How I taught my son to read by age 4

  1. Why was this important to you?
    1. The sooner you can teach your child to read, the sooner they can begin to learn independently. Countless studies have proven that a small child’s brain is like a big sponge; there is endless potential for children to learn rapidly as their brain is developing. The sooner they learn to read, the greater their potential for learning is, especially if they begin at a young age.
    2. Reading always seemed to spark Charlie’s interest. If you can pounce when the momentum is there, the battle is much easier.
  2. What factors led to your success?
    1. The first and most important step as a parent is to demonstrate enthusiasm for reading early on. Before Charlie was even a year old, we started reading 2-3 books a night to him. It became our nightly ritual and his expected bedtime routine. We started with very simple books like “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?” and “Goodnight Moon” and slowly worked up to more complex, comprehensive books. Ultimately, if you don’t surround your children with books during their early childhood years, they won’t hold the same zeal for reading when the time comes that they learn to do so on their own.
  3. What tools did you use?
    1. There were 3 main tools that really seemed to help us through the process.
      1. The first was Charlie’s preschool training at St. Luke’s Day School and Lord of Life Lutheran. At St. Luke’s, Charlie learned all the letters through different methods, but especially through songs that he memorized and sang all the time at home. Knowing the alphabet is the first building block to the foundation of learning to read. It is helpful as a parent to learn and sing the songs with your children, too. If they see you having fun while singing about letters, your optimism will be contagious.
      2. From there, we used a bunch of iPad apps. Granted, there are studies showing that too much screen time can be a bad thing for kids as their brains are developing, so we did try and limit it before he was 2 years old, and even beyond that point. However, an iPad is an amazing tool for teaching children. Except for when the battery dies, an iPad never gets tired of teaching and gives your child immediate and precise feedback.
        1. The best apps we have found are the Endless apps from the makers of Sesame Street. Endless Alphabet teaches how to pronounce each letter and from there helps beginning readers piece words together. This is the building block of phonics. Then there’s Endless Reader, Endless Wordplay, and others similar. I think you can get all of the Endless Apps for $30 or less.
        2. We also used the “Bible for Kids” app. It will speak the stories aloud while you read along. Eventually, Charlie began reading them for himself. The familiarity with the stories helped and the animations and achievements kept him engaged.
        3. You’ve probably seen advertised on Nick Jr. and the Disney channel. Even though there are better and more user-friendly apps out there, it still offers an impressive amount of options for kids at different stages of development.
        4. YouTube was also very helpful in finding new songs and videos for learning letters and their sounds. There are so many different songs out there, and it’s all free.
      3. The last, and perhaps most important step was Hooked on Phonics. There are 4 sets: Pre-K, K, 1st grade, and 2nd grade. They’re each $40 to $50 on Amazon, or you can buy the whole set for cheaper. Each set includes two workbooks, several small age-appropriate books, and two DVDs. By the time Charlie was 4, we had made it through the 2nd grade set. Hooked on Phonics teaches both sight words and all the basic phonics concepts. Once your child has completed these 4 sets, they should be able to read all basic words. More complicated words become much easier once they have all the foundational words figured out.

*It is important to note here that perhaps the “Secret Weapon”  is that working on Phonics at our house has always been a special activity that our children “get to do with dad” if they have had a good day. It is a fun activity, one-on-one time with a parent, and it usually happens at bedtime. So for them they see it as a fun way to delay bedtime by 30 minutes. A win-win for everyone!

  1. What pitfalls did you face along the way?
    1. It’s easy for children to lose interest or get frustrated when trying to master a new fundamental. The goal is to remain consistent and to not push kids too hard. There were times where Charlie wanted to give up during Phonics. Sometimes I would push too hard and it would deflate him, while sometimes it would motivate him to try harder. We are learning now with piano lessons, too, that if it isn’t a positive activity and a child is not experiencing a regular measure of success then they will become frustrated very easily. Ultimately, each child is different. I can already tell that the process of learning to read will be different for our 3-year-old daughter, Libby. It may not be harder, but it will definitely require different teaching styles, because she is a completely different child. Charlie is able to sit and focus and is very goal-oriented, whereas Libby has a short attention span, loves to move around, and is very social.

It makes me sad to see stories on the news about high school kids who can’t read. I realize not every child is not born with the same skill set and that some legitimately struggle with reading. However, I also sincerely believe that reading and learning in general starts in the home. If you have small children, you owe it to yourself to start planning now. Start by reading 2-3 books at night to your son or daughter. From there, start adding in some songs and games about letters and phonics. Then move on to books and apps. We have so much media available today. Use it!

Since Charlie learned to read the summer he turned 4, it has given him the ability to learn all kinds of things independently. He knows all of the states and their capitals and many countries and their capitals, too. He knows all of the names of our nation’s presidents and can identify them by their pictures. He has even learned all of the books of the Bible. Reading has opened up his world and exposed him to so many things early on, while also allowing him to satisfy his own hunger for learning, which has been a very rewarding thing for him as well.