Ages & Stages

How to Teach a Child to Read

“Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.”

This is one of the most notable lines from Harper Lee’s novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. I remember loving the movie adaptation so much as a child because I wasn’t old enough to read the book. By the time I reached college, I revisited the movie and read the novel. No doubt, works such as this teach ra great love for reading that one can bring all throughout her life.

But enough with me. Let’s get to the main reason why I mentioned this beloved work.

Scout was the one who said that and she is the 6-year old girl in the book who showed so much passion for reading that when she said that memorable line, we felt it as well. How nice it would be if our own children were the same?

This beautiful thing—albeit happening only in fiction—is one of the reasons why it becomes understandable for parents to want their children to develop the ability to read as early as possible. Of course all of us love different things but there are just so many good things that we can get out of reading. And that’s what drives us parents.

The journey of a child learning to read

It may come as second nature to us adults but reading actually involves a complex process, especially in children. We may not remember our own experiences when we were young but it was a complicated process.

Imagine how a child derives meaning from a simple word like “dog”, how they read it in print, and how they make sense out of those lines and know that it does refer to the animal dog.

What actually happens is, prior to comprehending letters and words, they’ve already formed a foundation of concepts with the corresponding terms describing their essence and qualities.

When they see a thing or an animal, they point at it with an inquisitive look and understanding their curiosity, you answer, “it’s a dog, honey. Dog.”

They do this with all the things that pique their interest—a car, the TV, bird, egg, etc. Therefore, they learn through observation, play, drawing, and storytelling.

This tells us that the process of learning how to read doesn’t start the first time you picked up a book to read to him; it began the first moment they showed curiosity.

This contextual aspect of perceiving meaning is so essential to reading that we suggest parents to focus on it. In other words, work towards enriching your children’s imagination because this is where it all starts.

Proper ways to teach reading skills

Don’t pressure them

Over time, the age at which we expect children to learn to read becomes younger and younger. Experts suggest that children are not ready to interpret print until they turned 8. But as modern parents, the idea is simply ridiculous.

Most of us already expect them to read basic words at age 4 or 5. There are even those who already teach children how to read at the age of 3.

There’s nothing wrong with these things. However, the danger lies in the fact that this can possibly hinder their love for reading. Pressuring your kid into learning an ability he or she is not ready may frustrate not just your child but also you.

Encourage them to develop their imagination

What you can do is tap into their imagination first. You can do this by reading them books in an animated voice, describing to them what’s happening in the story and answering their questions about it.

You may sound silly trying to sound like a bear but that’s exactly what they need. Reading at the same time pointing at the words. Spending more time on pictures also helps; there’s a reason why children’s books are full of them.

Should I start teaching them even before school starts?

I understand we can be very eager to teach our kids how to read. We’ve already bought our 3-year old countless of books and the house is simply full of it.

Of course, you can start introducing your kid to books even before going to school. But it is very important to note that it should be more like a leisure activity than a chore.

When our now 3-year old was just 2 (nearing his 3rd birthday actually), we were so surprised by a habit he began to pick up one morning:

He went inside the room where his small shelf was, picked up a book, and started going over the pages. We were so shocked (in a good way, of course) that he was reading by himself (well, not really reading, more like looking at the pictures). Then he does it until now, every morning at around the same time, 9 or 10am.

It was one of the most precious moments that I still keep on playing in my head now. I suspect that it was mainly because we read to him as much as possible, not just during bedtime. And of course, I’ll also take credit for telling stories in a marvellous way (in a 3-yr-old’s standards).

Reading to our children brings them to exciting new worlds and introduces them to fun characters. If they develop the love for reading, soon enough, they’ll pick up a book simply because they can’t help it.


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