When will my child learn to read?

Should you rush into reading? Focus on building a love for reading and laying a strong foundation with these 5 fun and easy tips.

Learning Stages

By Melissa Catalano


Melissa Catalano is a schoolteacher and runs My Play Place, a play-based parent-participation toddler program where kids learn, create and socialize in a fun and safe setting. She holds a B.A. in Human Biology and an M.A. in Education from Stanford University. In a day filled with teaching and running a business, parenting is the job that still provides the most challenges and rewards.

Every parent wants to know that her child will grow into a great reader. I’m no different. When my 1-year-old would wiggle off my lap as I tried to read to him, I worried that he wouldn’t love reading. Now he’s 8, and I have to confiscate his flashlight so that he’ll stop reading and go to sleep!

Parents of preschoolers anxiously anticipate the day their child will begin reading. But while you can encourage certain pre-reading behaviors at this stage, most preschoolers are not ready to actually read on their own. In fact, while there are exceptions, the majority of kindergartners only demonstrate very basic reading skills. As a teacher, I encourage parents not to get swept up in the “early reader” craze. There really is no reason to rush children into reading any earlier than they are ready.

Remember that reading skills are developed over many, many years. Here are five fun and easy things you can do now that will help get your preschooler get ready for learning to read:

  1. Notice words all around you. Read signs out loud as you walk and drive around. This shows your child the importance of words. Pretty soon your child will be recognizing familiar letters and even some common words.
  2. Participate in the story. Listening to a story is not a passive activity.
    When you read to your child, encourage him to talk about what he hears, make predictions about what will happen next, chime in to familiar parts, ask questions and make connections. Good readers think and talk about what they read. You can encourage these critical skills early on, before your child is reading on his own. Once your child is reading independently, he will have good reading comprehension skills because of these early habits.
  3. Play with words. Having fun with language helps your child develop phonemic awareness, the ability to hear and manipulate sounds in words. Rhyming is a wonderful way to develop phonemic awareness. Play an easy game where you pass an object around. Whoever is holding the object has to come up with a rhyming word for the object’s name. Start with something easy like a hat. Made-up words are just fine. Another way to help your child learn to manipulate sounds is to speak like a robot. Say every syllable as a separate word. Encourage your child to play along. She’ll be learning to chunk words, which will eventually help her with reading longer words and spelling. Another fun game is to see if your child can figure out the word you are saying if you say it sound by sound. For instance, if you say /m/, /a/, /t/, can your child orally blend those sounds and come up with the word mat? A pre-reader who is starting to show reading readiness will love to play with words and sounds.
  4. Learn to work a book. Educators say that children need to learn “concepts of print” before being ready to learn to read. This is to say that children need to know how a book works. A book has a cover, a title, an author and an illustrator. It opens up on the right side and pages turn from right to left. Words go from left to right and from top to bottom. Words have spaces between them. Books have a beginning, middle and end. We take all of these things for granted, but knowing his way around a book will help your child when it is time to learn to read.
  5. Make up stories. As a young child’s imagination develops, she will love listening to fantasies. Her own imagination will likely stir up more stories—encourage her to share them with you. This type of oral language development is very important and will help your child develop her vocabulary and her ability to eventually read and write. You may also take the next step and take dictation for your child. Write or type her words and make a book (a book can be as simple as a folded piece of paper). Your child will love seeing her words written down and may even add drawings. This will help develop a love of words and stories.

Stroll, don’t rush, into reading, with the confidence that soon your child will be reading, writing and communicating fluently. Enjoy the journey.