When should I start teaching my child to read? This is a question many parents want to know. We all want to do the very best for our kids, so shouldn’t we get started as soon as possible? Not necessarily! From my experience in teaching seven of our ten kids to read, it is best to wait until they are developmentally equipped and show signs of reading readiness.
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Don’t Give In to the Pressure to Start Early
How can you tell if your child is ready to start learning to read? With the push to get kids in school earlier and earlier, parents are under pressure to start teaching their kids to read at very young ages. At a time when kids should be spending much of their time discovering the world around them through play, they are asked to identify letters and sounds long before they are developmentally ready for this skill. This kind of push is unnecessary and often harmful.
I once heard Durenda Wilson use ice fishing as an excellent illustration of why parents should not rush children into reading lessons too early. You can go out in early March or February and chip, chip away all day long at the ice OR you can wait until the spring thaw and get it all done in a day. Many parents make this mistake of starting too early. It’s so much unnecessary work for the mom and sadly, it usually results in kids who don’t want to learn to read.
There are many benefits to delaying formal lessons with your child. Give them plenty of time to play. When we wait until a child is truly ready to start learning to read, it is like plucking ripe fruit from the vine. Don’t discourage your child’s natural curiosity by bombarding them with formal lessons when they are developmentally not ready for it. The goal should be helping your child love books and learning. This kind of approach will pay off over the long haul.
Signs That a Child is Ready to Start Learning To Read
How can you know if your child is ready to start reading lessons? Our son Will is showing signs that he is ready to start learning to read. We have ten children; I have taught seven of them to read and I have learned a lot over the years from each child. Here are some of the signs I have observed in my kids that show they are ready to start learning to read.
- play reading, pretending to read by making up a story as they go through a book
- trying to read road signs while you are traveling in the car
- “reading” the words on the cereal box, snack bars, or canned goods
- sounding out words in a commercial that they see
- asking you if they can start learning to read
One of the first signs William showed was bringing books to me, saying he has read X number of books. With some of our other children, I will catch them trying to write their letters before they know them all or trying to write their name.
One observation I have noticed with my kids is that the older children have a different experience from the younger children. The oldest child in a family has less opportunities to hear language since mom and dad are the main avenue of literacy. This makes it doubly important for parents to read to their first child frequently. For younger children in a family, however, they hear so much language from siblings (watching other kids read, do school, siblings reading to them, etc.) that they are often ready to read at earlier times with less work on my part as a mom in reading to them.
Don’t Overcomplicate It!
You have already taught your child a number of things: sleeping through the night, potty training, feeding himself. Reading is the next logical step.
Observe how babies and toddlers mimic everything they see around them. From the time of birth, little ones imitate the behavior of their parents, siblings, and people with whom they spend the most time. When your child sees you reading to get information, to get directions, to understand a recipe, etc. he will want to be able to unlock that capability as well.
We live in a literate world. Everywhere you turn, you can find something to read. Even in a child’s small world, they encounter words everywhere: cereal boxes, food packages, road signs and phones, computers, restaurant/shopping signs while riding in a car. At some point, just as he wanted to be able to put food in his mouth by himself, you child will want to have access to this mysterious world of reading.
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Frequently Asked Questions
What if my child isn’t interested in learning to read?
- Take a look at how much screen time your child has. Just like we as adults want to consume information on our phones or the Internet, kids also are naturally curious. They want to know more about the world around them! If they spend a lot of time in front of a screen, especially at young ages, they are consuming a lot of information in a way that is not encouraging them to get it through reading. Don’t let screen time fill a space of time that otherwise might be spent exploring books.
- Read to them A LOT. The more you read to your child, the more they will enjoy stories. They will gradually want to be able to read it for themselves. You are also giving them a large bank of words that they know which is important when they begin sounding out letters and putting letters together into words. Let me offer a word of caution, however, when you read to your kids. Read to them in small chunks throughout the day. Kids have short attention spans and it is so important that they associate the time reading together with pleasure.
What if my child is just being lazy?
Some kids are less motivated than others. For a child who is doesn’t want to try, I think there is nothing wrong with requiring them to practice reading 10-15 minutes a day. The skill of learning to read, even for kids who want to do it, is hard! It’s a new language of written symbols, completely unfamiliar to them, so of course it will be difficult in the beginning! Having short daily reading practice will help them make reading a part of regular life. The most important thing is not to trample the pleasure they have in reading
I am getting nervous because my child is turning 6,7,8… and still not reading. What can I do?
I think that teaching a child to read has many similarities with other skills you have already taught them. When I taught our babies to eat with a spoon, some of them picked it up right away. Others wanted me to continue spoon feeding them…for what seemed like forever! They were content for me to be feeding them for a longer period of time. Either way, both of these opposite children were receiving the necessary food and they both learned to use a spoon at some point. This analogy can be used for potty training as well; kids become independent at different ages. It is the same with reading. As long as you are faithfully reading to them, they are getting fed with the information that they would otherwise get by reading it on their own. Don’t fear a late reader; kids will learn to read in their own good time. Enjoy the time you have snuggling up on the sofa reading together.
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Hi, I’m Sheri! I am a Christian saved by grace, married to my high school sweetheart, and a thankful mom to ten incredible kids. I’m a former public school teacher who never thought I would someday be a homeschool mom! Drawing on 13+ years of homeschooling experience, follow along to find help for getting started, tried and true homeschooling advice, life skills learning, simple Morning Time ideas, and interviews with everyday homeschool moms just like you!