Teaching Kids to Read: A Primer for Success

How Early Childhood Learning Can Greatly Impact Future Reading Success

When you consider how quickly your toddler or preschooler picks up on new concepts, it’s no wonder early childhood learning – in particular, reading – begins as early as infancy. In fact, early childhood is the optimal time to encourage literacy concepts that can have a significant impact on a child’s future reading abilities.

“Reading” is a very general term that encompasses a multitude of skills for young learners. Before a child picks up a book and reads effortlessly, they must first master concepts including (but not limited to) print awareness, alphabet knowledge, phonological and phonemic awareness, concept of print, print knowledge, comprehension and oral language skills. This particular article, however, will focus on a few of the most important skills a parent or teacher can focus on to set their child on the path to reading success.

Influential Skills

First and foremost, it is crucial adults recognize where children are in their reading development. Reasonable goals and expectations can be set, but all experiences need to take the child’s current level and age into consideration so learning is appropriate.

Next, focusing on the following three concepts will significantly assist in teaching kids how to read:

  1. Oral Language

Oral language, which incorporates both listening and oral vocabulary skills, is the basis for later literacy skills. As there is a strong correlation between a child’s vocabulary and reading abilities, kids who are provided with rich language experiences (at home and at school) are at a distinct advantage.

While this may seem like a daunting task, providing activities that promote oral language in early childhood learning can be simple and fun. For children two and younger, adults can encourage them to combine consonant and vowel sounds ( “da”, “ba”, “ma”). Responding to babies and toddlers when they make attempts to communicate by mimicking them, naming and labeling things as you go through everyday activities, can also have a huge impact. For example, when they point to a dog, you can confirm for them that, “Yes, that’s a dog!”. Naming colors, numbers of objects and things in your surrounding environment and answering children when they “tell” you something can have a great impact in later years.

For older children – those between two and four years of age – using clear and concise speech patterns and repetition can reiterate new vocabulary terms and allow additional opportunities for kids to hear words. Asking questions – either yes/no questions or questions that present a choice (“would you like water or milk?”), as well as singing simple songs and rhymes and discussing things you see in books, pictures or the environment, are additional early childhood learning experiences that help children develop oral language.

  1. Alphabetic Code

A child’s knowledge of the alphabetic code incorporates an understanding of the alphabet, phonemic and phonological awareness (an understanding that there are sounds within words and that letters represent sounds, etc.). This knowledge begins with letter names and progresses to the ability to identify letters and then sounds.

Though such concepts are often explicitly taught to children, providing early childhood learning opportunities to enhance this understanding is extremely beneficial. For example, singing the ABC’s and providing opportunities for children to form or trace letters using various mediums – shaving cream, paint, blocks, etc. – are excellent ways to begin to teach kids how to read. Eventually, children can progress to identifying sounds and/or letters they hear at the beginning of words.

  1. Print Knowledge

Print knowledge, or an awareness of environmental print (the print around us – on signs, labels, etc.) and concept of print begins simply with the idea of how to open a book and progresses to which way we read (from left to right) and book handling skills. The easiest way to provide this knowledge to your young learner is to point out signs and labels you may see and read with them – by allowing them to see how you open, handle and read a book, they will be in a better position to learn how to read in the future.


Read, Read, Read!

Of course, one of the best things you can do to promote early childhood learning is to simply read! Because the above concepts serve as early indicators of a child’s future reading abilities, is it imperative all children are provided with experiences that encourage early literary concepts.

Whether you’re reading to your newborn, establishing a bedtime routine that includes story time, or playing simple letter sound games with your preschool students, it’s amazing to realize that such early childhood learning experiences are already laying the framework for their future reading success!


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