. These response journal pages are a great place to start:

Encouraging your child to make up their own stories is a fantastic way to help your child love reading. When they develop a love for stories in general, it can get them excited to dig into books to hear more stories! The Woodland Writing Prompt bundle in my shop is a great tool for this:

Use a Reading Curriculum

There are many different approaches to teaching reading, and there isn’t one “right” way. Some homeschool curricula have reading programs built in to the curriculum or you could purchase a reading curriculum on its own. However, it isn’t always necessary to use a curriculum! You may find that your child learns just fine through natural methods instead of a formal curriculum. Follow your child’s lead to see what is the best fit.

Here are some programs that I have used or am familiar with and can personally recommend:

Final Tip

If your kids are “behind,” it can be tempting to push them to do lots of workbooks, spend hours working with you on reading, or do summer school or tutoring. While none of these things are necessarily bad, it’s important to remember that some kids just need more time. Instead of pushing your child before they’re ready, continue to read together and learn through play. Grab some games from the list above and HAVE FUN! We want our kids to love to learn, not be pushed so hard that they don’t like reading at all.

Make sure you check out these resources:


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