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How I taught my son to read before kindergarten

LaNee Bridewell

How many of us have decided not to do some very necessary things with or for our child because we didn’t have the energy to negotiate through his resistance in that moment? (Raises hand enthusiastically and prays to God I’m not the only parent who occasionally lets her kid go to bed with funky breath just to avoid the drama.)

Teaching your kids how to read can definitely be one of those things.

Let’s be real. There are countless other things kids are more interested in than learning to read. Shoot! Plenty of grown people would prefer to do countless other things rather than teach their children how to read. If you’re one of those parents, please believe I’m not judging you — remember, I’m the parent with the occasionally funky-breathed, sleepy child.

A lot of people avoid it — or never get around to it — and trust their children will learn when they get to school.

When we do that, we throw our children at the mercy of the education system. Lord help us! It sounds really scary when you put it like that, doesn’t it? Like the first line of a horror film starring our kids!

I can be dramatic, so let me back up and rephrase that. A lot of children are falling behind at alarming rates, especially children of color whose only exposure to reading occurs at school. Our children face some very scary, long-term implications when they fall behind.

Reading is an important thing, and it would be great if we could all teach it to our kids. However, it can be frustrating teaching your child something you’ve been doing so long you forgot how you learned to do it. And the last thing you want to do is create a culture of frustration around your child’s education. To ease some of the drama in teaching your children to read, I have written out a step-by-step guide outlining how I taught my son to read.

Disclaimer: There is more than one way to teach a child to read! That’s why I named this post “How I taught my son to read before kindergarten” and not “The only way on Earth to teach a human being to read.”

7 rules for parents:

  1. On your mark. Get set. Do not go! This is not a race. Calm down. Take off your running shoes. One of our main goals should be to develop a solid and strong foundation. Like all things built to last, learning to read is going to take some time. Even if you think your child may actually be behind, they will never catch up without a solid foundation. We need to be more concerned with improvement than achievement.
  2. Figure out how much your child knows. Wherever they are, it’s a great place to start. Whether they are still on their ABCs or they are reading Shakespeare — it’s fine. Forgive your children if they are not where you want them to be. Forgive yourself if they are not where you want them to be. Remember Rule #1.
  3. Start with the letter A, literally and figuratively. I know that seems simple, but a lot of people don’t really get this part as well as they think they do. I simply mean start at the beginning and don’t skip important foundational principles. I am realizing that many people don’t always recognize foundational principles because they are so ingrained in the way adults process information. For example, the difference in the way we say “bit” and “bite.” It really takes around 27 separate pieces of information to be able to correctly distinguish between those words — and we don’t even think about it. I did my best to write out every piece in a logical progression for you guys.
  4. Have realistic expectations for your children. First of all, set realistic time limits on daily lessons. We do 30 minutes of a lesson and 30 minutes of reading a day. Even grown people have a hard time paying attention for longer than 30 minutes at a time. Second, they are little human beings. They are going to make mistakes, and they probably aren’t going to be prodigies in every single area. That being said, a lot of people are not clear on what a child is supposed to know or be able to do at a given age or grade.
  5. Figure out what is age appropriate. Use Google, ask your child’s teacher for learning goals for the year, get information from your local school district about kindergarten readiness or ask your child’s teacher about any concerns or areas for improvement.
  6. Set small goals. This is the one time you shouldn’t focus so much on the bigger picture. It can be daunting and discouraging. It also might encourage you to breeze past foundational principles and push them past reasonable expectations. So, forget the “bigger picture” and focus on small victories instead. Remember we should be more concerned with improvement than achievement.
  7. Be consistent. This is pretty self-explanatory. And I know I told you how important it is to be consistent in my post about helping your kids in school… but, don’t use this as an excuse to stop doing it simply because you are struggling with being consistent about it. Every little bit helps! If you can’t be consistent on a daily basis, do what you can when you can and forgive yourself for the rest. This is also not a pass to excuse yourself from making time for these kinds of things. You get the point!

11 Steps for teaching a child how to read

Once I could confidently say, “Yes, my child can do that in his sleep!” I moved on to the next step. We worked on these skills every day for 30 minutes, and then we did 30 minutes of reading. Toward the end, some steps ran together as we began reading more challenging books on a day-to-day basis and he began.

  1. My child can say the alphabet.
  2. My child understands that L, M, N, O and P are all separate letters.
  3. My child can recognize each uppercase letter.
  4. My child can recognize each lowercase letter.
  5. My child understands that “A” and “a” are the same letter (and understands the same for all the other 25 uppercase/lower case letter combinations “B” through “Z”).
  6. My child knows each consonant sound and each short vowel sound.
  • Consonants: B, C, D, F, G, H, J, K, L, M, N, P, Q, R, S, T, V, W, X, (Y), Z
  • Vowels: A, E, I, O, U, (Y)
  • My child can read simple words, with short vowel sounds that are spelled exactly the way they sound.
    • CAT: C (KAH) – A (AH) – T (TUH)
    • DOG: D (DUH) – O (AW)- G (GUH)
    • More examples of simple words: BIT, PET, TIP
  • My child knows long vowel sounds: A, E, I, O, U
  • My child recognizes when to use long vowel sounds.
    • I still remember my first grade lesson on long vowel sounds.. “When two vowels go walking the first one does the talking!” Here is a great explanation on rules for vowel sounds.
    • For example he or she should be able to distinguish between:
    • “bit” and “bite”
    • “tap” and “tape”
    • “bat” and “bait”
  • My child has memorized the sounds of common blends and digraphs.
    • What are blends?
    • What the heck are digraphs?
  • My child can read words that are longer than one syllable and has memorized common words that are “exceptions” to reading rules.
  • Additional free resources:

    • Your public library — A lot of people don’t think about this, but the library has great stuff!
    • Dolly Parton Imagination Library — This program mails your child one free book every month until his or her sixth birthday! And they are good books! We loved this program!
    • — Another great resources that gives you access to books online. You can sort by age range, genre and author.

    Online reading games:

    If you have any questions, please feel free to comment below or email me at

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