Thursday, March 19, 2009

Teaching Your Child to Read: Reading is as easy as your ABC’s

Teaching Your Child to Read: Reading is as easy as your ABC’s
by Gregg Prescott, M.S.

About the author: Gregg Prescott is a Parenting Counselor, Child & Family Therapist and business owner of Family Unity Network's Parenting Megasite ( Prescott attended the State University of New York at Oneonta where he obtained a B.A. in Psychology. Upon graduation, Prescott attended Capella University where he received a Master's Degree in Human Services. As a Child & Family therapist, Prescott noticed common parenting mistakes amongst his clients and developed a U.S. and Internationally patent pending program to address these issues, called an Adolescent & Family Skills Program. Prescott is also the author of 100+ Common Parenting Mistakes (available at and and wrote and illustrated a soon-to-be-released "Interactive Children's Book" entitled, "Meowsey Finds a Home" which will also be available on both and at

The following is a chapter that I decided not to include in my book, 100+ Common Parenting Mistakes. I hope you find this information helpful.

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One of life’s most important lessons

When I was in college, a child psychology professor once said some words I’ll never forget:

“Outside of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Basic Needs (food, sleep, shelter, protection, affection, responsibility, achievement, fulfillment, etc), the most important thing you can do for your children is to teach them how to read.”

Teaching your child to read is one of the most important things you can do for your child!

Opportunity missed

Parents are not responsible for teaching their children how to read. This responsibility falls of the shoulders of the school system. As parents, we can give our children the basic premise of how to read, such as teaching our children the ABC song or buying alphabet letter books to read to them.

When parents take time to teach their children to read, their children may gain a significant advantage over peers who have not learned how to read.

A child will gain a valuable tool needed in school when his parents implement listening and reading comprehension into his daily or nightly reading.

The children who wait for the school to teach them to read may be at a disadvantage by not having the basic reading and comprehension skills other children learned one or more years before kindergarten.

Time and patience is needed when teaching our children how to read. Some parents don’t have a lot of time and some parents may not have the patience to teach their children how to read.
Patience is an observable character trait that children may model. "Teaching children patience is essential not only for school success, but for development of appropriate interpersonal relationships and social skills," says family psychologist Elizabeth Carll, PhD. "Poor impulse control can lead to aggression and violence for some children. (Sonnenberg, 2006)"
Reading books to our children is easy to do. Teaching them to read along with building reading and listening comprehension is a little more difficult. Parents will need to dedicate time and patience to teach their children to read.

The benefits of reading to your children

According to pediatrician Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, a child will receive many benefits from learning how to read:

Language and speech development: Reading to a child makes it easier for him/her to develop speech.

Vocabulary and pronunciation: By looking at a picture in a book or a word and then hearing how it is pronounced out loud, children can learn new words along with their pronunciation.

Preparing for school: Children are ready to go to school when they can attend or listen to what someone else is saying, learn and participate in structured situations such as story reading and focus in and listen to one central person in the classroom. Reading to a child is great way to prepare a pre-schooler for the school environment. On a higher level, children will get used to hearing stories and following sentences. This will be very helpful when they start to learn about grammar and sentence structure.

Bonding time: Reading to a child is also an ideal opportunity for a parent to spend some time with their child. Reading time can be perceived as "their time!" I suggest that parents get down and spend time with their children at their level. Reading an interesting children's story to them accomplishes this.

Part of a routine: Reading to children before bed time becomes a nice pre-bed time ritual or routine. Children tend to have an easier time falling asleep if there is a set routine. For example: brushing their teeth, having a story read to them and then falling asleep.

Life-long benefits: As children get older, they will read on their own, building on the interest and experience of being read to for years. This sets off a life-long interest/aptitude in reading which comes in handy in any aspect of our lives especially during the formative school years right through college and beyond. (Roumeliotis, 2007)

The process begins immediately

The objective of any book is to get the reader (or infant) interested in the book. The reading process starts with baby books. Infants seem to enjoy the brightly colored vinyl board books along with books that stimulate their senses. Some interactive books have built-in sound effects, such as a cow mooing or a duck quacking.

“Variety is the spice of life.” This is true when you’re deciding which books to buy for your child. As he gets older, he can select his own books, but an infant doesn’t have that luxury. Try giving your infant a variety of books with different textures, sounds, etc. The main objective is for the child to realize that books can be fun. This will help to plant the seed of reading as a pleasurable experience for your child.

Now I know my ABC’s…

The foundation of reading is based on understanding the alphabet. Singing the ABC song will teach your child the order of the alphabet, but will not teach him how to read. The ABC song is still an important part of reading, so encourage your child to sing his ABC’s and learn this reading foundation. As parents, we can randomly sing the ABC song almost anytime, like when we’re doing chores or are in the car! Also, there are a lot of wonderful DVD’s and videos that teach the ABC song along with letter and object association.

ABC books are a great way for the child to associate letters with objects that start with the same letter. These books are typically the starting point for a child when he learns how to read through letter recognition.

Begin a ritual of bedtime stories. You’ll eventually know which books your child enjoys the most. Soon, he will be able to pick what book he’ll wants you to read, furthering his interest in reading. Within the next several years, he may be reading on his own books with a little help from you!

Many experts in the field recommend teaching children a combination of both sight words and phonics. This is a highly debated topic. Some experts believe the use of phonics is not a good way to teach a child how to read. If you feel this way, then please skip this chapter!

This chapter is merely a suggestion of one way to teach a child how to read and more importantly, getting your child interested in reading.

Verbal and visual recognition

The premise of reading is based on a child’s ability to verbally say and visually recognize his ABC’s, which will take time and effort for both the parent and child. Parents may use a variety of videos and DVD’s to help to make the learning process a fun experience for their children.

The age you begin teaching your child how to read will depend on how long it takes the child to visually and orally understand his ABC’s. Once your child accurately recognizes letters and can verbally say his ABC’s, you can begin to teach him how to read.

Phonics and sight words

Phonics involve connecting sounds with letters or groups of letters (certain words will make a certain sound). Alphabet books teach a children the sound of a letter, such as “a as in apple.” These books help provide the basic premise for reading by visually showing the letters of the alphabet and corresponding each letter to one or more objects that begin with that particular letter. The best alphabet books contain several objects listed for each letter, because not all letter are pronounced the same. For example, the “a as in apple” is not pronounced the same as the “a as in apron.”

Sight words involve the understanding that a certain groups of letters, when put together in a specific way, will produce a certain word or sound. For example, when we see the letters t-h-e together, we those letters spell the word “the”.

When and how

The perfect time to teach your child to read is when you’re reading to him! Once your child can verbally and visually pronounce and identify his ABC’s, you can make a game out of teaching him how to read.

Here’s how I taught my 3 year old daughter how to read:

I’ve always been a big advocate of parents reading to their children. I bought my daughter as many books as I could, based on her age, the educational value of the book or my daughter’s interests. I also let her help choose the books we purchased. (If money is an issue, you can go to the library and do this with your child!)

I always let her choose whatever book she wanted me to read. We openeded the book and I read the first page. Normally, I would turn the page, but not this time.

Make reading fun!

This is where the game begins.

I asked her to find the letter “t”. She found every “t” on the first page. I praised her and continued reading the story. Occasionally, we would stop and search for the letter “t” and repeated this several times for the next few days.

After I was comfortable with her “t” recognition, we moved to the letter “h”. Once again, I’d let her pick out which book we were going to read and we began searching for the letter “h” along with the letter “t” on this day.

By now, you can probably see where I’m going with this strategy.

After several days, we searched for the next letter, “e”. I asked her to find the letters “t” and “h” as well.

Her next objective was to find the letters “t”, “h” and “e” in that specific order. This was her first 3 letter sight word. When she found the word “the” for the first time, I stopped her and said, “Awesome! Everytime you see those three letters “t”, “h” and “e”, they will always spell the word “the.””

This is when a light bulb appears over a child’s head when he learns his first 3 letter word! From this point forward, he’ll want to learn more words, so be patient with him and always give him lots of praise.

Reading Tips:

The word “the” is a very good first multi-letter word to teach your child. Children will gain an understanding of how the letters “t” and “h” sound together while also showing them one of the most commonly used words in the English language.

Always remember to praise your children when teaching them how to read. The idea is to encourage them to be excited about the reading process and our positive words of encouragement will do just that!

Encourage your children’s listening (or reading) comprehension skills by asking relative questions at the end of each book. This will help to train their mind to focus on what you’re reading to them or what they’re reading to themselves.

You could begin teaching listening and comprehension skills after reading a page or two, and talk about what you read. Eventually, they will make the connection to comprehend the entire story in the same way!

Let’s pick out some books!

Take your children for a weekly or bi-weekly visit to the local library. Some libraries have reading sessions for children in which a librarian or guest reader will read a book to a group of kids.

By taking your children to the library on a regular basis, you’re also furthering their interest in reading by allowing them to pick out their own books.

A library can teach your children some good lessons, too:

1. Reading can be fun!
2. Responsibility when they borrow a book.
3. How to follow other people’s rules, such as being quiet and returning books on time.
4. How to ask for help or assistance from others.
5. Encourages your child to make his or her own decisions.
6. If you borrow something, you must return it.
7. How to behave in public places.

Write a book of your own!

For the creative parent, try writing a story in which your child is one of the main characters. Try not to have too many main characters, because the story may become too confusing. Also, keep the story positive!

Suggestion: Write the story in a notebook and put only one or two paragraphs at the top of the page. You child will be your “illustrator” by drawing a picture underneath your story.
When my daughter was 3, I wrote a book for her called, “A Home for Meowsee” in which her favorite stuffed, Meowsee, was the main character.

Here’s a synopsis of the story:

Meowsee was different from her brothers and sisters. She was the smallest kitten of the litter and the only one who didn’t look like the rest of her family. All of the other kittens found new homes, except for Meowsee. She decided she would venture out into the country to find a home to call her own. Where will she look? Who will she meet? Where will Meowsee live?

“A Home for Meowsee” taught her the following values:

1. Unconditional love
2. You’re always special, even if you’re different.

After writing “A Home for Meowsee,” I added a few psychology-based components to the book that help build a child’s listening and comprehension skills, number recognition, hand-eye coordination, imagination and creativity while maintaining a heart-warming story with a good moral value.

A little side note: I’m a “pack rat” and I keep everything that has a sentimental value. I have several large boxes full of my daughter’s special items. Inside one of those boxes, I have the original drawings she made when she illustrated “A Home for Meowsee”!

The pictures your children draw for your book will be keepsake memories of this wonderful bonding moment. Your children will appreciate the effort you made and this may model the behavior of doing nice things for others without expecting anything in return.

Make up an oral story with your child

Tell your child a story off the top of your head! For example, “Once upon a time the lived a little prince (or princess) named (hesitate to give your child a chance to say their name). He (or she) lived in a big (hesitate for help from your child). The story you made up would be a great book for your child to illustrate. After you tuck your child in, write the story into a notebook for him to illustrate.

Now you have your first story!

One more “story”:

Once upon a time, when my daughter was 3, my parents visited us from Florida. My daughter drew a simple picture of a cat’s head and wrote the letters C-A-T below the picture to give to my grandmother, who still has this picture on her refrigerater.

There’s a point to this story. The earlier you begin teaching your child their ABC’s and letter recognition, the earlier he will be able to read

12 common parenting mistakes

1 I don’t need to teach my child how to read.
2 It’s not my responsibility to teach my child how to read.
3 I don’t need to encourage my child to read.
4 I’ll let the school teach my child how to read.
5 There are no advantages to learning how to read before my child enters school.

While it may not be the parent’s responsibility to teach a child how to read, your child will gain so much more by learning early, especially when you teach your child the basics of reading comprehension by occasionally asking him to reiterate what he’s read. Reading is the foundation of all education, so why not give your child a head start by encouraging him how to read?

6 I don’t need to read to my child.

A parent may not be required to read to their child, but their child may have a serious disadvantage over other children. Children get more than a great story when we read to them. They also benefit by expanding their language and speech development, and vocabulary and pronunciation, while preparing them for the school environment. Reading is also a great way to bond with your child and will give him life-long benefits. Remember, reading is the foundation of everything they’ll learn in school!

7 I can’t afford to buy my child books.
8 My child won’t benefit from going to the library.

Children receive a lot more than books from going to the library. When you take your child to the library, your child will learn:

1. Reading can be fun!
2. Responsibility when they borrow a book.
3. How to follow other people’s rules, such as being quiet and returning books on time.
4. How to ask for help or assistance from others.
5. Encourages children to make their own decisions.
6. If you borrow something, you must return it.
7. How to behave in public places.

9 I don’t have the time to teach my child how to read.

Do you have time to read to your child? If so, then you have time to teach him how to read!

10 I don’t have the patience to teach my child how to read.

Remember what we talked about in regard to patience: Patience is an obersvable character trait that may play a role in your child’s school success and appropriate interpersonal relationships and social skills. Just by displaying patience to your children in anything you do together, you’re helping them develop these important social skills. If you teach patience and reading skills, you’re helping them even more!

11 I don’t know how to teach my child how to read.

There are several different methods to teach children how to read. I suggested a method that involves a combination of phonics and sight words. There are reading “laboratories” that will teach children how to read. Some libraries may have free seminars as well.

12 I don’t know when I should teach my child to read.

You may teach your child how to read once your child has a solid understanding of the sequential order of the alphabet and can recognize letters. The key to teaching your child how to read is time and patience!

This therapist’s final words

My college adolescent psychology professor hit the nail on the head when he said, “Outside of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Basic Needs, the most important thing you can do for your children is to teach them how to read.”

Give your children the gift of reading! They’ll need this “gift” for the rest of their lives. Most of all, have fun bonding with your children by reading to them and teaching them how to read. This is a special moment that will not last forever. Treasure it!

Warmest regards and happy parenting!

Gregg Prescott, M.S.


1 comment:

  1. Awesome tips, Gregg! I just wanted to share something I've recently ordered for my now 8 month-old grandson. We've been using the program for two months, and can already recognize words!
    If I could, I would give the program to every new parent on the planet!