How to teach your child to read

Pointing, quacking, rhyming and talking – follow our 10 steps to help your child learn to read

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1 Begin when they’re born! (well, almost)

“It’s never too early to start reading stories with your child,” says Rosemary Clarke, Director of reading charity Bookstart. In fact, you can start reading to your baby within weeks of their birth! It’s a lovely way of interacting with your baby and you’ll find using a sing-song reading voice will really engage your baby.  

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2 Make reading fun, not a chore

All children love listening to stories, and if you make reading fun early on, they’ll start to learn their ABC without even realising it. But never force reading. It’s best to follow your toddler’s lead and if she’s not interested let her carry on playing while you read at her side, as with the right book you’ll catch her attention.

Author of The Gruffalo, Julia Donaldson, suggests playing book games when you’re out and about. “How about playing The Three Billy Goats Gruff if you happen across a bridge, or even hunting for the Gruffalo in the woods?”

3 Do lots of pointing…

Reading is all about your child making the connection between words and meanings. A great place to start is to help your child understand that we give things names. So while you’re taking your baby or toddler out in the buggy, start pointing at things you see (cars, dogs, aeroplanes etc) and naming them.

4 … then point at books and pictures

Bring the pointing game to words and pictures in books. Rod Campbell, author of Dear Zoo, says, “Start with pointing at single words on the page, saying the word aloud, followed by pointing to the image on the page. Encourage your toddler to say the word but don’t force her, and make sure you give her praise even if she hasn’t got the word quite right.”

5 Make noises and do the actions

You know those children’s presenters who do funny voices and animal noises – now it’s your turn! If you love doing ‘Old McDonald Had A Farm’, you’ll be in your element. If not, tell yourself you really can have fun with your child quacking like a duck or mooing like a cow. 

“The aim is to make book-reading and story-telling as much fun as say, playing in the park,” says Rebecca Green of the National Literacy Trust.

6 Visit your local library

“A library is the best place for your child to find his own reading tastes,” says author Julia Donaldson, who has just written a new book The Singing Mermaid. “You can start long before they can read. Toddlers love delving in the boxes of picture books and choosing for themselves.

“Perhaps your library has a weekly Rhyme Time session where little ones and their carers get together to enjoy chanting, singing and stories. For older children the Summer Reading Challenge held in libraries across the UK encourages children to read six books over their summer holidays and to report back on them. They get stickers and certificates for taking part. It’s an excellent way for them to discover new authors and become book bugs.”

7 Repeat over and over again

Oh yes, you may know the story off by heart, inside out and backwards but your toddler will want to hear it “again, again!”.

And although it’s tiring and, let’s face it, a bit boring (so try to choose books you love), it’s an important skill for reading. “Children learn from repetition and by reading the same book over and over again, they grow to recognise words,” says Rebecca Green.

8 Use rhyming books

Babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers all love rhyme. Stories written with rhyming and rhythmic words can quickly become all-time favourites. One of MFM’s favourites is The Gruffalo, written by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Axel Scheffler, with its easy-to-remember and highly visual rhyming lines which many children love to learn and join in as you read.

9 Add reading to bedtime routines

Introduce books as a natural part of going to bed, along with cleaning teeth and a bedtime cuddle. Book reading will soon become a lovely part of the bedtime routine, where you can spend close one-on-one time with your child, exploring stories and ideas. 

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10 Talk about the books

As your child gets older, don’t just read the words, ask questions around the story. This helps her make sense of what’s happening and how the story develops across the pages. You can then take this process further by having a conversation about the book. Encourage her to talk about the characters and their emotions and have fun coming up with other ways the story might have continued.

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