How to Help Your Child Learn to Read

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on August 18, 2021
4 min read

Reading is an important skill that children will use daily for the rest of their lives. While many children learn to read at school, parents can enhance the experience by offering support at home. This support can begin as soon as your child is born. 

Experts agree that reading out loud to your children is the best way to help them learn to read. Start when your child is a newborn baby and continue throughout childhood. As a baby, your child is primed to learn the skills that will help them learn to read as they get older.

To make reading out loud as effective as possible, make sure to:

  • Read age-appropriate books. Babies, for example, enjoy board books that they can touch and play with. Older children may enjoy "big books" that help them to see differences in words and letters. 
  • Use silly voices and voice effects. This helps your children to engage with the story and feel excited about reading time.
  • Point to words as you read so your child can follow along. Doing this helps solidify the idea that words are where the story comes from.
  • Talk about the pictures. Ask your child to name what they see in the pictures and talk about what the images show as it relates to the story.
  • Relate the story to life. Show your child how things in the book relate to things that happen in real life.
  • Answer questions. If your child asks a question, stop and answer it. That will keep them engaged and interested.
  • Read more difficult books. Once your child learns to read, keep reading out loud to them. You can read books that are above their reading level to encourage further improvement in their reading level.

Besides reading out loud to your children, there are other things you can do to encourage literacy.

  • Listen to your child read out loud. Once they learn to read, encourage them to read to you. This helps them build confidence in reading. The goal with reading aloud is for your child to understand the story. So if they need help pronouncing a word, tell them how it's said instead of making them sound it out — that way, they don't lose their place or the meaning of the sentence. If your child accidentally uses a word that doesn't make sense, have them go back and reread the sentence.
  • Praise your child's reading. As your child learns reading, offering praise helps them gain confidence.
  • Make reading time part of your daily routine. Daily reading time creates a routine that lets your child know reading is part of everyday life. Many families choose bedtime as their preferred reading time.
  • Leave books in your kid's bedroom. That way, they can look at them and enjoy them whenever they want. 
  • Let your child complete sentences. If your child learns the words in their favorite books, let them finish the sentences or "read" the whole book out loud.
  • Read books your child likes. This helps them to engage with reading time and enjoy it more.
  • Remember, anyone can teach reading. Some parents think that only teachers can teach reading to children. But parents can, too. Reading is an essential life skill.
  • Be patient. If your child shows no interest in a book, don't force it. If your child tries to write a word and gets a letter wrong, they still deserve praise. Patience and praise are more helpful for a child's learning to read than getting frustrated or yelling.
  • Talk to your children. Exposing your child to new words and language can help their literacy skills. Talking to your baby a lot, for example, can help them become better readers later on.
  • Encourage writing. Writing is part of literacy. Provide writing tools like crayons, pencils, and markers. Encourage your child to write, even if it's just scribbling. One idea is to write your child a letter and ask them to write one back.
  • Have your child tell you a story and write it down. Ask your child to tell you a simple story. Write it down and then read it back to them while pointing at the words. 
  • Teach your child phonics. There are countless products available that help children learn the sounds that are associated with letters. This helps them to sound out words as they are learning to read. You can also just use paper and a pencil to help them learn this skill. Research shows that when children don't know phonics, they struggle more with reading.
  • Avoid "leveled" reading programs. Some people believe that children who get frustrated by reading difficult material will get turned off by reading. But experts say that children learn more when they're exposed to more challenging reading material. Easy-level books often train children to rely on word memorization because they often use the same words over and over. They also train children to rely more on pictures. That can lead to slower reading development. It's best if children are exposed to a variety of challenges in their reading materials.
  • Talk to teachers. Ask your child's teachers about their reading program and how they teach literacy. Look for them to include phonics, reading out loud in class, vocabulary, and writing practice.

If your child's reading is not progressing, you should work with their school to get testing done. That way, you can find out if your child has a learning difficulty or difference, or if it's simply that the reading program in their class doesn't work for them. If your child does get diagnosed with a learning difference, like dyslexia, they're entitled to receive extra services from their school for free. 

You can also hire a tutor to help your child improve their reading. Free tutoring may be available for students from low-income families. 

At home, provide ongoing emotional support to keep your child from getting discouraged.