Reading is an essential life skill and an immense joy. When you read to your kids, you can help open their minds and go on fantastic journeys with them. Once they start reading on their own, they can go on those journeys alone. That’s liberating for both of you.

Here are a few tips to get your children on their way.

Read to Your Kids

This one is at the top of every expert’s list of tips on teaching kids to read. Reading out loud to them every day is crucial.

It helps develop their language skills, which is a precursor to reading. They learn that words are connected to sounds and those sounds have meaning. Reading to them helps build their cognitive skills, their memory, their attention span, and their vocabulary.

Best of all, reading out loud with your kids should be fun. It should be something you both look forward to at bedtime, or whenever you sit down together to read. The fun you have will be their motivation to continue reading. Show them there’s something in books that they want to unlock.

Pick the Right Books

You don’t have to start your kids off with great works of literature if you’re having trouble motivating them to read. Your princess-obsessed child can read fairy tales and your sports-obsessed kid can read baseball stories, or whatever motivates them.

Rhyming books and books you can sing are especially fun. Switch to early reading books with short sentences, simple words, and lots of repetition when your child takes over the reading.

Break the Word Into Bites

There are two main schools of thought when it comes to teaching people how to read: phonics and whole-language learning.

You’ll almost always use some mix of the two, but studies show an understanding of phonics, or the sounds of the words, makes a big difference in helping kids learn to read. Help them sound out a word and then show them how to make words that rhyme with it. Dropping the first letter and replacing it with another to make a rhyme helps them separate the letter sounds.

Help them figure out the initial sounds in words and pick out words on the page that begin with that sound. Kids often learn the letters in their own name first and get excited about those letters, so those are good ones to start with.

Your child will start recognizing some letters or words in the books you read and then will start puzzling out the sounds of the words themselves. The first words my daughter read were “Mary Poppins.” Long before she could read, she would scan the page to find the capital M and the capital P.

Don’t Rush It

A California-based study in the late 1950s found that less than 1 percent of kids could read by the time they reached first grade.In Finland, kids don’t even start learning to read until they’re 7, and Finnish teens placed number 3 in the whole world in reading.

Scientists have determined that kids don’t acquire the mental reasoning skills necessary to really understand what they’re reading until the age of about 6 1/2. Sure, they can learn their letters before that, but real reading won’t take hold until they’re mentally ready. Some believe that pushing academics too early can stunt kids’ intellectual growth and teach them rote memorization instead of a curiosity about the world and a drive to learn.

If your kid gravitates naturally toward reading at an early age, encourage it. But if their literacy skills aren’t keeping up with the other kindergartners, don’t sweat it just yet.

Intervene When Necessary

Yes, you should let your child march to the beat of their own drummer. But you should also know when it’s time to get help.

If your child has a learning disability, catching it early will help them enormously in the long run. Some estimates show that as many as 17 percent of school-aged kids in the United States have dyslexia, which hinders their ability to make the connections between letters and sounds.

You may see signs of dyslexia long before your child ever picks up a book. Kids with dyslexia are often late talkers and ineffective talkers. They may have trouble following directions or learning songs. Symptoms of dyslexia in young children may include:

  • not recognizing words that rhyme
  • putting letters of a word in a different order
  • making mistakes when reading out loud
  • struggling with long reading sessions
  • skipping a word or line when reading

Seeking out help when your preschooler exhibits these signs may save your kid from giving up on learning later on.

The Takeaway

Teaching your kid to read should be a fun and rewarding experience for both of you. Start by reading to them, and eventually read a book together by switching off every other page. Once you can see that they have an interest in reading on their own, take a trip to the bookstore and help them browse and pick something they’re interested in.

Reading can be a lifelong habit if it’s taught and encouraged early on. But remember, your kid should be having fun. If they’re not ready just yet, that’s fine. Follow their lead, take their cues, and help them start reading at their own pace.

If you have concerns about their progress, contact a pediatrician or learning specialist who can guide you to the next steps.