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The best ways to teach a baby how to read


The writer of this article is a professional teacher of many years’ experience, in both public schools and private instruction.

AS YOUR eyes scan these words you are employing a skill that is the very foundation of education: the ability to read. Through the use of this basic skill, the gathering of thoughts from the printed page, you are able to learn of events of the distant past, the present, and, as if from a blueprint, the future. Ask yourself, “What would life be like had I never learned to read?”

And yet research tells us of large numbers of high school and college students who are unable to read at a level essential to success in their assignments. It follows, then, that skill so basic in our lives should be mastered as early in life as possible. It follows, furthermore, that teaching our own young children to read should be of prime importance.

Many parents have the mistaken idea that a child’s education begins when he enters kindergarten or the first grade. The fact is, from the moment of birth that little computerlike brain is switched to ON, just waiting to have information fed into it to be stored for later use. To begin “programming” at birth. Discard the mistaken idea that only ‘certified personnel’ can teach someone to read. Extensive research has shown that how well a child performs on tasks, such as learning to talk and learning to read, is “thought to be closely related to the nature of the child’s early interaction with his parents, the amount of responsiveness they show to the infant, and their ability to encourage him to independent exploration.”

The parents, therefore, must appreciate the role that they play in helping the young child to master the reading skill that will help to prevent many frustrating problems in school later on. By beginning with simple procedures and making them a routine part of a young child’s life, he will be learning to master the skills that will enable him to read before he enters school.

Therefore, the ideal situation is to begin as early as possible or enrol in Idealnest School. Begin at birth by constantly talking to your baby. Remember, he is trying to learn a “foreign language” and will need all the help you can give. Your endearing comments and all vocal communication will not only assure him of your love but also constantly expose him to that foreign language he is so desperately trying to learn.

At first, his learning process will be chiefly from oral sounds. As he becomes aware of things around him, visual aids will play an important part. Your selection of toys will be an aid since his interest span will be longer if he is being entertained. In the early months, bright objects will capture his attention. The shape of the toy will matter little to him, whether it is the shape of an animal or a letter of the alphabet. It will be the fact that he is being entertained that matters, so why not acquaint him early with the tools he will need for reading while he is being entertained by them?

Start with one or two bright-colored letters of the alphabet. These are available in many stores as teething toys or visit Idealnest school anytime. Use these just like other toys, but with perhaps a little more emphasis, referring to them by name. As he grows, add to them.

By the time he is toddling, he will be able to identify many of the letters even though he may be unable to talk. He has been exposed to them for a year through his senses. He saw them, he heard you repeatedly call them by name, he played with them and he chewed on them. Soon he will be ready to start using these tools that are now familiar toys.

After the child knows all the letters of the alphabet, the next step is to present the letters in the order that they will appear in print in the child’s language. Since English is read from left to right, it will be necessary to orient the child to this. When reading to him, be aware of this by frequently pointing to words as you read so that his eye movement is in a left-to-right direction. When he is able to talk, place a few letters in sequence and have him name them in left-to-right order. Show pictures of objects moving in a left-to-right direction on the page. These should be simple and obvious . . . a dog walking toward his food to the right, a boy ready to kick a football toward the right.

When complete letter recognition and left-to-right order have been mastered begin to build familiar words. A good beginning is his name. You might use a picture of a child calling his friend out to play. The picture is obvious. The child outside has his hands cupped to his mouth, looking up at the house, and even a small child understands that he is calling someone. You may tell your child that since we can’t hear what he is saying it is necessary to use letters to tell us what sound he is making.

“These are the letters we would use if he were calling your name.” Then spell out the letters of his name and talk about it. Work with that word only, until he is able to identify that particular combination of letters with his name and can recognize his name when he sees it. Be patient! Let his progress at his level. Make a game of it and remember always to commend him for his endeavors. At this point, you are simply trying to instill the idea that printed letters equal sounds spoken (letters = sounds).

When he is able to recognize his name on sight, then gradually add other words. For example: On a file card print in large capital letters the word CHAIR. Put this card on a chair and explain: “These letters give us the sound CHAIR.” Talk about the letters that form the word and allow him to name each letter in the left-to-right order. Leave it on the chair for several days. Gradually add other cards to familiar objects.

Keep in mind that he is not reading at this point but simply learning that printed letters represent sounds to be spoken. When several words have been introduced, make a game of seeing how many of the cards he can place with the correct object. When he is able to accomplish this, he will have mastered . . .

The First Three Steps:

  1. Recognize and name each letter of the alphabet.
  2. Call letters by name in left-to-right order.
  3. Understand that printed letters represent sounds spoken.

He is now ready to be introduced to the small or lowercase letters. Many alphabet books illustrate this with adult animals and their babies, and this will be a useful aid. It may be mentioned also that a simple booklet on manuscript printing will be very helpful for the parents so that they will be printing the letters as the child will be seeing them in school. Do not attempt to teach the child to print the letters at this point. Remember, your goal is to teach him to read. Do not burden him with an even more difficult task at the same time. He will naturally be attempting to write, just as he sees you doing it, and he may need a little guidance from time to time, but do not make a project of his writing. That will come later.

“Good Stories with a lot of pictures”

No age limit can be set for the steps presented, but the achievement will depend upon the amount of time and effort expended. It is assumed that by now the child has been exposed to much educational material, has been read to extensively, has picture books of his own, and is familiar with many of the nursery rhymes. Also, Good Stories book, with its many pictures, has been found by many parents to be invaluable. All of this will be helpful as he now begins his mastery of the printed page.

His first lesson is with rhyming words. Review nursery rhymes that he knows and let him supply the rhyming words. For example:

Little Bo-Peep has lost her ——.

Jack and Jill went up to the ——–.

Little Jack Horner sat in the —-.

Help him to understand that rhyming words are words that have endings that sound alike but begin with a different sound. Play a game with him, giving him a word and letting him try to supply a rhyming word, for example, CAT—HAT. You may have to give several examples before he understands the rhyming pattern. Print the word CAN on a card and have the child name each letter. Tell him: “We have named the letters, now let’s read the word. The word is CAN. Now you read it to me—CAN.”

When he understands that the combination of letters makes the sound CAN, then print another rhyming word on the card—FAN—and go through the same procedure. Point out the similarity in appearance and sound except for the first letter. Help him to distinguish between the two. Use the term READ often. “Read this word” (point to CAN). “Now read this word” (point to FAN). “Now I will read a word and you point to the one I read.” These lessons should not be very long as they now demand a severe intellectual effort on his part. However, now that he thinks in terms of reading, keep the program going on a daily basis if possible.

In the second lesson, review the two words CAN, FAN and add two more of the same group (man, pan, ran, etc.). Do not add words until he is able to read with ease each of the ones already introduced. This will take several sessions, but this basic presentation is essential for a good foundation. This method is effective because of its simplicity. The child is familiar with rhyme, and he has to watch only the beginning consonant for change of sound. Refer to these words as having the “AN” sound, and work only with this sound group until he can read any word in the “AN” group singly or in a sentence. For example, A MAN CAN FAN. DAN RAN. Do not extend the lesson beyond the child’s interest span. If it becomes a chore to him, he will quickly lose interest in learning to read.

When he has thoroughly mastered the words in the AN sound, proceed to the three-letter group using the AT sound (cat, rat, fat, sat, etc.). Follow the same procedure as with the previous group, but constantly review the AN group. Present the two groups in pairs for new sounds:



Have him read them across for ending sounds that are the same, read them down for same beginning sounds. Next, form short sentences, using words from both groups. Have him watch for words from both groups.


At first, he will read each word for sound, without giving thought to the idea presented. Have him read it several times and then ask him:

“What did that sentence say?”

“Do you think the tan cat will catch the fat man?”

“Will the fat man run at the cat?”

“Is this a game they are playing?”

This helps him to realize that printed words express ideas and that learning to read has potential pleasure. Remember always to commend him for his efforts, regardless of his rate of progress.

A large notebook would be useful, putting each sound group on a separate page. This will also be an aid in reviewing. A sample of page 1 and page 2:


can Dan fan man Nan pan ran tan van

a can a fan a man a pan

Dan ran. A man ran. A tan van.

Nan can fan.

Can a man fan?

A man ran a tan van.


bat cat fat hat mat pat rat sat

a bat a hat a mat

a fat rat a fat cat

a cat sat at a mat.

(Introduce AT and AN sounds)

bat cat fat mat pat rat

ban can fan man pan ran

a fat cat ran.

a tan rat sat at a van.

a tan cat ran at a fat man.

Continue for several pages with vowel A words, using different consonant endings, before proceeding to vowel E (bed, fed, led, etc.). Since the reading program was begun with the vowel A, it is necessary that much more time be spent with this group of words, inasmuch as the whole reading concept is new to the child. However, as you progress to vowel E you will find that it is easier for him to master, and less time will need to be spent, allowing you to continue the program with the other vowels I, O, U. You may begin to build four- and five-letter words, using three-letter words that he has already learned (led, sled, sleds).

By this time you will be pleased to hear him read words from other sources. Some of the simple stories that you once read to him, he should now be able to read to you, with perhaps a little help.

Even though the details of this program have been abbreviated here, due to space, this method has proved to be very successful with many small children. Many have been able to read very difficult material, even scriptures from the Bible, at four years of age.

Soon, all your efforts and he will be rewarded. What a thrill to hear your own child actually reading! What a joy to see him being entertained by a book, rather than always by television! But wait until you are on a long trip and he is curled up on the back seat with a book. When he does not say, “How much longer before we are there?” but instead says, “Are we here already!” then you will know that you have really “arrived.”


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