My son is 2 and 1/2 years old, he has been "reading" story books since he was about 8 weeks old (sitting on my knee while i read to him), when he started talking, he started to point out names of animals, characters and what was happening in the pictures.

At the moment, he can go through one of his thomas the tank engine books and read the book through by describing the pictures.

I want to start teaching him what words and sentences are and the basics of reading, so i can start teaching him words and have him read his books.

What materials are there to help this, and when would be the best age to start (age or development stage)?

  • 8
    I would say you should keep doing exactly what you're doing. Don't lose the fun and the quality of the time you spend reading to him in the rush to get him reading now. When he starts reading is not nearly as important as how much he reads or how much he enjoys reading later. Limit or eliminate TV time if you want to raise a reader.
    – Marc
    Oct 2, 2014 at 23:33
  • The best way to teach a child anything is to wait until the child becomes interested in it. Just always answer any and all questions the child has. This way, you will be guided you through the teaching, and you do not have to worry about when to teach what. However your son turns out, he will want to learn about the world around him, because this is the sole purpose of a child's life. Just be there, always ready to help him do that, always nurturing his urge, always encouraging concentration.
    – sbi
    Oct 4, 2014 at 1:31

6 Answers 6


This is based on my experience with my son, who is 3.5 and does not read yet.

You can start by teaching him to recognize letters. Alphabet books, blocks and lots of other toys have letters on them. You can also point out letters in your environment (signs).
Also teach the sound the letter make - I think this is probably more important than the name of the letter. Most kids are interested in the first letter of their name (easy to associate the sound), and then the letter of names of their parents, friends, grandparents and so forth.

A trick they do in my son's preschool, is when they read aloud, they follow the text with their finger, helping the kids associate the concept of words and letters leading to reading.

I think once he has an interest in letters, and can tell them apart you can move on to simple words (cat, hat, car). I have seen both flash card thingies and boxes with letters they can put together themselves.

My son is not quite there yet where he recognizes words, but I think 2 key concepts are: recognizing letters and their sounds, and understanding the concept that letters forms words.

I'm sure someone can improve/add to this answer!


I've done quite a bit of research about teaching children to read, because we are homeschooling my two daughters who don't read yet, one of which has severe brain damage.

The ideal age to learn to read appears to be between 7 and 9 years of age, which is when children typically teach themselves to read if they have been read to frequently, the same way they taught themselves to talk by being spoken to frequently.

Obviously, children can be taught before they pick it up naturally, and that's not particularly harmful unless it displaces play and exploration types of learning, for which children younger than 7 are much better suited than formal academics.

The first part of learning to read is recognizing that letters have associated sounds: 'A' says "ahh," 'B' says "buh," and so forth.

The second part is called "phonemic awareness," which you can google for a more detailed explanation, but is basically recognizing that words are made up of different sounds. An example of a phonemic awareness test is, "What do you get if you take the 'rrr' off of 'rat?'"

Phonemic awareness is a developmental stage that kids naturally hit around age 3 or 4. You can practice it, but most with most kids you just have to sort of wait until they're ready, and then not worry about it. Kids with reading difficulties often never fully developed in this area, so remedial programs go back to focus on it.

After that point, there is a certain degree of conflict in how to teach reading. The biggest schism at the moment is "whole language" versus phonics. The former is based off the fact that adults don't sound out words, they read the entire word in their head as a pattern. Whole language attempts to develop that skill earlier by focusing on things like lists of sight words. Whole language proponents would say I'm over-simplifying, which I am, but whole language theory is much richer and holistic than the way it usually ends up being implemented.

Phonics is the way you probably learned. You sound out the word and learn the exceptions, then naturally later you start being able to recognize the entire word.

My son was taught for a year in public school on the whole language approach and it did not work well for him. Think of someone reading by looking only at the first two letters of every word and guessing the rest, and you'll have some idea of the result. Again, it may have been a poor implementation of the approach that hindered him, rather than limitations of the approach itself. We switched him to more phonics-based instruction when we started homeschooling him and now he is reading a grade level and a half ahead.

On the other hand, with my 10 year-old daughter with cerebral palsy we work more on sight words, and she doesn't do well with phonics at all.

With my almost five year-old daughter, we take the approach of reading to her a lot, letting her sit in on her siblings' reading lessons if she wants, and basically letting her direct her learning at her own pace. Last week, after I read one of her favorite books to her, she declared she wanted to read it again "all by myself," and proceeded to do so, only needing help for one or two words per sentence.

In other words, every child learns best a little differently, even with the same teacher in the same family. At this point with your son, I would teach him the sounds of the alphabet, continue reading to him a lot, and let him decide when he's ready to go further. There's no rush. Especially if you plan to put him into a public school where he will have to wait for the other students to catch up, the advantages of reading early are relatively short-lived. By age 11, you typically can't tell which kids learned to read earlier than others.

  • 2
    Great answer! As an addition to your last sentence though, you can tell which kids learned to enjoy reading vs those who treat it as a chore. Reading for fun should be important.
    – Bobo
    Oct 3, 2014 at 23:55

here's a game I made up:

take 10 3-letter nouns of things around the house -- bed, tub, mat, cat, etc -- and print them out on your printer in fairly large (36pt) type. attach each word to the object in the house, or an object that represent its ('cat' went on the cat bowl)

then print one sheet of paper with all 10 words on it, and tape it up at kid's eye-level on the back of a closet door.

The goal of the game is to read all 10 words on the back of the door.

When the kid gets stuck on a word, they have to hunt around the house for the word, repeating the letters, eg: B - E - D, until they find the object associated with it.

When they find the object, they come back to the 10-word list, and start from word 1.

That's how my kids learned their first 10 words.


I've got a three year old in a similar situation: can often tell parts of the story, sometimes verbatim, but isn't ready to read yet. I'm tempted to push him harder, because by this age I'd learned to read (and enjoyed it a lot even at this age), but it's apparent to me that he isn't really ready yet to be pushed harder. Following his individual learning curve is important, and I suggest you do the same.

For my son, while he's learned his alphabet, and is beginning to learn sounds, he doesn't associate words-on-the-page with words-in-the-mouth yet. He also doesn't have phonemic awareness yet (as Karl explained quite well above), so while he knows that R says RRR, he doesn't have Rat - R -> At.

What I'm doing with him to help develop this (and you may find useful as well) is rhyming books when I can convince him to do that - ie, the cat in the hat - where you hear the same sound with a different initial letter over and over, and emphasizing the rhyming parts. I'm also pointing out words on the page that are common; for example, we read a lot of Curious George, so I point out George and Monkey (one or the other usually) and sometimes get him to say the word (as he does learn to recognize it, or at least recognizes that I'm trying to get him to say the word!).

I'm also encouraging his creative side, in the hope that it helps him to develop a love of stories. He is a natural story teller, and likes to make up stories (usually involving Curious George or his family members, plus something we just saw or talked about). I help him out by creating some stories of my own (making up Thomas or Curious George stories is very easy, thank you formulaic storytellers) and by asking him questions about his made-up world or story. This isn't reading exactly, but it does develop skills that will be useful in fiction reading later on (following storylines, character identification, etc.)


I have a 3 year old son that can spell out / read slowly - so I would say you can start whenever you want. My son could sing the alphabet at 2½ year old and what I've found is that singing is the best way for him to learn things he should memorize, like the alphabet, weekdays etc. I just make up a song for the occasion if there is none already, and soon he sings along :-) For example; I've tried for at least 4 month, on and off, to teach him the order of weekdays by telling him each evening what day tomorrow was and then asking him about it next day. Didn't work. Then I invented a song with them and he learned them all in a day.

I just started singing the alphabet while changing him, probably from around 2 years old. Soon he sang with me because he wanted to, and then I started drawing the letters and giving him magnet numbers and letters he could play with on the fridge. I slowly began introducing the sounds letters make when I read books for him by deliberately pronouncing each letter. Only a few of the sentences so he would not get tired of it. In the beginning he wondered what was happening, and looked at me, but he said nothing. Soon he learned that it was the letters, since I traced them with my finger while reading (we sit next to each other so he can see the pictures).

During the summer he got a box full of chalk that we used to draw letters on the tiles outside our house. We made games where we should walk on the letters and say their names or pointing at a random one etc.

My point is; I don't think you need any material as such. Make it fun. Make songs. Sing the alphabet, even though he does not seem to listen. Try to make it fun and normal.


On resources, the LeapFrog "Letter Factory" and "Talking Words Factory" videos are excellent (links are to short clips on YouTube). They also do a range of electronic toys, which were very good back when my son was 3 (but that was a long time ago).

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