As parents, it’s vital to know how to teach your toddler to read. You want them to start off school on a strong foundation to have every advantage for academic success.
Literacy is more and more important in the modern world. Even in a job that doesn’t revolve around it, we still need to be able to fill in forms, read instructions, and generally have enough literacy to get online or to deal with banks and other organisations.
Sometimes we might think this means launching into teaching the alphabet, sounding out words, and forming letters. But these things aren’t the most important thing when you want to teach your toddler to read!
In this post, I’ll share little-known and very possibly surprising tips for how to teach your toddler to read. This method will give them the strongest foundation in literacy and is even linked to academic success! In school, literacy is needed for every single area of the curriculum. Even math has lots of reading, writing and abstract vocabulary.
We can forget that it’s language that leads the way to literacy. So check out these tips for teaching your toddler to read in a way that gives them a strong platform for success in life!
Toddlers who start school with strong phonological awareness skills also have better outcomes in literacy. Check out some easy and fun ways that you can use to build Phonological Awareness skills for your kids.
Before you start to teach your toddler to read…
- Choose your book: As much as possible let your toddler choose the book. They are more likely to be engaged and interested if they get to pick it! They will also be more engaged with books that reflect their experiences or interests.
- Be aware of the environment: Read in a quiet place with no background distractions. Turn off the TV and other distractions. Pick somewhere comfy! Also be face to face if possible. Think of books as a platform for a great conversation. It will help your child’s language development if they can see your face.
- Don’t worry if they pick the same book over and over. This is a pre-reading skill and will help them to remember the story.
- Read little and often. At least once every day is a great target to aim for.
- Allow them to see you reading- what you do speaks volumes to your child. If reading is a big part of your life, it is much more likely to be a part of theirs.
1. FOCUS ON BUILDING A POSITIVE ATTITUDE TOWARDS PRINT
Have books readily available in the house. I once heard from a friend that she had bought lots of beautiful but expensive books for her kids, but kept them tucked up out of the way in case the kids ruined them. In doing this, she kept books as something special but separate from her kids’ everyday lives.
I recommend going to a second hand shop and buying colourful sturdy books that you are happy for your kids to access and explore. The Indestructibles range of books is perfect for younger kids.
From the moment your child is born, surround them with books. You can even get some lovely chewable books for kids. It really doesn’t matter! What’s important is making books a part of their lives from an early age.
You can build a positive attitude towards print simply by drawing your toddler’s attention to it. Point out their name whenever you see it and read other key words out to them.
An example might be if you are at the zoo and there is a sign that says ‘monkey’ by the monkey enclosure. Point out the words to them. You could say, “wow, look! This word says ‘monkey’ (put your finger under the word as you say it). This must be where the monkeys are!” This might sound silly, but you are connecting words to their everyday life. You’re pointing out words at a time when it’s relevant and when they’re interested and engaged. After all, who doesn’t want to see the monkeys?!
Get some magnetic letters and let them play with them. When you lose your agenda for teaching ‘spelling’ and instead have fun with letters and words, you are providing a fantastic foundation for literacy.
2. FORGET ABOUT THE WORDS THAT ARE WRITTEN
This might sound like a really strange point in a post about teaching your toddler to read. But when your toddler is just learning to read, it’s more important to enjoy the book together! Don’t worry about the words in the early stages.
Instead, try looking through the entire book first but only look at the pictures. Follow your child’s lead in this. Let them point out the pictures that interest them and feed in relevant language.
When they point at an animal, label it for them (“wow, an elephant!”).
If your toddler says one word, expand their sentence. But if they say, “elephant!” you could reply, “wow, yeah it’s a huge elephant!” or “yeah, the elephant is sleeping.”
As you look at the pictures, narrate the story a little. Use more comments than questions. You could say, “Uh Oh! I wonder what will happen next!!” A comment like this is really clever because it gives your child the chance to respond without the pressure of a question. Books for toddlers are full of opportunities to predict what will happen.
Once you’ve looked through the pictures in the book and your toddler has a sense of the story, go back to the start and this time read the words that are written. By doing this, your child’s understanding of the book will be much better. They’ve got an idea of what happens already so they will be in a better space to absorb the new vocabulary.
3. FOCUS ON BUILDING VOCABULARY
Our vocabulary is all the words we know. It’s absolutely crucial to build your toddlers’ vocabulary as much as possible. There are a lot of easy ways to build your child’s vocabulary.
The size of a child’s vocabulary when they enter school is one of the key factors as to how fast they learn to read and write, and even their academic success years later.
When you start to teach your toddler to read, this is also a fantastic opportunity to build their vocabulary. The best way to build your toddler’s vocab is to label a variety of words for them at a time when they are interested and engaged.
Reading books is normally a time when toddlers are incredibly absorbed in what they’re seeing. This is especially true if you’ve fostered a love of books from an early age, and picked books that are relevant and interesting to them.
This makes it an ideal time to expand their vocabulary. You can do this simply by feeding in language.
Label the things they point to, and expand what they say. (Expanding is adding an extra word or two to things they say e.g. if they say ‘giraffe’ you can say, ‘wow that’s such a tall giraffe!’).
Remember to use a whole variety of words. Feed in naming words (lion, cactus, daffodil), action words (sleeping, growling, hopping), describing words (funny, happy, huge), how words (quickly, slowly, carefully, tiredly), and location words (behind, in front, in out, on).
One other advantage that books have in building vocabulary is that your toddler will be exposed to words that they may not see in real life. A great example are the words ‘bus’ and ‘tractor.’ You could easily live in an area where these words don’t naturally occur.
Maybe you live in a rural area and there are no buses, or live in a city where there are no tractors.
In either case, you still want your child to know these words when they start school. Books are a brilliant place to teach words that are ‘low frequency’ (they don’t come up often) but that are still important.
4. MAKE IT A CONVERSATION
If the foundation of teaching your toddler to read involves building their language, then it can be helpful to think of it as a conversation.
To make the most of the opportunities to build language, allow the conversation to develop naturally. It’s ok to go off topic from the book and the words that are written.
Use it as an opportunity to extend the topic. You can do this by giving more information- match this to the level your child is at. You can also extend the topic by prompting your child to think beyond the here and now.
A question such as, “what do you think will happen next?” can develop problem-solving and predicting skills.
A comment such as, “the boy looks really sad. I wonder what he’s thinking,” can develop skills such as theory of mind– understanding another person’s perspective and starting to build your toddler’s emotional literacy. Talk about feelings, emotions and opinions.
This is an invaluable teaching time that will massively help your toddler to learn to read. It will help them make the jump to literacy and they will have a huge advantage as they will have a much better understanding of what they are reading.
5. MAKE IT FUN!
This is the most important point!
Your toddler will want to learn to read and will develop a love of books when this time is fun and motivating.
You can do this by choosing fun books that interest them, protecting your reading time, and by getting into it!
Be animated and excited when you read to your toddler. Make your voice interesting- especially when you do the characters’ voices. Exaggerating this can make it easier for your toddler to understand the story and what the characters are thinking, feeling and doing.
If you have found a book that your toddler loves, consider other ways that you could teach it. Could you do a craft around the topic of the book? Maybe you could make puppets (even just paper cut out ones) and act out the story the next time you read it?
An example of this could be the 3 Little Pigs. You could do a craft activity where you and your toddler draw the characters and the houses. Then, when you read the story, ask your toddler who they want to be. If they are the wolf, they can say the wolf’s line when it’s his turn to speak in the story. He can blow on the houses to make them fall down.
Making reading time fun and interactive will not only boost your toddler’s language and early literacy skills, but also their story-telling, drama, and even teamwork and social skills such as sharing, especially if you have more than one child.
What about setting up a cosy reading space for your child to encourage them to read and make it really fun and exciting?
Like other areas of development, literacy develops in stages. Learning the alphabet is great, but there are vital steps before this is the priority. The best way to teach your toddler to read and give them a strong foundation in literacy is to build their language. The stronger your toddler’s foundation of language is, the more easily they will make the leap to literacy, and the more successful they will be in all academic areas!
Hopefully these tips have given you some ideas of practical ways to teach your toddler to read by focusing on the thing that will have the most impact at this stage- their language!
Want a little more?
Grab your free copy of the Speech and Language Strategies Essential Cheat Sheets. Print off and use to help with these strategies to boost your child’s speech and language.
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