How to help your child learn to read

Mar 8, 20226 minutes read time

Reviewed by: Professor Mark Dadds and Dr Lucy Tully

Key points:

  • Learning to read starts in the home, well before your child is ready for school. But this can be a daunting prospect for many parents.
  • One reason it’s especially difficult to teach a child to read is because our brains are not naturally wired for it the way they are for verbal communication.
  • However, there are ten simple, everyday tips you can follow to help your child learn (and love) to read.

Reading is one of the most important (and empowering) skills for your child to master. But this isn’t something that should wait till your child goes off to school. Learning to read should start much earlier – and it starts with you.

Teaching a child how to read is a daunting prospect for most parents. Unless you’re a professionally trained educator, you may have no idea where to begin. Don’t worry. We’ve got 10 easy, stress-free tips to help your child learn (and love) to read.

Family Man is expert-backed and 100% free.

There’s a reason it’s hard teaching kids to read. (Hint: it’s not you.)

If teaching your child to read feels like an uphill struggle, you’re not alone. As many as a third of all 9-year-olds in the United States struggle to read at a basic level.

According to literacy expert Margie Gillis, there’s a reason reading is so difficult for some children to master, and it has nothing to do with their intelligence or your parenting skills.

Our brains are wired for verbal communication, so learning to speak and understand language comes naturally for most of us. Reading, on the other hand, is a cultural invention. Our brains don’t come pre-programmed for it. Rather, it’s a skill we have to work at mastering.

Toddler learning to read

10 tips to help your child read

  1. Start early.
    As in, very early. Reading to your child when they’re a baby is an excellent way for the two of you to bond – and to lay the foundations of literacy. Helping your little one fall in love with books now will pay off hugely when it’s time for them to begin reading on their own.

    Bottom line: your child is never too young to start.
  2. Talk to your child.
    Yep, even when they’re babies. Research shows there’s a clear link between good verbal skills in early childhood and good reading skills later on. Kids first learn how language works by hearing it used.

    In other words, just say no to baby talk. Communicate with your child using real words and whole sentences.
  3. Read to your kids.
    This cannot be overstated: reading regularly to your child is one of the best ways to set them up for success as a future reader. And it’s never too early to start.

    One of the best ways to help your child develop a love of reading is to make the experience as interactive as possible:
    - Point to words as you read.
    - Let your child turn the pages.
    - Go at their pace. Pause to look at pictures or words that interest them.

    When they’re a bit older, you can take the interactivity to new heights:
    - Ask your child what they think will happen next as you read.
    - Have your child make up their own ending.

    Let them choose what to read. Make sure they have access to a diverse range of books, but don’t worry if they keep going back to a handful of favorites over and over again.
  4. Let your kids read to you.
    Once your child starts reading for themselves, let them practice their newfound skill on you. It doesn’t really matter what they read. It could be their favourite book, a birthday card or an assignment they brought home from school.

    It doesn’t have to be more than a few sentences, either. Just make sure it’s a daily practice. This is their chance to beef up their reading skills, and your chance to see how they’re getting on.
  5. Practice what you preach.
    True fact: readers raise readers.
    If you want your child to read, then you need to make reading a part of your daily routine… and make sure your kids see you reading.

    You can even designate a scheduled reading time each day: everybody together, everybody reading. You with your book, your child with theirs.
  6. Turn every outing into a reading adventure.
    Whether you’re in the car or at the store, encourage your child to look for certain letters of the alphabet on signs. Start small and work your way up from there to easy-to-spot words.

    You can also do this at home with whatever you have at hand – the back of the cereal box, for example. You can turn almost any experience into a word-spotting adventure.
  7. Make reading fun.
    If reading feels like a chore, chances are your child will avoid it – especially if it doesn’t come easily to them. There are plenty of ways you can make learning to read fun. For example:
    - Have your child guess the first letter of different words.
    - Practice drawing letters and words in the dirt. Or you can fill a baking tray with uncooked rice and have them trace words in it. (The more you can get them using their hands, the better.)
    - Encourage your child to spell different words in bubble letters, starting with their name. Or they could use alphabet stickers.
    - Play rhyming games together. Learning how certain words rhyme will give your child a jump start on recognizing words on a page (or screen).

    Whatever you do, keep it relaxed and pressure-free. The more fun your child has learning to read, the more they will love reading later in life.
  8. Normalize reading as an everyday part of life.
    The more they come into contact with books, the more likely your child will take to reading. Here are some simple steps you can take to make reading an everyday part of life:
    - Take weekly trips to your local library.
    - Give books as presents for every birthday, milestone or seasonal celebration.
    - Keep books in your car or in a to-go bag. That way, whenever you’re stuck in traffic or running errands, your child has something to read.
  9. Focus on the fundamentals, aka phonics.
    Though it may sound like a superpower from the Marvel cinematic universe, phonemic awareness is one of the most important ingredients to successful reading. In short, it’s the ability to match letters of the alphabet to the various sounds they make. Your child needs this skill to unlock the fundamentals of reading.

    To build their phonemic powers, have your child practice breaking words into their component sounds. For example:

    Cat = /c/ /a/ /t/

    Dog = /d/ /o/ /g/

    Run = /r/ /u/ /n/

    Start with short, one-syllable words. Encourage your child to sound out unfamiliar words, one letter at a time, instead of guessing what they are.
  10. Be patient.
    Learning to read can be challenging – for you and your child. But it doesn’t have to be an ordeal.

    The key is to remember that perfection is not the goal. It’s ok for your child to make mistakes. Keep the experience fun and stress-free. Making it an adventure rather than a chore is one of the best ways to cultivate your child’s love of reading.
Dad reading a bedtime story to his daughter
Want to nail child discipline? The best go to strategies are covered in Family Man.

Want to learn more?

Movember launched Family Man to improve the confidence and mental health of dads.

Learn how to master kick-ass parenting strategies by getting started with Family Man. It’s an interactive parenting video series that's expert-backed and funded by Movember.

If research is your thing take a closer look at the evidence behind Family Man.

Or learn more before diving in.

Read Next:

    Managing Mealtimes with Kids

    Ever feel like your kids misbehave mostly during mealtimes? A lot of parents find this challenging. Learn how to promote positive behavior during meals.
    Aug 9, 20217 minutes read time

    Reviewed by: Professor Mark Dadds and Dr Lucy Tully


    Healthy Screen Time For Kids

    Are your kids always pushing the boundaries with screen time? Learn how much time children should spend with screens, and how to deal with meltdowns.
    Caring for kids
    Jun 23, 20217 minutes read time

    Reviewed by: Professor Mark Dadds and Dr Lucy Tully


    Quality Time And Play With Kids

    Kids need quality time with their parents and we’ve got evidence to back it up! Learn about child-centerd play and tips for playing with your children.
    Caring for kids
    Positive behavior
    Jun 21, 20216 minutes read time

    Reviewed by: Professor Mark Dadds and Dr Lucy Tully