Teaching a 4-Year-old to Read

Updated on June 30, 2011
S.R. asks from Cincinnati, OH
16 answers

The older of my two beautiful sons turned 4 in April. He is been very interested in being read tp since he was 20 months old. At 2 1/2 he started showing significant signs of pre-reading, like memorizing books so he could finish my sentences. His first year in pre-school he learned to recognize all his letters (all capitals, not lowercase). I had hoped in his second year of pre-school he would make the leap to simple reading, but the school wasn't into pushing one kid faster than the rest, even one who was ready (we moved cities and therefore changed schools, not for the better). But, just this week, I realized he made the next leap on his own, which is sounding out words. Yay!
I want to help him become a good reader, but I realized that I really know nothing about teaching someone, even a four-year-old, how to read. We read with him every day. We put labels up around the house that say "wall" and "door" and "bed" and "crib" etc. But I would like to do more. I would love suggestions of how to help him make the leap into real reading.

A simple request: please don't suggest DVDs or computer games like "My Baby Can Read." It's not our style. Thanks.

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So What Happened?

Thank you everyone for all the encouragement and advice. We haven't bought or borrowed any new materials yet, still just reading with him every day and seeing what he can and wants to sound out. I totally agree--it has to be fun!
Thanks again everyone!

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answers from El Paso on

There are two major "groups" of reading methods. Whole-word & phonics. The "preferred" method for teaching reading has flip-flopped between both for a long time. Personally, I prefer phonics: teaching letter/letter combination sounds by themselves. I think it makes it easier for kids to sound out more difficult words later. You can find phonics worksheets/workbooks online to help you out. Good luck!

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answers from Anchorage on

Sounds like you are doing good. Just keep reading to him every day, and let him follow along. No need to push, just support his growing interest and let him lead the way!

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answers from Pittsburgh on

Just keep reading to him and with him and it will come naturally.

Take him to the library and check out an array of books. Return them and get new. I feel that by not reading the same thing all the time it exposes them to more words and subjects and they learn the words rather than memorizing them.

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answers from New York on

Have fun, dont make it stressful and he'll be reading in no time. As a teacher i have to remind not to forget talking about the books and stories you read together. Many kids come to kindergarten reading but most of them cant answer questions about the books or discuss them in any way, so the teachers call that decoding and memorizing without comprehension. Start right now asking him which books he likes best and why? after reading a story to him ask him to tell or show you his favorite part.. model linking the book to your own life "that reminds me of when we got our pet" or "that reminds me of when we took a trip"

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answers from Philadelphia on

I taught my 4 year old how to read using the book "Teach your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons". The book uses phonics and within 60 days my daughter could read any of the simple readers in the book store. FYI... We spent about 15 -20 minutes per day doing one lesson a day. It was actually really fun and my daughter went into kindergarten reading chapter books and to this day she prefers reading a good book to watching TV.

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answers from Kansas City on

I know you aren't into computer programs, but my daughter loves playing the "letter game" on www.starfall.com.

Another thing we have is a word whammer, which lives on our fridge. It's from leapfrog, her old daycare lady got it for her for Christmas. She loves it! It helps sound out letters and will either ask her to spell words or will sound them out when she puts letters in.

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answers from Detroit on

My youngest son read before starting kindegarten. He and his older brother read in bed every night. Nothing fancy...just read, read, read. He will read on his own when he is ready. I guess I would just keep reading with him, encouraging him to read to you mostly. Help him to learn how to sound out words. I don't think that they use phonics in schools anymore but I think that is the best way to start with.

Good luck...have fun and don't worry about getting him to start reading sooner. Sounds like he is way ahead of his peers anyway. The family reading together instilling a life-long love of reading is want you want to achieve. That he can read is not nearly important as comprehension of what he reads. That might be a great activity to do with him...read and then ask him to tell the story in his own words. Be well, D.

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answers from Indianapolis on

You are doing the right thing so far....you did not say if you are using the library, but I would look for primary, simple books and read them to him, and even take turns with him reading the pages....keep labeling everything, and encourage him to write/spell the labels himself. Have him dicatate stories to you, or a letter to Grandma, and read it back with him.
If it is a story, have him illustrate it. Keep the stories in a special notebook or folder. Take them out from time to time and reread them with him. Read signs when you are in the car.....take advantage of every opportunity. Always ask him to spell words he is not sure of .....encourage him to look for clues in the pictures on the page too....reading takes practice, just like any skill, and fortunately there are loads of books to practice with. Keep reading to him, of course....have him read to you when he has knows a book well. Again, take turns reading the pages. You are doing the right thing.....keep up the good work......

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answers from Columbus on

Phonetics is the key here.

Read with him, still and talk about word sounds and letter combinations, like vowel sounds (short vowel vs long vowel sounds), or "th" vs. t, "sp" vs s sounds, etc. Ask your local librarian for help on books.

We just starting reading Mercer Mayer books (Little Critter series), and there are 3 levels of readers for his books. The back of the books have fun, easy exercises for beginning readers of various levels. You might check them out. I'm sure the librarian can recommend similar series or titles that can help.

I've heard good recommendations from a couple of people for "Hooked on Phonics" so that might also be a place to look.

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answers from Dallas on

Hooked on Phonics has worked great for my kids. You can check out kits from the library. Your son is more than ready, so I say go for it! My oldest started reading in kinder, so I didn't get to witness the learning process. My 2nd son has learned to read at home, and it is so much fun to watch them make the connections as they learn.


answers from Dallas on

Teach a letter a week. Let him touch, say and even write the letter. Also find pictures of things that start with the letter, stressing the first sound in the word. No need for him to see the word just the picture. He needs to learn just one sound at a time and not a whole word of them yet. You can test him by throwing in some pics of words that do not sound with the letter you are working on and ask him if it starts with the letter. Work with him identifying the letters by the sounds and not the letter name. Also teach the lower case first. If you are trying to teach him words he is not reading just memorizing the words. That will make it harder for him to really learn to read. Teach the phonics first. I know you said not to suggest a PC game but sorry I am :) Hooked on phonics was really great help when I taught both of my sons (I home school) to read. They were playing but learning and confirming what I was teaching in class. It light and easy to follow. Both of my sons where reading at four years old. Letter blending is a big step forward for a beginner. If you child is eager move forward and go for it.



answers from Cleveland on

There is a lot of good advice, but it seems to kinda go one way or the other. My boys started off in public school but when it came time for my daughter to go, we decided to homeschool. So I had the (difficult?) task of figuring out how to teach her to read. After dealing with the reading homework from public school and doing some research I decided that neither method really worked for me. Memorizing words, doesn't give children the same connection to grammar and usage later on and well you can't sound out every word in the English language, it doesn't work. So we did it both ways.

Once she knew the sounds, we worked on the rules starting with short vowels, and easy to sound out words. Then long vowels, then combinations like the many different ways to say the long E sound. We worked on not only reading, but vocabulary and spelling as well, all at the same time. It worked really well for us and she loves to read and reads 2 grade levels above where she is.



answers from Las Vegas on

Just sit down with him and read books to him.. you can get ones whereby you read part of it and then he does the same... There is really nothing magical about it like infomercials and what not would have you believe.. I believe in the basics... you to a kid and they see the words and then they follow along.. my son who is 9 has been reading from a young age and I attribute that to my reading when he was very young.. additionally, I have always read books to him that were within his age group but also ABOVE.. just to test the waters.. so far, that has worked in that he does have a big vocabulary and reads quite well.. lastly, we have always made reading fun and don't just read books.. for example, on roadtrips, I'd point out signs for which he'd read and or when we went to restaurants, we'd allow him to read the menu.. this all sounds so simple, but it's about word identification and it all adds up.. another teaching game we used was pointing out out of state license plates. we'd point out one and my son would name the state capitol. he'd try and see how many he could get right in a day..
bottomline, keep reading fun and your child will continue to do well..
best of luck



answers from Washington DC on

Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons
You an find it on Amazon. It was someting like 24.95 when I got it.
I taught 3 of mine to read with it.

Also Scholastic Early readers, they work on one concept, long vowel E or short vowel A, all the books are written in easy to read words and sight words, they build on each other.

Bob Books


answers from San Antonio on

When reading, pick an easy word that follows all the rules (ie, DAD) and say. "Can you help me read this word? What sound does the D make? Good <d> How about the A? It can say either <a> or <aaa>. Here I'll tell you that it says <aaa>. D-AAA. Now the end. What sound? Good <d> Now lets blend them together. <d> <aaa> <d> <daad>

Another idea: use your arm like a slide. Have the beginning sound at the top by your shoulder <d>, the middle sound at your elbow <aaa>, the ending sound at your wrist <d>. Have your child then use one hand touch their arm and "slide down their arm" to blend it. (I hope that makes sense).

My 3 yr old can blend short words well AND reads his sight words. He can tell me all the sounds of letters. BUT I used dvds and a couple tv shows. PM me if you change your mind and want to try some. (None were Your Baby Can Read).



answers from Los Angeles on

Our son learned to read when he was four because, like your son, he was ready to learn (my daughter was five before she started learning, so every child is different). Since he's already so receptive to reading, it probably won't be that hard for him to learn. What we did was we printed off free worksheets online of different letters to let him practice writing capital and lower case letters, and we would go over the sounds that the letters make and different words that start with that letter. We would focus on one letter a day and really practice sounding them out; we would also introduce different letter combinations and what sound they make (like "oi" and "ou" for example). What really helped is getting the "beginning to read" books from the library; they have really simple beginning words that are easy to sound out and are a great first step for practicing reading on their own (my son's first book he read mostly by himself was "Hop on Pop" by Dr. Seuss). Good luck!

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