How Children Learn to Read

A child's ability to learn and understand language begins in infancy. Some pediatricians believe that reading to a child in the womb not only familiarizes them with words and sentences, it also sets the stage for early vocabulary expansion. reading-to-children-banner A child's mind is like a sponge, soaking up everything they see, everything they feel and everything they hear. Children learn by repetition and imitation, which is why taking an interactive approach in learning to read is imperative. Those early childhood literacy skills are the building blocks for creating a successful reader in the future. This article will outline some of the most basic, yet most important, early childhood literacy activities that one can use when teaching a child to read.

Letter Recognition

Everyone is familiar with the Alphabet Song. It's catchy, easy to remember and creates a fun way to learn. Create flashcards or otherwise point to the specific letters as they sing the song. That way children have something they have something to identify with instead of just blindly learning the lyrics, which won't do any good. Once the children are able to identify their letters, they are ready to progress to the next all important step of learning the sounds of those letters.


Teaching children the sounds that letters make sets the stage for them to be able to sound out words while they are reading in the future. If they know which sounds the letters make and how to break down those sounds, longer words won't be so intimidating. Teaching the sounds can be done by word association activities. This can be done through flashcards or word association games that depict a letter and a picture, such a "C is for cat. C makes the c-c-c sound" - stressing the "c" syllable at the beginning the word.

Sight Words

Small words that are easy to learn can be taught as sight words, which are words that are learned by seeing them, not necessarily by their sounds. Cat, bat, rat, dog, see, ran, run, I, am and me are all examples of sight words. With a little practice, these types of words should be easily recognizable to the child and will become some of the first words they will learn.

Rhyming Words

Once a child has mastered a few words, words that rhyme with those he has learned can be incorporated into the lessons. This is a great way to instantly expand their vocabulary by several words, many times just by changing one simple letter. For example, if a child can read "hat", using phonics, he can easily add fat, rat, bat, mat, cat and sat to his vocabulary.


Not enough can be said about the importance of flashcards in teaching early childhood literacy skills. They are fantastic for teaching letters, phonics, sight words and words in general. As previously stated, one of the ways children learn is by repetition. Doing something over and over again, producing the same result each time, is the way to form a life-long habit. This is also true with literacy skills.

Forming Sentences

Once a child has mastered a good number of words, flashcards can be incorporated into the lessons once again as a tool to help them form and read sentences. For instance, using 'cat', 'ran' and 'the' flashcards, you can create a simple sentence that reads, "The cat ran." Since the children are already familiar with these words, learning how to put them together to form sentences is the next natural progression on their journey to reading.

Other Methods

By doing and by example are two more ways that children learn. This can be applied to reading as well. Reading to them can dramatically improve their language and comprehension skills, especially when the reading material includes lots of bright, colorful imagery that describes what is taking place. Alternately, having a child read aloud is an excellent way to boost their confidence, gauge their skill level and potentially identify any difficulties they may be having. Because children all learn by different methods and at different speeds, what works for one child may not work for another. The key to early childhood literacy success is finding the teaching method that a child responds to best and building upon that method as their own progression warrants.