Tips from a Reading Specialist: Teaching Your Toddler to Read Before Kindergarten

The number one indication that a child will do well in school early on is if they have strong literacy skills. When you consider all the subjects taught in school, all of them involve reading. Sometimes a child’s only real struggles is reading, but with reading being such a big part of every subject, they may receive poor grades across the board. This will lead to them being unfairly recognized as a poor student when it is merely their difficulty with reading that is doing them in.

When you consider all the subjects taught in school, all of them involve reading.

As a certified Reading Specialist with a Masters in Reading and Literacy, I have helped thousands of kids develop their overall literacy skills. I have also worked with hundreds that were grade levels below in where they should be with their reading. Through research-based strategies and activities, we were able to right the ship and get them to where they needed to be. Some have even gone on to become the best readers in the class.

This has always been a mission that I hold dear. I was born into a family of eleven and my parents had very little time to help with school work. By the end of first grade, I was the worst reader in the class. It was not a pleasant experience to struggle so badly and being labeled a poor student. I was merely in this situation because nobody had the time to help me learn to read.


Then a funny thing happened at the end of my first grade year. I discovered comic books. At first, I was happy just looking through them and staring at the pictures. But after a while, I wanted to know what the characters were saying to one another.

Soon enough, I was bringing a comic book along with me everywhere. When I would get stuck on a word, I would ask one person to help me with it. When I would get stuck on the next word, I would ask someone else to guide me through learning it. This way I was never bothering someone for more than ten seconds or so.

After months of doing this and developing my phonics and decoding skills, I turned into one of the best readers in second grade. In fact, I won our spelling bee for the next three straight years! I went from worst to first. And now I am spending my time helping other children do the same thing.




You can get your child reading before they ever take a step into kindergarten if you work with them ahead of time. By only spending 20 minutes a day with them working on these skills, they will enter school ahead of the pack. Below are research-based strategies that you can start with a toddler so by the time they are five years old, they will already have a firm grasp on succeeding in literacy.



Read to Your Child and Find Books that Jump Out at Them

By reading to your child, you are conditioning them to want to become readers. Make sure they are looking at the page as you are reading to them. As you read, point at each word as you read it. After a bit, they will recognize these words by sight and repetition. Provide them with books on topics they are interested in. My interest was superheroes, so comic books worked well for me. Find books that make them want to learn how to read.


Go with the 90 Percent Rule

There is a fine line between challenging your kid to become a better reader, and frustrating your kid so much that they don’t want to ever open another book again. If they are just learning how to read, go with smaller books with only a few words on each page.

Once they have some reading skills in place and want to read a book independently without much help, find books where they know 90 percent of the words. With a bit of assistance, they can then learn the other ten percent in no time. If they are missing more than one word out of ten, then this is not an independent book and should be read together.

Once they have some reading skills in place and want to read a book independently without much help, find books where they know 90 percent of the words.


Phonics and Decoding

Learning to read basically comes down to phonics and sight words. Phonics will enable the child to recognize the letters and know each sound that is associated with them. When they have this in place, they can start decoding unfamiliar words.


If you are unsure of how to teach your child phonics, there are numerous workbooks available that will make it quite simple. Just look for systematic and sequential phonics and decoding workbooks that will take you step-by-step through the process.


Finally, the Sight Words

Ten words make up about 25 percent of all text in the English language. There are some words that just cannot be deciphered with phonics. Many kids first get stuck on the most common word “the” as they can’t really sound it out correctly through using phonics. And this is just one example.

Because of this, I would recommend Fry’s Instant Sight Words, found online, and for you to make the first 100 words on the list into your own flashcards for your child. After they have mastered these first 100, then start adding other sight words into the pile of cards from the next 100. You can continue doing this as your child’s literacy skills develop.


Be Patient

Working with a toddler can be a bit frustrating now and then as they don’t have a developed attention span yet, so be patient through this process. Whenever possible, make these strategies into fun activities that they will enjoy. By doing it this way, they won’t look at learning as quite the burdensome process and will enjoy it instead.★

                                                     Ryan Crawley is an educator, journalist, and fitness enthusiast frorym Illinois. While not teaching children and playing with his dogs, he enjoys reading just about everything he can get his hands on and writing about his experiences.



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