Some people will tell you that toddlers are too young to be able to read, but that is not true. My son is 2 1/2 years old, and has been able to read since the age of 2. There are different types of reading at this age including sight-reading and phonics reading.
My son is able to sight-read. This means that he can recognize the word by sight and tell you what it is, but cannot sound the word out yet. Once they learn to sound out the words, that is when phonics reading begins. Sight reading should NOT be confused with memorization. Simple memorization is when a child can memorize a short book and “read” that book to you, but cannot identify those words anywhere else but in that book. When a child sight-reads, he/she can recognize those words in any situation. There is a higher level of learning involved in sight-reading than in memorization.
Teaching toddlers to read begins early. While I was pregnant with my son, we read to him in the womb. Some experts say that children can hear and understand while still in-utero, so adding stimulation such as reading can increase their desire to learn as they grow. We continue to read to him as he grows, and encouraging reading while making it fun will peak your child’s interest and make him/her want to learn.
Repetition is key to learning at this stage in a child’s development. If the child is exposed to the same book several times, it will help him to remember it and will make it more interesting. The child will recognize the story and by repeating it, you will give him a sense of pride as he realizes he knows how the story goes.
Don’t ever think that your child is too young to learn to read. Children are amazing little people who act like sponges in their early years. They can absorb knowledge much faster and more efficiently than an adult, and should be encouraged to do so.
Once your child learns how to sight-read, you can begin to focus on phonics reading. There is a great video by Leap Frog called “The Letter Factory.” This video shows all the letters of the alphabet coming off a conveyor belt in a factory. The video uses music to teach your child which sounds each letter makes. The tune to the song is very catchy and children love it. Now, my son can tell you what sound each letter makes after watching that video only 3 times.
As soon as your child can understand what sounds the letters make, you can begin to teach him/her how to sound out the words. You can start with the words he/she knows how to sight read. Point to those words and ask your child to identify them. Once they have done that, you can ask your child to identify each letter and it’s sound. Then, you can help demonstrate how we sound out the words by combining each letter’s individual sound to form the word.
This process should be done with patience, understanding, and praise. Encourage your child to continue learning and praise him/her for a job well done. Don’t expect miracles to happen. Some children learn faster than others. If your child is taking longer to learn than you’d like, don’t get frustrated. Just keep encouraging your child not to give up, keep it positive, and try to make learning fun.