Teach your child to read

Do you want to teach your child to read? I have some suggestions to make the task easier. My suggestions are not the usual "read-to-your-child" cliches but real ideas that work.


Teach the sounds of the letters together with their names.

The sound (or sounds) of the letters are often different from the name of the letter. In reading, it is the sounds that count. When you read to the child, point to the letter C, for example and say; "the name of this letter is [see] and it makes two sounds: [kkk] as in the word cat and also [sss] as in the word cent." Then ask child to give you examples.


Do not be rigid in how the child pronounces the sounds.

Regional accents and weak auditory skills make it hard for children to say most sounds in an academically correct way. Accept a reasonable effort. Recognize that learning sounds is only an intermediate step to learning to read.


Teach lower case letters first.

Have you noticed that nearly all ABC books for young children teach uppercase letters first? Yet capital letters account for only five percent of all letters in written English. Therefore, pay more attention to teaching the lower case letters. Lower case letters are far more important in developing reading skills.


Do not worry about grammar at this point.

Preschoolers, kindergartners, and first graders are very concrete in the way they think and cannot handle complicated concepts. It is not necessary at this stage to teach them about consonants, vowels, long and short sounds and such. They can learn to read just as well without these rules.


By age four, most English speaking children already have an excellent grasp of grammar of the language and in due time, they will learn all the formal grammatical rules in school. At this point, you need to concentrate only on the mechanical skill of reading.


Teach your child writing along with reading.

Children learn to read faster and easier if they learn to write at the same time. The motor memory of the letters, listening to their sounds and seeing them in writing will reinforce new learning. So, teach your child to write letters and words. Download our Writing Lesson demo to get your child started.


Limit the initial reading vocabulary.

Reading is a very complex process. Not all words can be read using simple phonic rules. Many important words need to be learned by sight. Teach only the simple and common words at first. The knowledge of 400 key words called Dolch words, is all a young child needs to be able to read well. Download our word list on the main page.


Audiotapes, video or software cannot teach children to read.

The young child can pay attention to any one activity only for a short time particularly if it is challenging. Instructional tapes and most software with music are distracting, and weak listening skills paired with short attention span make audiotapes and most videotapes non-effective.


Parents put a lot of faith in computers but software by itself also cannot teach your child to read. Unfortunately, most commercial reading programs emphasize flash and entertainment over structure and content. These programs entertain and engage the child but fail at actually teaching them to read. To really learn to read, your child needs the most important tool of all - the kitchen table - where you sit together and spend about ten minutes a day working through the process step-by-little-step.


What is the right age to start learning to read?

Most children can begin at age four. You can begin teaching the sounds of letters at about four years. Simple reading instructions can be started about the same time. By five the pace of new learning and reading fluency can increase dramatically. Most children can learn to read at the second-grade level, by age six.


Can I hurt my child by starting early?

Of course not, but you may help significantly. Studies conducted over the last thirty-five years concluded that early reading gives the child a significant advantage in school. Children who start reading before the first grade maintain their lead in reading and comprehension over their "regular pace" peers through grade school. Early readers are also likelier to excel in other academic subjects as well.


About 10% of all children show signs of reading problems in second and third grade. By starting early you decrease the chance that your child will be one these children.


What about read-to-your-child advice?

Nearly every article, such as this advertised link (icanteachmychild.com) on teaching of reading to children starts out with the same old tired and trite cliche, "read to your child." Well, of course you read to your child and probably have done so since your child was a baby. Reading to the child helps him or her develop a love for stories but it does not teach her to read. It can not! Just as watching someone riding a bike will never teach your child to do so herself. Learning to read is an active and effort-full process and the child must do it him or herself.  Reading to your child, as an advice is no more useful than telling you to go for walks with your child in order so he can learn to ride a bike. So yes, read to your child but that is not enough.


What about phonics?

Although the Reading Lesson is primarily a phonics-based program, we do recognize that there is a great deal of brouhaha over phonics. Any reading program based solely on phonics is both boring and difficult for the child and is incomplete. Our language is not totally phonic and many words do not follow phonics rules and need to be memorized. We need phonics to teach the child how words sound. But reading fluency can only be achieved when the child learns to recognize the word as a whole rather than sounding out. A successful reading program must combine phonics with some elements of whole word approach.


This is exactly what we have done in the Reading Lesson. But of course there are other very good books as well, such as Teach your child to read in 100 Easy Lessons and Phonics Pathway. They all work well if you just stick to them.




Why my child is failing in school?


Your child is not doing well in school. Homework does not get done, what is done is done poorly, or child hates the school. All of these situations are devastating for a family. Figuring out why child is not doing well can be a difficult process depending on the number and complexity of underlying causes.


There are generally five reasons why children do not do well in school;


1. Learning disabilities


3. Physical or mental problems

4. Child abuse or neglect

5. Lack of proper teaching


Any one of these reasons, if present by itself is enough to cause problems in school, but often more than one of these reasons is involved. Most young patients in my practice have problems in the first three categories, which are the most common ones, however, over the years I have seen school failures steaming from the latter two as well. In this article I will address only the first cause, the LEARNING DISABILITIES.


Imagine a teacher telling children to bring some tools to school because the students will be building bookshelves. The following day, most children bring all the necessary tools, some bring only a few, and a handful do not bring any. The teacher gives the children instructions, and at the end of the class, most children finish their work on time, some finish partly, and a few make no progress at all. Interestingly, those who failed were not necessarily those who forgot to bring a full set of tools. For example, one student who forgot to bring glue used a hammer and nails with good results. That student's success with the task depended on his skillful and versatile use of the tools he had. Those who failed did so because of lack of some crucial tools and also their inability to use the tools they did have.


What "ability" tools do children need to do well in school?


a) Focusing

You have heard about ADHD. How many times have you said to your child, "Pay attention!" Attention supervises all new learning. Ability to initiate, maintain and shift attention is crucial in all activities but particularly important in school learning. So important, in fact, that deficiency in this vital function can be placed in a separate category called ADHD.


b) Memory

Ability to memorize facts and to remember and recall is a very necessary skill for any type of learning.  Memory can generally be divided in three types:


- Immediate Recall that deals with information which stays in our focus only for a very short period of time while the brain decides whether to let it perish or forward it for long term memory.


- Active Working Memory (AWM) that can be compared with the RAM (Rapid Access memory) in your computer. AWM keeps the information long enough to be used for ongoing tasks. It allows the user to get distracted for a short time to a different task and get back to the previous work without losing it. Examples might be a phone call that interrupts your reading of a mystery novel for a few minutes and when you return your memory still retains the plot.


- Long Term Memory preserves the information for a longer time periods. An example might be the name of your childhood friends, the color of your school team uniform, tune for the national anthem, smell of roses.


c) Language skills

Most of what children learn in school is presented in form of language. Language problems can affect not only their academic learning but also social functioning. Language skills are not limited to just vocabulary, but effect grammar and ability to converse and also to express oneself in writing.


d) Processing

Information enters the brain through two main pathways: Auditory (listening) and Visual (seeing). There are also minor pathways: tactile (touch), olfactory (smell), stereognosis (shapes), etc.


Auditory and Visual processing

The amount of information entering through Auditory (listening) pathways is limited to individual child's maturity and abilities. How much a chills can learn depends on the rate (speed at which information arrives at a processing "gate"), volume (amount of information given at one time), and complexity of the information. Once sum of all three factors reaches the threshold, the resulting clutter creates a bottleneck preventing new learning.


Visual (seeing) processing or pathway is usually divided into sequential (when precise order of data matters: an example will be the sequence of digits in a phone number vs. what numbers are there or arrangement or exact order of colors in a rainbow) and simultaneous when the big picture is much more important than particular details (e.g. how heavy the traffic is on the freeway vs. details on each individual car.) Visual processing is limited by the same factors as the auditory processing (rate, volume and complexity.)


e) Motor skills

There are gross motor (big muscles of the body movement, coordination, etc.) and fine motor skills (mostly handwriting skills) and motor (also known as procedural) memory to be considered.

Gross motor skills are not as important as fine motor skills in academics; nevertheless, poor eye-hand coordination or general clumsiness may have substantial impact on self esteem and social standing.

Fine motor skills are more important during the early years of schooling. With spread of computers, handwriting becomes less and less relevant for academic success.


f) Higher cognitive function (HCF)

Also called the filing system of the brain. Just as the filing system for books in a library, the HCF controls storage and retrieval of the necessary information. It tags new information under different categories creating multiple connections within the brain. HCF allows to label, prioritize, inter-connect and group independent pieces of information to bring it back from memory at will, answer indirect questions, or in order to solve a new problem. HOC is also important in planning, estimation, preparation for the tests and other complex tasks requiring advanced skills.


Different tasks in school require the ability to combine the various skills or tools we have just listed here. We understand that for reading (decoding, not comprehension) we employ attention, language, and visual processing skills; for copying from a black board - attention, visual sequential processing, short term visual memory and fine motor skills; for creative writing, a more complex task, - attention, planning, memory, language skills, fine motor skills, but not auditory or visual processing (e.g. children can still write with their eyes closed)

Deficiency of one particular tool will only affect tasks requiring this skill but not other tasks. Therefore, it is not unusual to have a child who can read above grade level but not able to write well.


How does knowing these help you? What do you do if your child is failing? Most parents are not able to separate out and identify their child's abilities and disabilities.


A qualified specialists can perform a psycho-educational evaluation which will help you identify the areas of strength and weaknesses. It can be done either privately or at the public school (where it is called the IEP evaluation.) The testers can administer an IQ test to check child's abilities and also achievement tests to see how well the child performs academically. They will arrange for speech and language tests if necessary, and collect information from parents and teachers to get a complete picture. Also, a medical specialist or a psychologist may need to be involved for diagnosis and treatment of ADHD or specific psychiatric disorders that cause the school failure.


Once you look the child's abilities in through this framework, you will get a better picture of what the primary cause of your child's problem in school. Appropriate plan to help the child can then be formulated to specifically address his or her weak areas.



Michael Levin M.D.




What to read after "The Reading Lesson"


By Lesson 15 of the READING LESSON, your child is ready to read real books.


When you are selecting books for reading, look for story books that:

1. Do not use a lot of unfamiliar words.

2. Have just a few lines of text per page. (Most children get intimidated when they see a lot of text on a page.)

3. Text size should be large.

4. The book should have plenty of pictures.

5. Lines in the stories should not be repetitive.

5. Children at this stage of reading do best with stories that are not long, preferably no more than six pages.


I have selected a few books for your consideration here, mostly through first hand experience with our son, that you may want to try. I am listing them here in the order of difficulty. Remember that you will need to sit with the child and read together. He or she maybe hesitant about reading alone at this point.


SNOW by P. D. Eastman

This is a book in the Dr. Seuss selection. It has only about four short sentences per page and has plenty of pictures. Your child can read the whole book in two or three sittings. Here is a sample from this book.

His head will have

To have a hat.

His hat is on.

Just look at that!

He is so big.

He is so tall.

He is the biggest

Man of all!


THE BEST NEST by P. D. Eastman

This is a story of two birds looking for a better nest. The story is not very repetitive so it gives the child a chance to read familiar words in an unfamiliar context. It is about 60 pages long and you should be able to read it in about three or four sittings.



by Else Holmelund Minarik and Maurice Sendak.

This book has four stories. Each story is about ten pages long. Some pages have too many sentences for my taste but the vocabulary is within the READING LESSON list and the child should be able to read each story in two sittings.


OWL AT HOME by Arnold Lobel

This book has five stories with lovely pictures, each about 15 pages long. This is a good book to read with your child. If you read it while the child is still doing his lessons then let him read the words he knows and you will read all the unfamiliar words. But don't run to the rescue when he or she struggles.


PETE THE CAT by James Dean

This is simple book with words that are compatible with Reading Lesson. It is part of the "My First I can read" book series which is just fine to use for children still learning to read.


MOUSE TALES by Arnold Lobel

Another wonderful tale by Arnold Lobel. All his stories are of manageable length and interesting to boot. This book is fairly easy for a child who has finished the course but you may need to help otherwise.



Here is an another set of marvelous stories. Let me show you a sample.

Ice Cream

One hot summer day

Frog and Toad sat by the pond.

I wish we had some

sweet, cold ice cream,Ó said the Frog.

What a good idea said Toad.

By the way, most of the books IÕve mentioned are part of the ÒAn I can Read BookÓ series. This is a really good beginner series.

I have given you the Amazon links, but of course these books are available at most libraries as well as in smaller book stores.



by Betsy Byars

This book is of full zany stories about two sisters who go out west. The stories are easy to read and words are not hard at all. Most pages have only five to eight lines.



by Lillian and Phoebe Hoban

This is a story of a little robot, Sol-1, who is set to have adventures in outerspace with his sister. Boys will love this book. My son could not wait to read his nightly allotment. The text is not very easy but is manageable if you help with unfamiliar words such as zone, laser, etc.

Another really sweet set of books are called the "You read to me, I 'ill read to you." Whats nice that these books you can read together. The are so much fun, particularly at bed time. The effort of reading will make them sleepy!

When your child starts reading children’s books, you can safely call her a reader. Encourage her now to read by herself. You can still read books together, alternating pages and words (you do one, she does one.) You will probably be tempted to help your children whenever they encounter difficult words. Try to resist this temptation. Give them a chance to struggle so they can learn and grow in their abilities.


Happy Reading.

Charan Langton