How to teach a child to read

By: Andrew
A father reading to his toddler


Teaching a child to read is a job. The best job you could ever have.

Teaching your kid to read isn’t something that happens overnight. It happens over lots of nights. It starts with you reading bedtime stories and ends, after years of work, with the little one sitting on their own with a book open, reading silently and contentedly without your help. Please note the word ‘work’ in the previous sentence. Teaching a child to read is kind of like a job: you have to show up every day, work hours that don’t always suit you and put up with co-workers who don’t always want to cooperate. But it’s rewarding. Oh boy, it’s rewarding.

Teaching a child to read is the most fun at work you can possibly have. I mean, it’s reading. Just sitting down and reading. What job could be better than that? You’re watching a caterpillar transform into a butterfly. You’re hunting for a puppy in a house inexplicably full of wild animals. You’re going on adventures to treasure islands. You’re hanging out with farting superheroes. You’re watching real live dragons hatch from trees. And you’re experiencing it all with your kid.

So, yes, it’s work. But it’s a fun and immeasurably rewarding job. And, if you haven’t figured it out already, the best way to teach a kid to read is to read with them. Over and over.

Turn reading into a habit. Reading with your little one should happen as regularly as brushing your teeth – it’s mental flossing. Something you just do.

Here’s that advice in big blue writing 👇🏽

The best way to teach a child to read is to read with them as often as possible. You don’t have to know any fancy teaching techniques. You don’t have to create special lessons. You just have to pull out a book, sit with your kid and read. And then the next day, repeat.

Teaching a child to read at every age

So, after digesting the above info (which as a dad, you instinctively know already) it’s time to start getting the most out of your reading sessions. Here’s a rough plan for how reading with a kid works as they grow older. We don’t want to be too specific about ages and milestones, because we’re not huge fans of that sort of stuff. Your kid is unique. But it is good to have a rough idea of what you should be doing and when.

Teaching an infant to read (0-12 months):

  1. Choose High-Contrast Books: Infants respond well to high-contrast images. Board books with bold patterns and simple pictures are great choices.
  2. Read Aloud: Your voice is soothing to your baby, so read in a calm and rhythmic tone. Even if they don’t understand the words, they’ll enjoy the sound of your voice.
  3. Use Touch-and-Feel Books: Books with different textures or surfaces are engaging for infants, providing a sensory experience.

Teaching a toddler to read (1-3 years):

  1. Interactive Books: Choose books with flaps, textures, or elements that encourage interaction. This keeps their attention and helps develop fine motor skills.
  2. Simple Stories: Books should have simple storylines and repetitive phrases. Toddlers enjoy predictability and may even start finishing sentences. You might be surprised, after a few reading sessions, that they have memorised entire books!
  3. Point and Identify: Ask your child to point to objects on the pages, developing comprehension and language development.

Teaching pre-schoolers to read (3-5 years):

  1. Picture Books: Introduce picture books with vibrant illustrations and more complex storylines. Discuss the pictures and encourage them to express their thoughts about the story.
  2. Ask Questions: Pose open-ended questions about the story. This promotes critical thinking and language development. It also lets you know that they’re listening!
  3. Encourage Retelling: Let your child tell the story in their own words. This helps with comprehension and memory.

Teaching a primary school child to read (5-8 years):

  1. Read Together: Take turns reading paragraphs or pages. This can boost confidence and help with fluency.
  2. Discuss Themes: Talk about the themes, characters, and lessons in the book. Relate the story to your child’s experiences.
  3. Explore Different Genres: Introduce a variety of genres to expand their reading preferences.

Teaching an older primary school child to read (9-12 years):

  1. Independent Reading: Encourage independent reading. Let your child choose books that interest them, fostering a love for reading.
  2. Book Discussions: Engage in discussions about the books they’re reading. This can deepen their understanding and critical thinking skills.
  3. Explore Series: If they enjoy a particular book, introduce them to a series. This can encourage sustained reading and provide a sense of accomplishment.

Teaching a teen to read (13+ years):

  1. Share Reading Interests: Read books that interest both you and your teen, allowing for discussions about shared literature. This is an age when you and your kid can both start to appreciate the same books. Enjoy it!
  2. Explore Diverse Genres: Introduce a variety of genres to broaden their reading horizons.
  3. Book Club or Family Reading Time: Consider having a family book club where you all read the same book and discuss it together. It’s also nice to encourage a bit of peace and quiet in your home, especially if you have other kids.

What are some techniques you can use?

Remember, the most important thing is to form a habit of reading with kid. But here are some general steps and tips you can apply to helping you kid read.

  1. Make it Enjoyable:
    • It’s all about creating a positive attitude towards books and reading. So make silly sounds, laugh and joke. Make reading a pleasure, not a chore, and your kid will enjoy reading.
  2. Develop Phonemic Awareness:
    • Focus on the individual sounds in words. Play rhyming games and emphasize the beginning and ending sounds in words.
  3. Introduce the Alphabet:
    • Teach your child the letters of the alphabet. Use games, songs, and visual aids to make it engaging and fun. Do this over and over.
  4. Teach Letter Sounds:
    • Associate each letter with its corresponding sound. Use activities and resources that emphasize the sounds of letters.
  5. Practice Phonics:
    • Introduce basic phonics rules, such as letter combinations and how they create specific sounds. Practice sounding out simple words.
  6. Surround your child with books:
    • Surround the child with a variety of reading materials, including books, magazines, and age-appropriate websites. Choose materials that align with the child’s interests. Go to the library. Trawl through second-hand shops. Find as many books and written things as you can that will interest your child. Even if your child doesn’t grab hold of any of the books you’ve provided, they will be there as a part of your kid’s life.
  7. Read Together:
    • Read aloud regularly. This helps build vocabulary, comprehension, and a love for reading. Encourage the child to ask questions and discuss the story.
  8. Encourage Writing:
    • Encourage your kid to write and spell words. This can include writing letters, creating a journal, or spelling simple words. Even writing their own name can help. So, when they draw or paint a picture, get them to sign it. Every little bit of writing helps.
  9. Use Sight Words:
    • Introduce common sight words (high-frequency words) that don’t follow regular phonetic rules. These words are often encountered frequently in texts.
  10. Play Word Games:
    • Engage in word games and activities that make learning fun. Games like Scrabble, Boggle, or word puzzles can enhance vocabulary and spelling skills.
  11. Create a Reading Routine:
    • Establish a set daily reading routine by allocating specific times for reading, whether it’s before bedtime or during the day.
  12. Visit the Library:
    • Take trips to the library to explore new books and allow the child to choose titles that interest them.
  13. Celebrate Progress:
    • Celebrate small milestones and successes. Positive reinforcement helps build the child’s confidence and motivation. Star charts? Kids love those.
  14. Be Patient and Supportive:
    • Every child learns at their own pace. Be patient and provide support, creating a positive and encouraging learning environment.

Remember, the goal is to make the process enjoyable and foster a love for reading. Tailor your approach based on the child’s interests (football, cars, pets, or whatever it is that grabs their attention) and be flexible in adjusting your strategies as needed.

If you remember no other technique it should be this 👇🏽

The most important thing to remember (once you have established a reading habit) is to have fun. Smile. Laugh. Make silly sounds. It’s all about creating a love of the experience of reading. So, make that experience a pleasure. Plus, if you’re doing something every day, you may as well both enjoy it.

If your child struggles with reading…

The thing to remember is that every child is unique, and learning to read can be a gradual process. Seriously, it often feels as if no progress is being made, ever. So keep trying and keep up your fun reading habit. But if you’re concerned about your child’s reading difficulties, seeking support from teachers, educational professionals, and, if necessary, specialists, can provide valuable insights and guidance. You don’t have to go it alone. And if you need someone to chat with, feel free to share your experiences in our forum.

Kids books to read in the UK

Some good books to read with your kid

Here are some recommendations by age group. There are millions of great books out there but these are tried and trusted.

Infants (0-12 months):

  • “Peepo!” by Janet and Allan Ahlberg: A classic board book with a peephole on each page, engaging infants with its rhythmic text and illustrations.
  • “Dear Zoo” by Rod Campbell: A lift-the-flap book that introduces animals and their characteristics in a playful way.

Toddlers (1-3 years):

  • “The Gruffalo” by Julia Donaldson: A delightful rhyming story about a clever mouse encountering various animals in the woods, written in an engaging and repetitive style.
  • “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt” by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury: A rhythmic and repetitive story about a family’s adventure through different terrains, with captivating illustrations.

Pre-schoolers (3-5 years):

  • “The Tale of Peter Rabbit” by Beatrix Potter: A classic tale of a mischievous rabbit’s adventures in Mr. McGregor’s garden, beautifully illustrated by the author.
  • “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” by Eric Carle: A colourful and interactive book that follows the journey of a hungry caterpillar as it transforms into a butterfly.

Younger Primary School (6-8 years):

  • “Winnie-the-Pooh” by A.A. Milne: The timeless adventures of Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends in the Hundred Acre Wood, offering gentle humour and life lessons.
  • “The Magic Faraway Tree” by Enid Blyton: The first book in the Faraway Tree series, taking children on magical adventures in a fantastical world.

Older Primary School (9-12 years):

  • “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” by J.K. Rowling: The start of the iconic Harry Potter series, introducing readers to the magical world of Hogwarts.
  • “Matilda” by Roald Dahl: The story of a precocious girl with telekinetic abilities, facing challenges at school and discovering her own strength.

Teens (13+ years):

  • “The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien: A classic fantasy adventure that serves as a prelude to Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” series.
  • “The Chronicles of Narnia” series by C.S. Lewis: A series of seven fantasy novels that transport readers to the magical land of Narnia.

Some UK resources to help teach your child to read

If you want to learn more about your kid’s reading journey, check out the links below. 👇🏽

  1. Oxford Owl
    • Oxford Owl provides a range of free resources to support children’s learning, including e-books, activities, and advice for parents.
  2. BookTrust
    • BookTrust is the UK’s largest children’s reading charity. Their website offers book recommendations, reading tips, and resources for families.
  3. Phonics Play
    • Phonics Play offers interactive phonics games and resources to support early reading skills. Some resources are free, while others require a subscription.
  4. BBC Bitesize – Literacy
    • BBC Bitesize provides educational resources for various subjects, including literacy. The literacy section includes games, videos, and activities to support reading and writing skills.
  5. Teach Your Monster to Read
    • This is a fun and engaging online game designed to help young children with early reading skills. It covers phonics, sight words, and more.
  6. The Reading Agency
    • The Reading Agency works to inspire people of all ages to read for pleasure. They offer various reading programs and resources for families.
  7. National Literacy Trust
    • The National Literacy Trust’s website provides resources and support to improve literacy skills in children and young people. It includes tips for parents and free downloadable resources.
  8. Cbeebies – Storytime
    • Cbeebies Storytime offers a collection of interactive storybooks for young children. Each story is accompanied by activities and games.
  9. Jolly Phonics
    • Jolly Phonics is a comprehensive phonics program. The website provides information about the program, as well as some free resources and activities.

Got any suggestions?

If you want to ask for more info about any of the above, or have any suggestions of things to put on this page about reading, all you have to do is get in touch >