Kids begin the long journey to reading from the moment they hear their first word. Language is the base of literacy, and each time you speak to your child or respond to their words, you help them learn and make connections that will eventually lead to reading.
If you’re the parent of a preschooler, it’s likely your child isn’t reading yet. And that’s okay. Most preschoolers can’t read. Children learn to read on their own time, so there’s no need to push reading early.
However, there are some things you can do to support them on their reading path:
- Provide an environment that supports literacy development.
- Introduce letters to them.
- Engage in fun activities that make learning to read fun.
Your child’s surroundings can make a huge difference in their literacy development. Turn your home into a print-rich environment with books, magazines, posters, letters, and words in many different places.
Fill your house with words, not just on the walls, but also in the air. Talking to your kids about everything from how to make dinner to the cool caterpillar you saw on your walk today will help them develop their vocabulary and learn new words.
Sing songs and say nursery rhymes together as a family. This will help build your child’s phonemic awareness, so they hear and learn to manipulate new sounds.
Introduce Their Letters
Letter introduction starts by just pointing out letters in your environment: the “m” on the McDonald’s sign or the “a” on the Amazon truck’s side. It doesn’t have to be intense or focused; just casually point out letters as you see them.
Next comes the matching stage. At this point, your child doesn’t actually know their letters but can see a letter and match it to another one found somewhere else. The letters are more shapes in this stage, but it’s the first step to recognition.
The last step is when your child begins to know and remember their letters. Often, kids can quickly recognize the first letter in their name, along with a handful of others, but the rest may come later. Don’t be worried if they come much later. They will come!
Fun Reading Activities
While the first two steps are more about general instruction and knowledge, there are some focused activities that you can do to help your child learn to read. So make like Mary Poppins and find the fun to turn the job into a game!
An ideal matchup of gross motor practice and learning letters
- Letter magnets
- Magnet wand
- Laundry basket
- Letter/Word flashcards (optional)
Help your child set sail in the laundry basket boat. Place it in a clear space on the floor, and gently spread out the letter magnets around the basket. To go fishing, they have to use the magnet wand to capture the letters, without tipping the basket over.
Beginner: Let them have fun with the letters. You can identify them as they pick them up if you want, but it’s not necessary.
Intermediate: Give your child a flashcard and have them fish for the letter that matches that card.
Advanced: Ask your child to find all the letters in the word on the flashcard.
Sensory Bin Letters
This helps develop both literacy and fine motor skills.
- Plastic pencil boxes/paper plates
- Various sensory bin items: salt, shaving cream, sand, rice, beans, etc.
- Letter/Word flashcards
Set your child up with a pencil box that has a layer of sensory material in it. (You can also use a plate, but I find a plastic pencil box contains the mess a little better) Set a flashcard in the pencil box’s lid and ask your child to draw the letter with their finger in the material. Repeat until one or both of you tire of the game.
Beginner: You can help your child draw the letters using a hand over hand technique to get them used to the motions.
Intermediate: Allow your child to work through the flashcards, creating the letters on their own.
Advanced: Progress to copying whole words.
Pound the Letter
Perfect for getting out some extra energy while you learn to read!
- Styrofoam board
- Golf tees
- Toy hammer or mallet
- Letter/word flashcards
On the styrofoam board, write all the letters of the alphabet (not in order), spread out, so the whole board is used. Place a golf tee above each letter. As they identify letters, your child gets to pound the golf tee into the styrofoam.
Beginner: Use the flashcards and have your child pound the matching letter.
Intermediate: Call out letters to your child and have them pound the letter you called out.
Advanced: Instead of letters, pound words! You can match the words to flashcards, or have your child match pictures to the words.
Paper Plate Letter Wheel
This is a great car game; it just takes a little prep!
- Paper plates
Using the sharpie, write all the letters on the alphabet around the edge of the paper plate. Take the scissors and cut in between the letters, creating a tab for each one. When you’re on the road, give your child the letter wheel and ask them to fold down each letter as they see it on signs outside their window.
Beginner: Use only lowercase letters (they’re easier to spot) and call out ones you see.
Intermediate: Have one wheel for lowercase letters and another for uppercase.
Advanced: Mix the lowercase and uppercase letters up, and consider including some words too!
The ultimate rainy day activity
- Construction paper (cut into fourths)
Write each letter in a thick marker on a separate piece of construction paper. Tape the letters up all around the house at your child’s eye level. Give your child a letter to find and send them to run and touch the letter, then run back to you for the next one.
Beginner: Show your child the letter on a flashcard that they can take with them to help match.
Intermediate: Call out the letter and let your child identify it on their own.
Advanced: Give your child simple words instead of letters to find.
Raising a Reader
There are many things you can do to support your child’s reading skills. There are several different online reading programs you can buy or reading curriculums that give you lots of materials.
However, fun activities, reading together, listening to audiobooks, and singing songs are also excellent options that will help them learn to read in a more diverting way.