We started showing our son words even before he learned the alphabet, at just 4 months. We never dreamed he’d be reading full sentences and simple books before he even turned 3! In fact, we were just hoping that somehow we’d make reading easier for him when he would really learn it in school later on.
We used Your Baby Can Read as a curriculum for our son. After a year of following the program, he could read all the words anytime he saw them written. So we started teaching him to read whole sentences on our own.
Babies have an amazing potential to learn and absorb things. If you’re already reading to your child, you can point out to them how the words you’re saying are printed on the page. In fact, you don’t even have to use a commercial program to teach your baby about words.
Here are some tips you can incorporate easily into your day to introduce the concept of reading. (We learned many of these from the Your Baby Can Read program though others we just incorporated naturally when we continued on after the program ourselves):
- Start with only one word a day if you’re doing it on your own. Just a couple minutes at a time is best. Remember, you’re dealing with a baby’s attention span here.
- Choose words that have interest and meaning to your baby. Mommy, Daddy, ball, cat, bottle, body parts, colors—all these things may be fun, familiar and easy to pick up right away.
- Show the item as you say and write the word. The point is for your baby to understand that these things have names that can be spoken AND written.
- After showing the item and writing it, point out that word written in different places as you go about your day (e.g., “orange” is on the OJ container at the supermarket). We have found this also helps expose him to reading different fonts as well as the various meanings and usage of words.
- Draw attention to the written words you’ve taught during story time when they show up in his or her books.
- Use your finger to follow all the words you’re saying as you read books to your child.
- Keep track of the words you’ve taught and go over them frequently. When I introduce a new word, I write a sentence using that word plus other words he’s already learned. We would do one new word a day and then review about 10 or 15 he’d learned previously. (I’d just write them on the chalkboard or a big piece of paper and ask “What does that say?”)
- Ask an older baby to find the word you’re teaching that day on a page in the book you’re reading to him.
- We also taught Rohan to look for smaller words inside bigger words. For example, he has a sticker that says AWESOME! where he can see it when he’s sitting on the potty. We would have fun pointing out all the different words like awe, we, so, some, me when he was sitting there. I think this has also helped him learn to sound out words, as he can look for familiar word combinations.
- Alternate reading words (or sentences) between you and your child. He or she will love the interaction with you.
- Be patient! We started at 4 months, but our son wasn’t speaking until 11 months. It was really only then that we received outward confirmation he could recognize all the words he’d learned.
- And don’t worry if your child isn’t reading fluently. Anything you do now will certainly help later in school, even if it’s just learning that the ABCs make up words. Just be confident you’re giving him or her a great foundation to build on!
Now at 2 years and 8 months, Rohan sounds out unfamiliar words and teaches himself new ones. He asks, “What does that mean?” when he doesn’t know a new word. Still, I wouldn’t call him a bookworm. He’s a toddler, with a toddler’s attention span. He doesn’t like to read huge chunks of text. He likes reading best when we are alternating sentences or pages with him, so it’s an activity we do together. Reading together is a fun part of every day for us.
We don’t think our son is any different from other children his age. The difference is that we decided to expose him to reading words early on, and his little baby brain simply picked it up. Yours can, too!