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5 Ways to Teach Preschool Reading (Without Really Trying)

We all know there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to reading, but the good news is if you want your preschooler to become a lifelong reader, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. As a new mom, I knew I wanted my daughter to love books as much as I do. But my education had largely taught me how to instruct a classroom of students, so in many ways, I had to relearn how to teach. I have since found many invaluable resources that have helped me to create my own path for homeschooling and to teach preschool reading without really trying!

5 Easy Ways to Teach Preschool Reading (Without Really Trying)

Let me start off by saying this is not a step-by-step tutorial on how to teach reading. This is an outline of 5 ideas you can easily implement at home to encourage preschool reading. I’m coming at this topic from an extremely basic level, assuming you don’t have a closet of teacher resources at hand and that your child is 3-5 years old. Pick and choose what you will from my suggestions, but if you take one thing away, remember that going at your child’s pace is always the best way to approach reading.

1. Experience Books

It sounds funny, but just having books around gives kids a boost in the language department. One study even showed a positive correlation between literacy and the mere size of your home library. There are many ways to experience the written word. Below are a few

  • Read-alouds: These can be well-known childrens books like Goodnight Moon, or they can be chapter books like Little House in the Big Woods (currently reading) or The Fantastic Mr. Fox. The Read-aloud Revival has a host of wonderful resources for making the most of your read-aloud time.
  • Look at picture books: A picture is worth a thousand words, and for a child (especially for a non-verbal child) pictures are invaluable teaching devices. Look at picture books with your kids, talk about the pictures, point out what you notice, and don’t “dumb down” your vocabulary for them. Even the youngest learners will rise to your vocabulary.
  • Audiobooks: Teaching your kids to be readers doesn’t start with teaching that “A” says /a/, it starts when you ignite the spark of interest which grows to a pervasive hunger for books. One way to fan the flames of this spark is to expose your kids to books by listening to them narrated. Growing up, one of our favorites was Hank the Cowdog, which has stood the test of time! Many times audiobooks will be read the authors themselves, who can give an exciting new perspective to even the most familiar books.

2. Read poetry and Bible Verses

You don’t have to be an English major to appreciate poetry. Oftentimes, you will be surprised by what your child clings onto! Reading poetry and rhymes aloud to your kids can be especially helpful for those math-oriented brains which will pick out the patterns and rhythms. I loved this podcast from At Home with Sally which reminded me that you don’t always have to understand the poet’s true intent to appreciate poetry, and this podcast from the Read-aloud Revival on integrating poetry into homeschool.

Some collections that we have are Sing a Song of Popcorn, Read-Aloud Rhymes for the Very Young, The Random House Book of Poetry for Children, and The Rooster Crows: A Book of American Rhymes and Jingles (all available for under $5 each on Thrift Books right now!).

For Bible verses, we integrate that into our daily school routine, and nightly devotionals as well when we can. Much like poetry, reading or listening to Bible verses causes children to “think outside the box” and become acquainted with metaphor and imagery, as well as to become exposed to new words they may not hear in every day conversation.

3.  Increase exposure to print

This is a wordy way to say “let your kids see words everywhere”. There are countless ways to do this, and you don’t need have flashcards or  a “word wall”. Personally, I find word walls extremely dry and boring. In every day life, we read a variety of media: social media, instructions, traffic signs, text messages, etc. Many of these words and symbols, even the youngest child can read. Point out these familiar words and symbols to your kids, read them aloud and “test” their ability to read signs like “Wal-Mart” or “Chick-fila”.

Think outside the box! Below you’ll find a list of various forms of print your child is likely exposed to every day.

  • Flashcards
  • Boardgames
  • Food boxes and cartons
  • Restaurant signs
  • Bilboards
  • License plates
  • Wall art
  • Book spines
  • Brand labels
  • Text messages
  • News headlines
  • Magazines and newspapers
  • Traffic signs
  • Street addresses
  • Written messages on dry erase and chalkboards
  • Felt letterboard

As an alternative to “collecting” new words on a word wall, you can employ dry erase boards, chalkboards, or notebooks. I also got these little stands from September and Co Shop on Etsy, and I keep our weekly sight word flashcard there in the school room. You will be amazed by how quickly your child gets excited about reading when they already feel equipped to read!

4. Encourage drawing and writing

There are many stages to writing, and it doesn’t start with letters either. It begins with scribbles, which lead to shapes, which lead to pictures, which lead to letters, which lead to words. It’s been amazing seeing this journey play out over the last couple of years with my four year old. Last year, we gave her two journals and told her that she could write or draw anything in them that she wanted. Now, nearly a year later, we can flip through these pages and see the progress she has made in her writing.

From “Learning Through Play: Early Childhood Theory, Development, Exploration and Engagement” by Lasley, Haas, Nabors, and Polnick

Encouraging your children to draw, even when it’s just scribbles, increases their ability to and their interest in writing. Tracing pages and copywork can help as well, but when your preschooler is very young, it’s best to encourage creativity and follow interest rather than force rote assignments. Don’t try to force the process, it will much more enjoyable if you allow it to come naturally, with a bit of a guided hand.

Below are some examples of how Genny’s drawings have evolved to writing over the past couple of years.

Scribble drawing (2 years old)


Scribble drawing with shapes and lines beginning to form (3 years old)


Scribble drawing with person beginning to form (3 years old)


Drawing of person with letters beginning to form (3 years old)


Small drawing with letters and words (4 years old)


Drawing of person with body, arms, legs, head, and hair (4 years old)


Sentences with invented spelling (preschool)

5. Play, Play, Play!

Play is a child’s innate tool for learning. Through role play, they test the world from different perspectives. Through running and yelling, they explore their abilities, gain physical coordination, and discover the boundaries of their environment. Providing the invitation to write and read during play is an excellent way to show a child the importance of reading and how exciting it can be in understanding the world!

How do you encourage reading in play? Here are a few factors to consider.

Accessibility

How easy (or hard) is it for your child to get a book in his hands? Have books wherever you can throughout your house. We have bookshelves in the school room, in the living room, and in the girls’ bedroom. In my room, we have a cube where we keep a couple books and toys as well. For writing, or drawing, you can give your child a journal or notebook to fill as desired. If open access to writing utensils sounds too scary, then have a special place where they can use pencils or crayons upon request.

Interest

What does your child like? Bears? Frozen? Dinosaurs? Toy Story? Star Wars? Choose books with these characters and subjects, and have them at the ready. Read them aloud if you like, even if your child isn’t attentively listening and looking at the pictures. What does your child like to do? Dance? Make believe? Crawl around making growling sounds? Integrate reading and writing into these activities by having them available to use as desired.

I had “Thumbelina” out on her book shelf for weeks before she picked it up, then she had me read it four times in a week.

Note that this doesn’t mean your child will immediately start looking at books and making drawings during their play. It will take time before their interest expands to include these new activities and skills. It took years before she became interested at all, but now I frequently find Genny at her desk busily creating an invitation to a make-believe birthday party, or in her room reading to her stuffed animals during “Animal Class”, as she calls it.

Ability

What is your child capable of doing? This last factor is probably self-explanatory but nonetheless important. The materials and activities you introduce should match your child’s level of ability, regardless of age. This part can be either fun or frustrating, depending on your expectations! I’ll give you some examples.

Jumbo crayons and board books are a good place to start for littles, but maybe your child shows no interest in either of these things (except to try and eat them). Do not despair! Go with it. Instead, draw pictures yourself using crayons – not caring whether or not your child is paying attention – and read the board books aloud – again, not caring whether or not your child is looking or listening.

Four year olds may want to try colored pencils and listening to chapter books read aloud. At first, they might show brief interest in these things, but if you persist and give them a little exposure every day, you will eventually see that interest grow. It’s an exciting thing to watch! The key is to not set unrealistic expectations, for yourself or for your child.

Playing with them

How often do you play with your kids? I know, this question hurts. When there are dishes and laundry to do, and the floors to clean, and the meals to make, and the grocery list to create, and the shopping to do, and the schoolwork to orchestrate… The to-dos are endless, and playing with my kids often gets the back burner.

However, playing with your kids is the single most important task you can do with them. Forget schoolwork, forget teaching them how to do their own laundry – okay, don’t forget these things, but they’re not as important. Only 15 minutes of uninterrupted, child-led play is all the one-on-one, special attention your child really needs from you in a day. Aside from the host of emotional connections this creates and repairs, it gives you the opportunity to introduce new ideas to your child, who can integrate them into play as desired.

For example, when playing “grocery store” with your child, tell her to write a grocery list. This is the invitation. Your child can next A) agree to this idea, and use the pad and pencil to scribble the “list”, B) discard the idea and continue with their own “script of play”, or C) discard the idea, and instead modify it by instructing you to make the list. In the last scenario, you have the chance to model this action for your child.

This all sounds very methodical, which could stress you out, but I’m only breaking down a natural encounter to show you how simple it really can be! In short, play with your kids. Give them the chance to stretch their thinking by giving them new ideas. Then, follow their lead and continue playing. It’s simple, it’s natural, and it WORKS!

Putting this into practice

Remember, you don’t have to be an “expert” to teach preschool reading. You won’t ruin your child’s thirst for books by “messing up” one of the points I’ve mentioned. I’ve simply pointed out what you’ve likely already done in your day-to-day and how these simple acts are growing little readers. I always say, you are the best parent for your child, and preschool reading is yet another fruit of your intentional parenting.

Does teaching preschool reading to your child seem impossible? Well I've got 5 easy ways you can get your child to fall in love with reading without really trying!
Step up your make-believe play with this printable POST OFFICE unit!

What preschool reading activities do you enjoy? Share with me by commenting below!

Love, Emily XOXO

Looking for activities to fill that math binder? Print these fun, reusable number worksheets!

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