How to Teach Young Children to Read: The Definitive Guide

  • By: toddlermaster
  • Date: May 17, 2023
  • Time to read: 9 min.

How to teach young children to read

Learning to read is a rite of passage in every society.

As a result, we often forget it takes real effort.

It’s not a natural process, as many assume.

Do you know how to teach young children to read?

Statistics show that about 34% of the children entering kindergarten lack the basic language skills they need to read.

Even worse, if a child is not taught how to read at a young age, they are at risk of having weak literacy skills for the rest of their lives. 

Teaching a young child to read is a complex process.

It happens in several phases and requires a whole lot of practice.

If you’re not attentive, your kids may even fool you into thinking that they can read.

So to that end, this post is all about knowing exactly how to teach young children to read

teach young children to read

If you have a child, then you know that some of them can recite their favorite bedtime story books word-for-word (and even flip the pages at the right point). 

As a parent, guardian, or caregiver, it is crucial to begin the learning process for your kids as early as possible.

However, before you start educating them, there are some things you should learn yourself.

There are five essential components of knowing how to to teach young children to read.

When you know these components, you can recognize the progress in your child as it happens.

This knowledge will also put your mind at ease, as many parents get frustrated or concerned when their children are not reading as quickly as expected. 

The 5 Essential Components of Reading

  1. Phonics

When understanding how to teach young children to read, teaching phonics is imperative.

Phonics represent the connection between letters and sounds.

There’s a reason why you see the word ‘car,’ and immediately picture a car in your mind.

It’s because you’ve been taught that those lines and curves represent a specific meaning.

Showing the word ‘car’ to someone who cannot read English words will not elicit the same response.

This is how the mind of a child also works.


They may know what a car is, but your lines on paper mean nothing to them.

Phonics allows them to learn the meaning of letters, then words, and eventually, sentences. 

2. Phonemic awareness

This is similar to phonemes, but not quite the same.

It is the understanding that words are built from individual units of sounds, also known as phonemes.

So while phonics is about words and sounds, phonemic awareness is about sound only.

A child has phonemic awareness when they can recognize the sound patterns in words.


For example, if a child knows the phoneme /g/ from saying ‘go’ and ‘give,’ then they should know how to pronounce ‘good.’ 


Everyone is continually improving their vocabulary.

Your vocabulary is the collection of the words you know.

While learning to read, children will be exposed to new words every day.

They will need time and patience to learn each one of them.

This means that they will have to learn about every single word they come across.

Most kids will come to you with endless questions every time they hear a new word.

How to teach young children

With technology, they can also get some of those lessons through children’s instructional videos and games. 

4. Fluency

This refers to the speed, accuracy, and expression of a reader.

This is what most people assume how to teach young children to read involves.

However, the stages above show that reading can be accomplished in smaller goals.

Fluency shows how well a child can read through their combination of several reading skills at the same time.

If your kid can pick up a storybook, create pictures in their mind as they read, and give each character a voice and facial expression, then they can be considered as fluent. 

5. Reading Comprehension

Not everyone who can read can comprehend.

Reading involves translating symbols on paper into meaningful vocal sounds.

Comprehension is the ability to extract meaning from something read, and either retain the knowledge or apply it.

In this stage, general thinking skills come into play.

How to Teach Young Children to Read

A child who has reading comprehension should be able to give a summary of what they have read.

Note that reading comprehension is relative.

A child will comprehend a story from their storybook, but will not understand a research paper even if they can pronounce all the words. 

Now that you’re familiar with the components of reading, you should be able to evaluate a child’s progress as they learn.

Here are several practices that are effective for teaching young children to read

9 Most Important Practices 

  1. Use rhymes as phonic exercises

Rhymes don’t just make good nursery songs.

They are the first lessons in helping children find patterns in their words.

You can explain rhyming to children this way:

“Rhymes are words that sound the same at the end.”

Rhyming sets the base for learning phonics because it helps children identify the same patterns in different words. 

There are several fun ways to teach rhymes.

You can start by teaching them simple songs such as ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ and ‘Humpty Dumpty.’

You can also read books that contain rhymes such as ‘The Cat in the Hat.’ When you go on car rides, play the ‘I spy’ game, but with a twist.


Say ‘I spy with my little eye something that rhymes with *insert word*.

It will take a while for them to catch up with these activities.

Eventually, they will learn to recognize the patterns and respond correctly. 

2. Teach letter sounds and names 

Get your child familiar with letters as early as possible.

Learning to read will go a lot easier if they already know what letters look like and what they are.

These lessons can start as early as two years old.

Buy your child toys with letters.


Give them print out or traceable letters so that they can get familiar with the shapes and curves.

Sing the alphabet song repeatedly until they are following along.

You can also read children’s books with stories surrounding the alphabets to them. 

3.  Create flashcards

Flashcards are great for teaching letters and words.

If you’ve noticed that visual cues easily attract your kid, then they may be visual learners.

This means that flashcards could be handy on them.

If you’re at the stage of learning alphabets, you can create DIY flashcards for your lessons.

How to Teach Young Children to Read

Make two sets; one for capital letters and one for small letters.

Before you move on, you want to be sure that they can recognize both. 

Once your child can recognize the alphabet in order, start shuffling it up.

Doing this will task their brains further.

It will also help you ensure that they have not just memorized the sequence, and can actually read the letters.

Use this process for words too. 

4. Teach lessons in sequence

There should be some order to your learning activities.

Start at the very basic and work your way up.

Remember that you’re introducing your child to a whole new world.

If you’re working on learning the alphabet, stick to that until you are satisfied with the results.

If they only learn half of the alphabet and you excitedly move on to learning words, they will get stuck quickly. 

Even if your lessons are happening at home on the kitchen floor, make sure that there’s a loose order to follow.

If your child is learning the alphabet, it’s okay to show them words or read books to them.

However, avoid stretching their concentration too thin with different levels of difficulty at once. 

Very important points concerning how to teach young children to read

5. Use books designed for reading lessons

Reading books for children is helpful in several ways.

First, they are written using specific words for expanding vocabulary.

These are words they are likely to encounter in everyday conversations.

This is why many reading books contain scenes of greeting, making new friends, identifying items, and more.

read aloud

Also, reading books are also designed for different age groups.

There are books for children ages 3-8, 5-9, 7-10, and so on. 

Books should be a part of your lesson, but also encourage your kids to read for fun.

One easy method is by buying books in their areas of interest.

If your child loves animals and insects, buy them related storybooks.

If they love aliens and sci-fi things, buy them fantasy-inspired books for kids.

With this strategy, reading for them would be an enjoyable activity rather than a chore. 

7. Play word games 

Games are a great strategy to help your children enjoy practicing.

They also engage their reasoning skills and help them make the connection between reading and comprehension.

At a really young age, start out by identifying general objects.

For example, write five standard colors on different flashcards.

You can use white, blue, red, green, and yellow.

When you go out together, point out a car with one of those colors, and ask them to raise the card with the matching color.

You can also explore online word games designed for kids.

There are free and paid versions available for download on app stores. 

8. Involve other adults in your lessons

Children love to show off their new toys, friends, and skills.

Sometimes, the interaction with another adult could be the encouragement they need to push themselves a bit more.

If you have a partner, encourage them to get involved in the lessons.

A simple “what did you learn today?” may encourage your child to talk through their daily activities.

This type of repetition helps to build muscle memory and improve their progress. 

Kids will also pick up new things from other people, and will come to you for further explanation.

Of course, you have to be selective with the people who you expose your children to.

Limit their interaction with people who use negative words.

How to Teach Young Children to Read

Also, ask people to talk to your children with proper grammar, rather than baby gibberish.

Research has actually shown that parents and other adults almost always speak to babies using unclear, ‘cute’ words.

These words may compromise a child’s early language input.

This may even account for why some children have faster learning acquisition than others. 

9.  Set an example 

If you want your child to develop good reading habits, you have to lead by example.

Become an avid reader if you’re not one already.

Children are very impressionable at a young age.

In their eyes, their parents can do no wrong.

If they see you reading regularly, they’ll assume it’s something fun, and soon begin to do the same.

To achieve this effect, set out reading hours in your day.

If you work a full-time job, you read for an hour after work or during weekends.

Within these reading hours, turn off all electronics and keep the house as peaceful as possible.

Invite your child to take a book of their choice and join you in reading. 

My child is not reading as quickly as I expected.

What am I doing wrong? 


This happens sometimes.

Usually, children should start developing reading abilities between the ages of 4-8.

This is, of course, with consistent lessons and practice.

However, some children learn slower than others.

If your child is moving at a slow pace, it’s not a cause for alarm.

It’s essential to be patient with them at this point and not show signs of frustration.

Children can feel the pressure of disappointment from their parents, and this may make the process harder for them. 

If you notice that your child is struggling with reading, slow down the process.

Try to evaluate their current success using the five components above.

Can they identify letters?

Do they know how to sound out complex words?

Can they make the connection between reading a sentence and comprehending the sentence?

With this knowledge, you can better approach their areas of difficulty. 

If, by the age of 7-8, your child is still not showing any progress, then it is possible that they may have a learning disability.

Some learning disabilities which affect children’s ability to read and write are dyslexia and dysgraphia.

ADHD could also be included because it affects a child’s ability to focus intently for an extended period of time. As you know, learning to read requires a lot of focus and practice. 

These learning disabilities can be presented in a lot of symptoms.

However, there are a few which are almost always recognizable.

They include

  • Short attention span
  • Poor visual perception
  • Poor auditory perception
  • Hyperactivity
  • Poor motor skills and hand-eye coordination
  • Inability or low ability to tell the difference between letters and numbers
  • Poor memory 

If your child struggles to read at 7-8 years after a lot of practice, you may visit a licensed psychologist.

How to Teach Young Children to Read

They will administer the required tests to provide the right diagnosis.

They will also offer you options for therapy and other practices to help your child enjoy practical learning experiences. 

Ready to wear your teaching hat? 

Helping your child learn to read is an intense journey, but it’s also fun!

Your daily lessons won’t even feel like work for them.

Remember to be patient and allow your child to progress at their own pace.

As their interests develop, improve their reading habits by buying them books on the topics they love.

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