Teaching Preschoolers to Read

Updated on June 07, 2010
T.K. asks from Grand Prairie, TX
12 answers

I feel like I'm wasting time not teaching my 4 yr old more. He won't be old won't be old enough for school until next year due to a January birthday. I'm not saying he's a super geniuis or anything, but he's sharp and picks things up pretty easily. He can count to 20 in English and Spanish. (Actually count items, not just list numbers) His sitter doesn't speak English, so he picks up a lot of Spanish naturally. He's to the point where he recognizes many letters and numbers by sight. He can write a few letters. He is curious about what letter differant words start with and the sounds letters make. I think he's ready to learn to read. I'm not a trained educator, but it seems like potty training - they let you when they're ready.
Right now we do a lot of exploring and I answer his questions all day. I point out things to him when the occassion arises. We watch Nova and I explain anything that catches his attention. Should I be taking a more organized aproach to teaching him the basics? Will it help him or am I just getting in the teachers way by laying the wrong groundwork? Is right now all about play? He's really friendly and makes quick friends, so, I don't worry about him socailly. He's healthy and active, so I don't worry about balance. I'm not trying to build a super brain but I want to give him the best start on life I can.
I'm interested in hearing your experiences and your advice. If any of you are educators, I'd like to hear your advice to. Should I structure his learning time and gear him up for school by teaching him to read and write, simple math, etc? If so, do you have any advice as how best to go about that? Is there a book or materials that would help? Right now we just have a few flashcards and I put crayons and paper in front of him.

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answers from Miami on

Definitely get him into a good preschool. My daughter was learning all that in preschool. I noticed that the preschool incorporated a lot art in learning. That way you are making it fun. Also be prepared my daughter knew so much then went to kindergarden and was completely bored for the first 3 months while they taught the basics which she already knew. I'd get that butterfly garden where you grow a butterfly and let him learn all about bugs etc. They love it.

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answers from Seattle on

I wouldn't say more structure, necessarily... there's no reason on earth to make learning a chore... but more opportunity? Sure!

You're already teaching him all day, every day, and it sounds like the 2 of you are having fun. So instead of doing the blocks of time for learning (since right now it's a 12/7 thing) why not just "prepare the environment" a little more? (Preparing the environment is a montessori concept... it means having things available).

For reading, you can't beat books & www.starfall.com

Math is EVERYWHERE, counting you've already done and are doing. +-x/ fractions and measuring. One a person has the concepts mentally, it's easy as pie to learn to write the symbols for them.

For more on montessori... check out the following links:


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answers from Fresno on

Your son sounds a lot like my younger daughter (she will be 5 this month). When she had just turned 4, she became very interested in reading (I agree with you - they tell you when they're ready). What I did was create flash cards with 2 or 3-letter words on them that she could sound out with me, such as hop, on, fat, cat, pop, map, mom, dad, sat, up, etc. Then after she sounded them out, I'd have her re-arrange the flash cards into a sentence, read the sentence to me, and then draw a picture to go with it. For instance, she would make a sentence that said, "Dad sat on the fat cat." She thought this was a great game to play! Once she understood how to sound out little words, we were able to sound out bigger words. By the time she went into Pre-K (at 4 years, 3 months), she was reading simple "I can read!" books. After a month in Pre-K, they moved her into Kinder because she could read sentences, paragraphs, etc, and then answer questions about them, which was way, WAY past what the other kids in Pre-K were doing.

We did the same type of thing with math when she turned 4. I would give her a handful of objects (pennies, little counting bears, buttons) and would say, if I have 2 pennies and you give me 3 more pennies, how many pennies will I have? And she would give me 2 pennies and then 3 more, and count them to make 5 pennies in all. Then I would write the number sentence (2+3=5). Or we would have some bears on a bus, and more bears would get on the bus (4 bears are on the bus, and 2 more bears get on the bus. How many bears are on the bus? - And then write out 4+2=6) We did the reverse with subtraction. So she could do addition and subtraction up to 20 by the time she went into Pre-K, using manipulatives.

I should note that with all of this, I did not push her at all. I let her tell me what she wanted to learn about, and if she would go get the jar of buttons and ask to do math problems with them, then we would do it. If she brought me her word flash cards, we would do that. She thought it was a lot of fun, and if at any point she wanted to stop, we would. As a result, she really learned a lot last summer and really flourished in school this year. She just graduated from Kindergarten last week and LOVES to learn new things! Her big sister is going into 3rd grade and my little one wants to know all about multiplication now since that's what big sister is learning in school. So I guess we will find a way to demonstrate that with our little counting bears, buttons, and pennies this summer!

These are just some ideas that helped us. Maybe they will help you, too. Have fun!

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

It sounds like your son is ready for some "semi-formal" teaching at home. What I mean is that maybe you could set aside a short period of time each day to do different learning activities. The key is to keep it brief and interesting by using different types of resources. Don't just have him fill out worksheets, but google the subject (i.e. letters, shapes, math , etc...) and get ideas of fun ways to teach your child. I do this with my 3 year old. There are a million ideas online, many of which I "tweak" a little to fit my child. He has a lot of structured school years ahead of him, so allow him this time to just play and enjoy his days. Remember that kids learn through playing and that parents are the child's first teachers. You won't "lay the wrong groundwork" by providing a loving ,nurturing environment for him to grow and explore. Let him take the lead and stop the structured teaching activity BEFORE he loses interest each day.

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answers from New York on


This is a book called Get Ready for Kindergarten. We have the Get Ready for Pre-K book for our 2.5 year old. I love it and so does he. I have a printer that can photocopy, so that works out great to re-use the pages. I haven't looked at the Kindergarten one, but I can imagine it is just as good. We do some structured "home-school" activities in the mornings. I am a former pre-school teacher so I integrate a lot of what I used to do in the classroom at home. We spend about 20-25 minutes a day 4 days a week doing different activities, some structured and some integrated into play. We also do a lot of art projects that he has the opportunity to work on shapes, colors, counting and even sometimes reading without realizing that he is learning. (Its more like word recognition). We have a calendar like in the classrooms that he gets to put up the numbers and days of the week an season. Doing the the calendar he now can tell which one says Wednesday. I'm guessing because it's the biggest and longest word. He is able to count past 30 (we had to stop him at 32 because the months dont have that many so I have yet to see how far he can go). He knows 2 seasons so far (snow comes in winter and flowers come out in spring).And he knows all 7 days of the week. I'm sure you're son gets this in preschool, just letting you know some of the things that worked for us since he isn't in preschool. Oh and i also cut out a bunch of shapes in different colors, wrote the English word for the shape and color one side, and the Spanish on the other. We will ask, where is the circle? or Can you find "el circulo"? (depends on if we're focusing on color or shape for the day) Sometimes the spanish works, sometimes it doesn't but we only just started. As far as the worksheets from the book go, it's not a big deal at this point if he isn't doing exactly what the sheet says, as long as he's having fun. If your son WANTS to do the structured activities, and if you can make them fun then go for it. If he seems bored, then don't MAKE him do it.
Keep explaining all you can casually as you do with things like NOVA. Trying some organized activities only will really work if he finds them fun and interesting. Otherwise integrating learning into daily activities and play can work just as well, especially since he gets the structure at school. Sometimes having some worksheets handy for when he asks for them can be fun. My friends daughter likes to play school with them and be the teacher. I will actually do the worksheet and she will grade it. She LOVES the role reversal.
We also read and read and read and follow the words with our fingers, eventually we're hoping he'll just pick up on it. No point in forcing it at 2.5, 3 or even 4. Some kids go into kindergarten reading, some don't. They will learn it there if they don't know it.

Hope this helps some. Good luck and have fun!

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answers from Seattle on

Looks like you are are already doing age appropriate teachign for your son. It is very stressful teaching a child how to read. I have high respect for preschool and kindergarten teachers. My husband and I manage to keep our patience and sanity by alternating when we sit down with our son when he is just learning how to read. Most kids will try to memorize words and when they see a similar word they will just say it without sounding it out. try to use diffrent books with big words and go slow. Do not help but rather try to have your son sound out the words.

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answers from Albany on

I agree, a little bit of pre-school goes a long way, but otherwise sounds like you are doing everything right, Mamma! It be nice for him to spend a few hours each week learning to learn with his peers. Good Luck and enjoy him!

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answers from Dallas on

I actually tutor preschoolers and have been teaching toddlers early literacy skills and preschoolers to read for several years. I am getting close to finishing my education degree and will be pursuing a master's as a reading specialist once I graduate. Absolutely you can start teaching him early literacy skills and make it fun. We play a million literacy games and read tons of stories. Reading with him is the most important thing you can do. Start following the print with your finger as you read to him to get him used to the flow of print. Read and reread favorite books with him in your lap, pointing out print and encouraging him to "read along." After a few times he should start recognizing high-frequency words like "go" and "it" especially if they are repeated a lot in the text. Find GOOD literature for him. Authors are everything. Repetitive texts like Brown Bear, and We're Going on a Bear Hunt are great, and helping them build on their listening ability for longer texts like Henry and Mudge will help tremendously. Ask open-ended questions as you read (questions that cannot be answered in one word). Play rhyming games and games like clapping for each word in a sentence. Stretch out consonant-vowel-consonant words and see if he can guess the word by putting the sounds back together (c...aaa...t). This will help him gain the phonemic awareness skills he will need to start reading. Reading is only partly about "sounding out." Many many words cannot be read that way, so sight words are just as important. Try to make up games to expand on what he knows (spread out a few flashcards and ring a bell every time he points tho the letter you name, and then let him tell you what to find and let him ring the bell). Make sure you give an example everytime you tell him the sound a letter makes. Even better if it is a written example he can see. My four year old loves to read and his little brother really wants to be able to read like him, so it can be incredibly rewarding to encourage their interest in text. Help him learn to write his name- my boys love writing their names, and it helps them learn several letters too. I like to use a doodle pro or a marker board and write their name near the top (one letter at a time) and have them copy it below. They like this a lot better than paper because it is a treat. Have fun! Do not make it a chore and it should be a great experience for you too!

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answers from New York on

There's no reason to start teaching him to read. The greatest thing about that age is you can teach him so many things without actually teaching. They learn so much just by playing. Make learning fun. When doing things teach him concepts like over/under, up/down, ect. If he doesn't already know his colors, work on these by saying things like, lets play with your cars, you take the red one and mommy will take the blue one. Learning to write and recognize his name is very important. Make sure you have his name written somewhere where he can view it daily.

The most important thing you can do everyday is read to him. Reading will help increase his vocabulary, help him to learn his letters and their sounds, and help him to learn sentence structure.

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answers from Chicago on

My son is 3 years old and is OBSESSED with letters and I encourage his enthusiasm at every opportunity, but have never made his learning experiences into formal lessons. Yes, it is ALL about play right now, but it is quite possible to learn letters and phonics while playing.

One thing we got was the foam alphabet to use in the bathtub. At first he didn't really pay any attention to them...just liked to swim in "alphabet soup." But now we'll do things like take letter F and put it on the faucet and say..."F. Fuh Fuh Fuh Faucet.. T...Tuh Tuh Tuh Tub...D...Duh Duh Duh Drain...H...Huh Huh Huh Head...B...Buh Buh Buh Baby.....B...Buh Buh Buh Brother" and so on. He LOVES to play this game, and he transfers the experience to other situations when he is playing with other things around the house. Now he'll sometimes pick up a ball and say "B...Buh Buh Buh Ball."

I also use a small chalkboard with him where we play with magnetic letters, as well as writing letters with chalk. He LOVES to have me write the names of practically everyone he's ever met. We also have the "Smart Cycle" which is like a little educational exercise bike for kids. It connects to your TV and is about $70. There are a few letter recognition games on it. He was playing it with our new babysitter (an elem teacher) a few weeks ago and she was blown away at how skilled he already was.

Math should also be play-based. You might want to get a game like Hi-Ho Cherry-O, where the object of the game is to pick all the fruit off a tree (how many you get to pick is based on what # you spin)...it's simple addition and subtraction. You can make anything a math game...cars, grapes, oranges, color crayons. Everything can be counted, added, subtracted.

That's all I've got off the top of my head, but if I come up with anything else after I put my kids to sleep I'll update my reply.



answers from Dallas on

Hi there,I also have a 4 yo. I think your son is more than ready! I suggest having a structured learning at home helps a lot. It doesnt have to be much, maybe 20-30mins each day. I started doing that when mine turned 3 and now he is able to read most 3 letter words and many sight words in. Dr.Suess' books are great. Bob books are also wonderful(check it out). Alternative to books is "sing a long read along by leapfrog"(a must have), even my 2 yo loves it. I use wooden beads for maths&patterns. It works great. Kumon workbooks are great for many different areas too. Hope this helps :)



answers from Los Angeles on

If you think he's ready, it's a great time to start with some of the basics (I am not an educator, this is just my opinion). There are lots of ways to make it fun so he doesn't feel like he's learning/studying, but he is still picking up the skills.

Through Discovery Toys, there are some really great educational toys that are fun and will build the foundation you are looking for. You can view all of the toys through my site here: http://www.discoverytoyslink.com/karenchao

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It's A Match: http://www.discoverytoyslink.com/esuite/control/product?P...
Gustav Mole Book + book on CD + game: http://www.discoverytoyslink.com/esuite/control/product?P...
Little Mouse, Big Hungry Bear Book + book on CD + game: http://www.discoverytoyslink.com/esuite/control/product?P...
Wipe Clean Workbooks (multiple versions available; here is the link for Learning to Read & Write): http://www.discoverytoyslink.com/esuite/control/product?P...
A to Z Jr: http://www.discoverytoyslink.com/esuite/control/product?P...
Think it Through (numerous books available, here is one set): http://www.discoverytoyslink.com/esuite/control/product?P...

Many of these items are available in smaller sets/packages or individually. I'm just showing you a sample. ALL of these toys are great for introducing kids to reading and math and are perfectly age-appropriate. The best part is, our Summer Sale is going on right now and some of these toys are available at a huge discount!

I really hope you'll check it out, as I truly believe in the value of these products. You can contact me anytime for more info.


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