Helping My 4 Yr Old "Learn to Read"...

Updated on December 06, 2010
J.A. asks from Spartanburg, SC
20 answers

So, what is your take on children and reading?

When did your kids learn to read?
How old were they?
Did school "teach" them or did you? More than likely, some combination of both?
If you helped or taught your child to read, how did you go about it?

My 4 y/o has picked up a few words on her own that she can spell and write: STOP, GO, DAD, MOM, her name (first middle last), her brother's name... She is constantly asking how to spell a word, making up her own words using the letters she knows how to write, pretending the letters she wrote say something...I feel she is ready for something more...but I have no idea how to go about teaching her... learning sight words, or letter sounds, etc.

She knows the alphabet, meaning she can say it, identify all the letters, and write many, though not all, letters. How can I teach her sounds associated with the letters?
Should I expect her to be able to write all the letters? There are some letters she has obvious trouble with, it seems like a fine motor skill that she may not develop until later, but maybe there is some method I can teach her to make it easier?

I just don't know how to take it further, or if I should... I know I already knew how to read when I started Kindergaten, I don't remember my parents doing anything special. My husband remembers being taught to read in school and not really "getting" it until 2nd grade. I read to my kids several times a day, we have books in every room, they see me read everyday, we go to the library regularly....part of me thinks this should be enough at such a young age, and I am remembering my own childhood where I just "picked up" reading, I had no flash cards or lessons...

Any suggestions? How can I go about teaching basic reading skills? Should I? Am I doing enough, considering her age, already?

Thank you so much for your input!

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answers from Norfolk on

I just read to my son every night at bedtime. We started when he was about 2 or 3 with little cardboard books, then moved on to Dr Seuss, and we must have read every Dr Seuss story till we had them memorized. For awhile there I could almost recite 'Green Eggs and Ham' and 'Fox in Socks' from memory from beginning to end. He began picking up easy words in 1st grade, and he really took off by the 2nd half of 2nd grade. I began reading chapter books to him for bed time stories one chapter at a time per evening and before we knew it, he was reading Harry Potter on his own by the 3rd grade. By the 4th grade he was reading at a 12th grade level.
Last year was a problem for him with the AR reading tests. He was reading books at that were above the elementary level, but the elementary school didn't have the tests for them.. Now that he's in middle school, he's re-reading some books and cleaning up on the AR test points. He just won an award for having the highest number of points on his whole academic team (about 100 students) for the 1st quarter.

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answers from Sacramento on

If it's enough for her, it's enough. If she wants more, do more.

My son is almost 5 and has been reading since 3. He's reading around a 3rd grade level these days (depends on who you ask or how they judge reading). Anyway...

I asked him the other day "How'd you get to be such a good reader." He said "Silly Mommy! You taught me! You read to me all the time." That's pretty much it. I'm a reader and I have read with him every day since he was born. I pointed at the words of his simple picture books and would pause and let him "read" words of familiar stories.

I was like you (and my son) I just sort of cracked the code and "picked up" reading, so I'm not huge into pushing formal "teaching" at this age.

If you want to expose her to letter sounds, the Letter Factory movies are fantastic (my son loves them even though he already knows the content). They have cute sounds and make the idea of letters having sounds kind of cute and silly.

Good luck,


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answers from Colorado Springs on

We homeschool, so we teach all of our children to read when they are ready. Some are earlier, and others later. We like the book, Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. It is easy to use, and the children who learned from this book are great readers. Others needed a slower, more methodical method, and we used the Phonics Museum from It sounds like your daughter can use the book just fine. I wouldn't worry as much about the writing as I would teaching her to read with the book (they have a handwriting section for each lesson). We do as many lessons per day as we feel like doing. For handwriting, we use a different book. I really like Italic Handwriting, which you can get from I think you can get teach your child to read through them also, but I'm not sure. Have fun! Oh, and just read to her as often as she's interested. It should be low key and fun, not cumbersome and boring for her. :)

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answers from Pittsburgh on

Like you we have a lot of books available in the house and read to them daily. We also heavily utilize the library so there is always new or different material. LSS...both my girls just started reading to me one day. No phonetics no teaching...they just read. I found it odd when my oldest did this but then my second one turned around and did the exact same thing. I'd say both were probably around 4 1/2 when out of the blue they started reading to me and we're not talking easy words either. I say just continue reading to them and as long as they are paying attention and following along they might just pick it up without any teaching.

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answers from Chattanooga on

I was reading before I even started kindergarten. By the time I was in 5th grade I was reading (and comprehending) college-level books. (even though in all my other subjects I was average) I just loved books from an early age. One thing I am sure helped me was that when my dad read to me, he would follow the word with his finger as he said it. we also re-read the same books over and over, so I think I practically had the book memorized... then I was able to "read" the book to him instead (following the words but really just reciting from memory) until I picked up how the word was built. Eventually, I was able to start actually reading new books. There were four kids living in the house at that point and my (single at that time) dad never really had time to work on teaching us. One thing you might look into are those learning laptops... where most of the word is spelled, and they have to figure out which letter fits in the blank spot... That would help her learn how individual letters fit into a word. I wouldn't really push it, but if she is showing an interest and WANTS to learn, I don't see any reason why you shouldn't help her along. :)

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answers from Boise on

I am a homeschooler and I taught my children to read with 'Spell to Write and Read' (SWR) by Wanda Sanseri. They have a set of phonogram cards and a set of rule cards. These are the BASIC phonograms and rules to correctly learning the English language. They run about 13 bucks each set. You can find them online.

These are NOT THE SAME RULES taught by the public schools and books like "Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons". Those schools and books will use hoakey, unreliable 'rules' which are no rules at all. For example, the book I just mentioned teaches children to 'ignore' any letters written in lower case because they are silent. So the word ATE would be shown in the book like this : ATe. ok- so you taught my kid to only "see' the word "AT" . SO guess what my kid did? he would spell it that way also! The Spell to Write and Read program teaches them that there are 5 reasons for a silent final E, and the first reason is that "the vowel sound says its name because of the E" In this way the child learned that the A said it's name , in this particular word, directly because of the silent e. I dont have to pretend the e doesn't exist! My kid is smart enough to know how to figure out how words and letters go together if YOU TELL HIM HOW IT WORKS. He is not stupid. He doesnt have to 'memorize' how a word looks, (or in this case memorize the visual word incorrectly)
In SWR, they actually learn the 5 spelling rules that they can apply to ANY word that ends in a silent e.
Iv'e seen teachers in the public schools tell children that when they see 2 vowels side by side, the first vowel says it's name and the second is silent. That is a false, hoakey rule! It doesnt apply to words like bread, book, or stool. The SWR program teaches how to decode virtually any word in the english language and to do it correctly.

More silent final e rules:

Rule#2: English words don't end in V or U. That is why there is a silent e on the words love and blue.

Rule#3: The c says 's' and the g says 'J' because of the silent e. That is why a silent e is put at the end of the word face, so that the word doesnt get sounded out like fa'k'e. (the c makes 2 sounds, 'k' and 's')
There is a silent e on the word sage. That g says the 'J' sound directly because of this silent e rule # 3.

Rule #4: Every syllable needs a vowel. That is why there is a silent e on the word table. Broken into sylables, the word must have an e at the end to obey the rule: TA - BLE.

These are only a few of the many rules of learning the English language. (I think there are 72 if I remember correctly.) The reason children are coming out of the public schools totally illiterate is because they are being taught to be illiterate, with garbage programs based on false rules or no rules at all. The book "Teach Your Child To Read in 100 Easy Lessons" WILL certainly teach your child to read some words. Just like feeding a child a donut will fill his belly. However we know it is not the best thing to do for the child and the damage will have to be undone at some future time. At some point, you will have to undo the teaching of false rules which do not regularly apply to the English language and teach him the right way so that he can SPELL words as an adult. As it is, the public schools mostly teach SIGHT word memorization and blends. Try memorizing the spelling of 2000 of the most used english words! I would say that is more daunting than learing the 72 phonograms/rules.
BTW: the "Teach Your Child To Read in 100 Easy Lessons" was originally written for special needs children who had difficulty understanding concepts. It was not meant for normal children. It was also written by a man who had no formal training in educational methods, much less special needs methods. To see this book go mainstream is a pitty and a loss for intelligent children everywhere.

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answers from New York on

Usually a child starts to learn the letters and sounds they make in preschool (age 3 or 4) and then build upon that. In kindergarden, many children will actually start reading, but most are still working on letters and sounds. By the end of K, beginning to grade 1, they are learning the site words.

Since she's still learning her letters, I would continue to work with her on that skill. Don't approach it as teaching, but as a game, or just general conversation. For example, if she write's go, you can say g makes the .. sound. What other words make that sound? You'll notice that it just starts to all fall into place naturally.

The best thing you can do is to keep up what your doing, read to her everyday and make those visits to the library. Reading is a skill that is different for each child.

My oldest started reading when she was 4 and in preschool. In K she was reading at a 3rd grade level. My youngest didn't start reading until she was 7 and in 2nd grade, it was very difficult for her.

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answers from Laredo on

My DS is four and in preschool and he is doing the same things that you DD is right now. He is very interested in wanting to know how eveything is spelled and what words start with what letters. At school he sings this song that I think is really helpful when we are trying to help him sound out a word. You make the sound that the letter makes and then say a word that starts with the sound. Ex... A-A Apple.. B B Ball... C C Cat and D D Doll.
Also one of our neighbors is a elementary school teacher and she was telling me that once they pick up the sound each letter makes then start going over the conjunction sounds with them... like what sound CH makes.
She also gave me this awesome website that is free and is all about teaching kids how to read. I do it with my DS since all we have are laptops and he doesnt yet get how to use the mouse pad its & we do it almost everyday.

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answers from San Antonio on

My son is 2.5 and can type the words (on his own w/o me having to spell it for him) " my, look, and, the, it" and a few others. I think he's picked up so much of this due to a few things:

1. We read all the time. I have him use his 'reading finger' and point to the words as I read them.
2. We watch Meet the Sight Words from We rent them for free from our local library.
3. We watch the tv show Between the Lions on pbs. It teaches phonics and two stories are read each half hour episode. First time I watched it I thought it was weird. Now it's grown on me. We watch it every day.

I personally think the Sight words movie is really what's done it for him. There are three editions. I think 10-12 sight words on each movie.

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answers from Seattle on

My son started playing on when he was 2.5. By 3 he was reading fluently.

For kids age 3yo-6yo about 6 months on starfall seems to be the norm from not reading to reading fluently.

One thing, however, is that while my son could read anything, he didn't get the mental imagry purely from words. He understood absolutely everything but the "mind movie", where you're actually THERE wasn't happening. His comprehension was great, but not his enjoyment. So at around age 6/7 we started doing the Charlotte Mason technique of "narrating". Meaning he or I would read a paragraph and then he'd put it in his own words. Some kids do this verbally, some kids write, some draw... my kiddo is a comedian & fascinated with films so he would act out each paragraph like he was filiming it. We started with a sentance at a time, then bumped up to paragraphs, then bumped up to scenes, then bumped up to chapters. Here's more info on it

DO remember: reading, comprehension, mental imagery, writing, & spelling are 5 distinctly different things. 7 if you split writing into : mechanics of handwriting, typing, & composing.

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answers from Minneapolis on


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answers from Macon on

I read to my boys every night (or my husband did) and when they were 3, we started having them read certain words... it, at, the, what, is.... then a few months later, we expanded those words with more words. Every couple of months we added words to the list until 4. Then, we used a book that we read often enough but not so often it was memorized, and have them read it back to us. The roles reversed in that we did the words they hadn't mastered yet.
My older son was reading by himself at 4.5-5 and has read 2-3 years beyond his grade level. My younger son was a little slower in grasping the concept and started reading by himself at 5.6 but once he got it has maintained the highest level his grade has plus 4-6 years beyond.
We do/did not let them read beyond their actual years as they didn't need to be reading the content that comes with books for older children. Both my boys read everything they can get their hands on. At 19 and 12, they still love to escape in a book.
Their favorite books as youngers were Dr Seuss. They loved watching us stumble over the poetry of it and because of it, those were some of the first books they mastered. Little chapter books are great to get them started in and not just picture books! They will amaze you before you know it!
Good luck!!

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answers from Fresno on

If you want your child to learn all the letter sounds then buy the Leap Frog video called the Letter Factory and Talking Words. It should take a week or so and he will know all the sounds.

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answers from Minneapolis on

I think if she's interested you should roll with it. I think the foundation of reading at this point is to get her to learn letter sounds. You can't really teach reading without that. Our preschool teacher suggested the video "The Letter Factory", it's a Leap Frog video. It is simple and entertaining and basically teaches letter sounds. My daughter (who is kindergarten) had absolutely no interest in learning letter sounds and this worked wonders for her. I think once she establishes her letter sounds you could go over high frequency words.

Now, after saying all of that, I don't think it's necessary for a 4 year old to know how to read. If she pulls back and doesn't enjoy it anymore, then you shouldn't push it. Learning should be about play at this age and should be enjoyable and fun. There isn't any harm in helping the process though as long as she's interested! Good luck.

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answers from Jacksonville on

There are several questions (over a long time frame) on this site, that address this very question. It sounds like your daughter is ready to read. My daughter was a lot like that... only she was doing these things at 3, and had completely learned the alphabet on her own simply by playing with a LeapFrog toy that had the alphabet on its belly.

I had used "Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons" with my son when he was almost 4, so when my daughter was about 3 1/2, I gave it a shot with her also. She loved it. It is a very simple "program"... a workbook. You just follow the written instructions (for the "teacher") for EVERY SINGLE LESSON and the only thing you need is the workbook itself, and a magna doodle. I also used a piece of folded paper and a little tape (to cover up the pictures until after my son/daughter had read the lesson- so they couldn't infer anything from the picture).
It literally is 100 lessons. My daughter did 2 lessons a day for almost half the workbook, though. She was a competent (like 2nd grade level) reader with fantastic comprehension before her 4th birthday. She still reads above grade level and LOVES books... she is 9 in 4th grade.

One of the wonderful things about the lessons, is that they don't really need to be able to write properly. They really only use the writing skills to reinforce the "picture" of the letter with the sounds they make. It works, too. We didn't use a pencil/paper... too difficult with the fine motor skills for the younger ones... I have a friend who did it with her sons, and they used sticks and wrote in the sand, or fingers and wrote in shaving cream on the table, lol.
Another great thing about this workbook, is it isn't expensive. I bought mine new at a Barnes & Noble (about 8 yrs ago) for about $22. Now you can get them online new or used around $10. And there is no writing done in the book, so a used copy is fine, as long as the pages are clean (not spilled on) and not tattered or something.

Have fun! I really really am glad that I was the one to teach my children to read. It was so empowering for them, and it was something I was able to share with them myself, rather than a stranger getting to do that. A gift that lasts a lifetime and no one can ever take away.
And yes, keep on reading books during the day and at bedtime! My kids never get in the car without a book, and we have shelves of reading material in the house. My 9 yr old just told me last week that she wants a "Nook" for Christmas so she can read more. lol

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answers from Washington DC on

Read to her every night, not just picture books but chapter books, like Little House in the Big Woods, and The All of a Kind Family.
Read every thing you see while driving. Read the menus, while shopping read the information on the cereal boxes to her.
Obviously you are doing all this.
I used Teach Your Child To Read in 100 Easy Lessons for three of mine. It was fairly easy. It teaches by phonics. I also had the Scholastic readers and I still have tons of the first reader books we used. Find books with repeated words.
My son was taught in school and they used at the time the whole language system. This is where C-A-T is cat because I said so not because c makes the k k sound and a makes the aaa sound. Some sight words have to be learned that way but I didn't like the way he learned to read, as a result he is 21 and still can't spell simple words.

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answers from San Francisco on

What really seemed to work for us is reading to and with our daughter. It was funny because when she was younger if I knew the story and wanted to cut the time a bit I could sumarize or leave out sentences and paragraphs. Then she started saying, "Mommy, that's not what it says"! LOL, I imagine this will or has started happening to you. You have a lot of good suggestions below, just make sure to keep it fun. About trying to get them to read at higher grade levels....My daughter has since she has been in school. Her comprehension is really good too, which is not always the case. The problem is as her K/1 teacher said, "she read whatever she threw at her but didn't test her past a certain grade level because finding emtionally and developmentally appropriate reading at the level she was actually able to read at was/is a problem."

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answers from Austin on

He probably can already read and you and he do not realize it.. That is what happened to our daughter.. she was 4 and I purchased a set of "BOB" books. on the way home she read all of them, I turned the car around and went and exchanged it for the second set..
Go to your library and take your son.. he can probably read the first set too!

I think just all of the reading we always did.... all of the pointing out of letters while driving around and looking at letters all over he place.. .. "M" for McDonalds.. "P" for her first name etc.. it was all there..

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answers from Savannah on

My son just turned 4 a month ago, and he knows his alphabet by site and phonetic sound, he is now just learning to sound the letters out and make words similar to what you described for your own child. He seemed much more interested in colors, shapes, counting in English and Spanish, and a lot of physical things (pouring, sorting, puzzles, cooking, climbing, soccer, tumbling, dancing to music, etc), and we went more with his natural interests instead of trying to force an issue. Now he's actually sitting down a little longer for more reading and we're practicing words by using his favorite book as well as reading books from the library regularly (unfortunately with our schedule, it's always at least one, but realistically only up to 2 books a day). His writing and coloring....he's fought that a lot because he wants to play and hates sitting down. But being in his little preschool 3 days/week, he's learned a little more to sit down for short periods of time to trace a letter and then practice it a few times. He can write his name, mom, and dad, without any assistance. That's about it for now.
He did love The Letter Factory, an alphabet train puzzle that took up the whole room (because it was physical play), and now he loves which is teaching him capital/lowercase letters, reinforcing sounds and that they are connected to words, and it also is teaching him how to use the mouse and follow video prompts with little games built around the lessons. He's finished the alphabet part and is about to go to the next part where they start filling in letters for words. We also practice with signs we see often (stop, restaurants and stores, do not enter, etc to show how important it is to read often so you know what to do). Interested to read what responses you got here, because I would love for him to be able to read more, but since he won't even be in pre-k until next year, I'm not stressing out about it. I want learning to be a happy thing and something fun that we can do to enrich our lives, not a chore where he's forced to sit in a chair at this age.



answers from Allentown on

My 2.5 yr old can do all the sounds of the letters, even tho he cannot say his entire alphabet in order. I can ask him the sounds in any order and he can tell me. I used leapfrog videos- letter factory to teach him this- he is now learning his numbers. We also read to him as much as we can- although I would prefer more. I taught myself to read at the age of 3- and adult books- the bible, little house series, etc. But I had 4 older sisters that read to me a lot. We used books for entertainment instead of TV. I let me son watch the Leap Frog videos as well as Your Baby Can Read series- and I use them as his 'lessons'. My 7.5 month old seems to do better from the Your Baby Can Read series.

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