Toddlers are so much FUN at this age! They’re truly absorbent little sponges that soak up everything around them whether we realize it or not. They’re always discovering how the world works and our job as parents is to help them navigate this space. As much as toddlers are able to absorb, is it truly possible for toddlers to learn to read?
What Research Tells Us
Teaching toddlers to read is an insurmountable task you may not feel qualified to take on. However, research teaches us that there are things we can be doing to help equip toddlers to read. Teaching a toddler to read involves not only focused efforts but also reading aloud to the toddler (Frey, 2015). According to the same study, parents can build a child’s vocabulary simply by talking to the child, but the best way to boost vocabulary is by reading (Massaro, as quoted in Frey 2015).
Interestingly, reading aloud to children helps boost not only their vocabularies but also their understanding of grammatical rules and nuances which forms the basis for later learning to read. Simply talking to children also helps boost their vocabularies as well. The more parents talk to their children, the higher their IQs tested at ages three and above (Frey, 2015).
How to Start Teaching Toddlers to Read
With all the positive research supporting the idea of reading for toddlers, you may come away from this wondering just how you’re supposed to do that. Below, we’ve collected several fun and easy-to-implement strategies for teaching a toddler to read.
Read to your toddler. The above research shows how important this step is. Children who are read to become literate, period. Even when your child can read independently, it’s important to read to him or her.
Teach the letters of the alphabet. Even within this step, there are various schools of thought on how to go about doing this. Some say you should teach the letter sounds rather than the letter names while others say the opposite. Regardless, you’ll want to teach the letters of the alphabet so your toddler has some sort of foundation to build upon.
Sing and teach letter songs. This goes along with step 2 and helps solidify what your toddler is learning. It also takes the alphabet from the abstract to the concrete when toddlers can relate what they’ve been taught to something else they’re being taught. An online preschool curriculum is perfect for this!
Teach short words. Some parents prefer to teach the alphabet first while others skip that step and move
straight into teaching short words. In the toddler years, we’re mainly focusing on stimulating the child’s ability to recognize and memorize letters, numbers, shapes, and colors. What a perfect time to teach short words!
Ask questions. Asking your child questions encourages interaction with the book you’re reading. It’s also pivotal in helping your child understand comprehension questions down the road. Reading and fluency are certainly worthy goals, but our ultimate goal should be comprehension. Since we’re talking about toddlers here, you could ask simple questions such as “Do you see the dog?” or “Is the house red?” Simple “yes” or “no” questions will suffice.
Be a good example! If your child never sees you reading and if you don’t supply him or her with plenty of book options, it’s possible he or she will take very little interest in reading. Children learn by example and seeing you read frequently will go a long way in igniting his enthusiasm for reading.
Point out letters in their natural settings. For instance, when you spot a stop sign, you could point out the letters to your young toddler or ask him or her what letters he or she sees. In your nursery, if you have your child’s name on the wall or on a baby book, take the time to point these things out to him. Seeing letters “in use” rather than just as abstract concepts will solidify the meaning of reading for a purpose to your toddler.
Use a multisensory approach. In addition to teaching your toddler the letter sounds and names, incorporate other senses in your teaching. For instance, a soft piece of material your toddler can gently rub will help make sense of the word “soft” and possibly even the letter “S.” This is a good time to do alphabet crafts with your toddler. He or she will soon come to relate letters and their sounds with images that begin with those letters.
Become familiar with decoding words. Decoding will help your toddler learn to read faster. Instead of stumbling over letter sounds or digraph combinations, your toddler can begin understanding the way letter combinations work together to form words.
Use word families. Word families are words that end in similar sounds but have different beginnings. Examples include “-op,” (pop, mop, top, etc.) and “-at” (fat, rat, cat, mat, etc.).
It’s hard to believe, but your toddler can read! With patience and persistence, you can implement the above ideas and have your child on his or her way to reading! Don’t believe us? Check out this other video of a toddler happily reading!
Tasha is a homeschooling mom to 5 and has been homeschooling for 14 years. Currently, her children's ages span from toddler to young adult. Tasha has a Bachelor's of Science degree in Social Sciences from Florida State University and is working on her MBA through SNHU/Berklee School of Music.