My daughter is a big fan of books. She can spend one hour in a row looking at her books, and often asks my wife and me to read her a story.

We are a french family.

For 2 weeks, she's been looking at words written in the books and mimics the act to read with her finger. Then, she says she wants to learn to read.

So, my question is : how to teach a young child to read? Is it possible? I learned to read with the "methode boscher" (french book), where each letter is decomposed into a sound, then concatenated (P + A gives "PA"), but I'm not sure she could understand that.

Finally, I tried to make her guess words beginning with a particular sound, an exercise I already saw in prelearning reading. But she didn't understand the exercise.

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    That method sounds like synthetic phonics. It's a good method.
    – DanBeale
    Commented Nov 17, 2015 at 11:12
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    I also learned to read (Spanish) at a very early age, with much the method you describe - learned individual letters, then some basic combinations, then learned to "sound out" the words. In US, this is called phonics, although the horrible English orthography makes it much more complicated. Keep at it, it will work, and definitely keep reading to her while pointing at the words. Celebrate and encourage her desire to read.
    – user16557
    Commented Nov 17, 2015 at 15:08
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    What do you mean, is it possible, young children are learning to read all over the world.
    – Jodrell
    Commented Nov 17, 2015 at 15:33
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    @Jodrell The question mentions a specific age, and also asks for information on how.
    – Acire
    Commented Nov 17, 2015 at 15:46
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    I'm not sure if I'm allowed to suggest reading material, but I think Doctor Seuss books might be good to start reading with. Not sure though.
    – Nzall
    Commented Nov 17, 2015 at 18:27

10 Answers 10


There are lots of things you can do:

  1. Don't make it a chore. She loves reading so foster that, don't kill it.
  2. Keep reading to her. As you do, trace your finger along the words so she can begin to relate specific spoken words to their written counterpart.
  3. Start teaching what sounds individual letters make.
  4. Point out letters that go together to make sounds. Start with small common sounds. e.g. in English -at is a very common compound. Hat, cat, bat, etc.
  5. Pick a word that you know is going to be common in the book you are about to read and point it out to them and make that "their" word for that sitting. Every time you get to that word, they are the one who gets to say it out loud instead of you.
  6. Just to reiterate: Keep reading to her.
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    "Every time you get to that word, they are the one who gets to say it out loud instead of you." Gold. +1 Commented Nov 19, 2015 at 10:12
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    Also, if she runs into difficulty: if it's just a bigger word, gently remind her how to break it down, and just try to pronounce a bit of it at a time -- also make sure she knows what the word means, as she may retain it better if she can associate it with something instead of it just being a jumble of letters. If it doesn't fit the rules she knows thus far, reiterate that language (assuming English, especially) always has special cases and that it will take time to learn them. You want to make sure she knows that it's difficult and takes time, not that she's dumb.
    – Doktor J
    Commented Nov 19, 2015 at 17:11
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    I'd like to reiterate point 6. I taught my oldest daughter to read before she entered Kindergarten. All three of my daughters have a love for reading and I attribute it to the amount of reading we did with them since they where infants. For my oldest, after she learned the phonetics of each letter, we made flash cards from the Dolch list (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dolch_word_list) and had her practice those. Since they appear most frequently it gave her the ability to zip through sentences at a very young age. Commented Nov 19, 2015 at 20:11

I'm a french guy who was reading at age 3. My father used the "méthode boscher", and it succeeded incredibly: I can vouch for it and the feasability.

My son is currently learning to read (age 6) with a method called "lecture globale" where one learns to recognize the shape of a word. It feels like a bit of a gamble, since he approximates lots of words at the moment, based on part of it. I'm not a fan, and I've tried mixing it up with the "méthode" at home. Looks like its working a bit more.

Two points though:

  • before beginning, my father made sure I really really understood that this would mean lots of work. I don't know if I was aware of what it meant, but once started we would stick to it. The question was asked on many consecutive days before starting.
  • after beginning, oh boy did we stick to it. Once again this is based on related anecdotes but my father would teach me one new group of letters every day, and never miss. Even when I wanted to stop, he told me that we were in it for the long haul.

Apparently he was very methodical, and didn't diverge from the "méthode". However he tried to vary the approach (point all the PAs on the page, find a PA followed by TE, etc...), and didn't teach me more than one element per day, unless asked to.

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    I've been working on learning to speed-read, and one of the major hurdle is to break the habit of "saying" the words - even internally (this really slows down your reading). The idea is to just "see" the words and sentences "visually" - and then immediately turn the meaning/content into mental images/movies. From that pov the first method makes lots of sense - this is (hopefully) how you son will read quickly as an adult... Still, I think most children must go through a phase of sounding out the letters and word - first out load, later internally (and then hopefully break this habit). Commented Nov 17, 2015 at 21:22
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    This is a great idea, but it's worth pointing out that 3-year-olds are much less able to understand the concepts of sticking with something for the long haul; they simply don't have the ability to understand the future that clearly at that stage of development. So while the method (learning the shapes of words) may help, it's important to modify the approach for a 3 year old. Reading must be fun, enjoyable, relaxed, and in doses appropriate to interest and capability, or else it will become a "chore."
    – Nonnal
    Commented Nov 18, 2015 at 17:36
  • I "taught myself" to read when I was two by simply listening and observing my father reading bed time stories to me.I memorized every sound on every page and had an innate understanding of word boundaries,shapes & patterns.I picked up one of the books I had memorized and "went through the motions" to make the associations between sight and sound.I then picked up a book I had never heard before and read the words I knew while skipping the ones I didnt.I kept a list of the words I didn't know and asked my Dad what they were.It took all of 10 minutes to get started after I had a book memorized... Commented Nov 23, 2015 at 12:36
  • With my son, he's a little bit farther behind where I was because he had early childhood apraxia of speech. He's three and he's naturally starting to sound out words as I rhythmically read them to him. In my experience, there is no need to even try to "teach" reading to a child. You just read to them, sound things out, point to words, play letter games, matching games, and reading becomes the game they play with themselves. AFAI am concerned, it's the first step to training an autodidact. Commented Nov 23, 2015 at 12:36
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    For a bit of context, the first "big" book I ever read was The Fellowship of the Ring. My dad has tons of science fiction and fantasy in his library, and from where the LoTR trilogy was on the book shelf, the Eye of Sauron on the spine stared straight at me. I picked up Return of the King and started reading it one day(I was 6.) My dad saw me with it, took it away from me and said "No no no! You're not ready for that one." He turned his back to me and put it back in its place on the shelf. When he turned back around, he had grabbed Fellowship of the Ring, saying "Here. You have to read..." Commented Nov 23, 2015 at 12:55

There's a developmental stage called phonemic awareness that's a precursor to reading. It's a recognition that words are made of separate sounds, and a skill in manipulating those individual sounds. Some kids develop it very early, but others don't. You can test it with your daughter by asking questions like, "If you have 'pat' and take away the 'puh' and add a 'kuh' what do you get?"

Until your daughter develops phonemic awareness, trying to teach her to read is just going to frustrate both of you. If she is ready, the other answers have some good tips. If she isn't, then she will probably be just as happy with activities like:

  • Pretending to read.
  • Repeating after you.
  • Memorizing a favorite book.
  • Guessing the next word from the context.
  • Memorizing a few short sight words.

For a while, I made it my daughter's job to pronounce the word "the" whenever it appeared in a book I read to her. She made a great big show of it every time, screwing her face and pretending to sound it out and stumble over it, because she thought that's how you're supposed to read when you're first learning. It took forever, but she loved it. There's a lot of middle ground between not reading at all and being a proper reader.


From personal experience: I started reading at 3. I was 4 when I read a book on my own for the first time (Winnie the Pooh - the original, not some dumbed down Disney version).

So to the "is it feasible" question - yes, it is.

But something you need to consider: there will be plateaus. This is usual for any human learning curve for any skill, but they were very noticeable when I was learning to read. I certainly remember that there was a single "aha" moment when I switched from reading aloud to reading silently. My father describes a similar earlier moment when I switched from recognizing each letter on its own to recognizing a word at once, of which I have no memory.

The point is: be prepared for these plateaus. They will happen. When they do, don't despair, don't think that your child "is never going to learn it" or similar. Don't try to push her through them too hard. Don't leave her stay on the plateau forever either. When she reaches a level at which she's comfortable but progress stalls, let her exercise on this level a lot, but every now and then, ask her to try a slightly harder task. If it doesn't work yet, wait a few more days or weeks with exercises on the same level.

Note that at this age, language acquisition is not only a matter of intelligence, it is also a matter of physically developing the needed brain nuclei. You might want to read "The Language Instinct" by Stephen Pinker. It's not only a fascinating popular science book on its own right, it also describes lots of linguistic research done on children. This will give you a better understanding of how humans acquire language, and help you ease her into acquiring a written language at an early age.

As for a suggestion for a method to follow, I'm afraid my dad would be qualified to answer it, but not I.

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    Is there a Disney version of something that is not dumbed down? Commented Nov 17, 2015 at 17:48
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    (Winnie the Pooh - the original, not some dumbed down Disney version) +1...@Mindwin I hope that the new star wars will be ok.
    – ave
    Commented Nov 20, 2015 at 15:20

My oldest started "reading" at two years and one month old. She was in the supermarket with her mother, and asked (translated to English, but it was in Hebrew) "What is Sa-Aa-La-Eh" when she saw a sign that read "SALE". So it is definitely possible for children that age to read, for a generous definition of "reading".

I remember that I would always say the sounds that letters make when she came across letters at a young age. I wouldn't same the name of the letter, but rather its sound. For instance, if there was a letter M on the milk carton I would point at it and say "Mmmm" without expecting nor even encouraging her to do the same. I just made sure that she saw me doing it. Children learn by copying, so I always tried (and still try) to give her something to copy.

Teaching by example, without expressing expectations, works wonders with small children.

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    This method is used commonly in Montessori - don't teach the alphabet letters, teach the phonemes. Not "a b c d e " but "aah buh kuh duh".
    – Joe
    Commented Nov 18, 2015 at 16:39
  • @Joe I learned like that. But I learned Turkish like that. Consonants in Turkish end with an e when you read them as letters (b is read as BE when you mean the letter, but if you say baba, you don't use be, you use b). Counting thru the alphabet was a torture as it is hard to read consonant letters without adding an E to the end. It didn't help me read faster or better, it just confused me. If your language has weird stuff like this, for example English has this, try saying B, it is really hard if you don't read it as be, or C as see.
    – ave
    Commented Nov 20, 2015 at 15:30
  • @ardaozkal Not sure I understand you, but like I said, the Montessori teaching method works this way: the children are not taught "Bee", they're taught "Buh". It's much easier to get from "Buh" to "Buh-Ahh-Tuh = Bat" than it is from "Bee - Aye - Tee" to "Bat".
    – Joe
    Commented Nov 20, 2015 at 15:49

Whichever method you use, a child eager to learn will learn with adult help.

I taught my children to read before the internet age. After some research, I settled on a phonics-based method called "Sing, Spell, Read & Write", which was pricey but very effective. (I bought the least pricey option; it has changed a lot now.) Basically, it taught (in order) the names of all the the letters with their sounds first, with what they supposed was a snappy tune (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kXc-_hxRXlo.) This was followed by the short vowel sounds, (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YABl9Sfk2OI - an incredibly boring video), the exercises at that stage including most common consonant sound combined with the short vowel sounds ("c"+"a" = "ca". Then add n, t, p, et violà, they can read three words.) At some point after dipthongs and digraphs (like gh, tr, ch, etc.) the kids just took off like little bottle rockets.

Of course, the sounds would be different in France, and from what I could understand of La méthode Boscher has readers where words are read aloud, but then deconstructed ("on decouple les mots et on arrive a la syllable et a la lettre").

This is similar to the "Dick and Jane" books used to teach American children the whole-word sight method to read (albeit La Petite Poule Rouge is a whole lot more interesting!) but going a few steps further. In the US there was a backlash against this method; they were infamously boring books and possibly plagiarized. (See cartoon below. The little boy is in first [6 years old] grade.)

In the reference below, you'll see they recommend starting with phonemic awareness (e.g. with "cat" and "cup", what sound is in the same word?), then teaching phonics (the sounds letters make), then fluency (making sure the child is very comfortable and competent in the sounds), followed by vocabulary and finally text comprehension.

enter image description here

Put reading first: The research building blocks for teaching children to read: Kindergarten through grade 3

Since people are telling their reading stories here, I will, too. I have absolutely no idea how I learned to read. All I know is that one day (so I'm told) I was reading the words on a cereal box, whereupon my mother said "Hey! Little anongoodnurse is reading!" This was before I went to school. That just goes to show that where there's a will - I wanted to read, like my older siblings - there's a way, even without parental input.

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    My parents told me I was reading at age 2. I'd read the labels of the groceries Mom put into the cart. Some adults couldn't believe it until I'd read aloud the ingredient list. I literally do not remember not being able to read. But perhaps it's because my parents placed an incredibly high value on literacy, each being from the first generation in their families to attend college. And as the seventh child, (youngest preceding sibling 3 years my senior) everyone else could read, so of course I would too, right? I really think expectations play a huge role. Commented Nov 19, 2015 at 21:28

Others have suggested starting with the alphabet, drawing and sounding each letter. Here are some fun ways to do that.

Sesame Street

enter image description here

The television show Sesame Street is aimed at such young children. Every episode playfully works in letters of the alphabet, numbers, and early reading.

Originally Sesame Street was designed for a target age of 4 years old. After finding many younger kids watching, they lowered the target to 3 years old. See Wikipedia on Format of Sesame Street. So apparently a bright 2.5 year old is not too young to begin the learning process for reading.

Many years ago I remember seeing Sesame Street in French in the eastern US, probably near Québec. Perhaps it was Sesame Park, in French and English, by the CBC. Or maybe Rue, Sesame from France 5.

Perhaps these can be streamed or otherwise sourced.

Similar shows are common now in America in English. Perhaps in French as well.

Alphabet Games

One way to keep it fun and light rather than a chore is to make games with the alphabet.

  • Make letters from food, such as dough, spaghetti, or homemade play-dough. Make cinnamon twists into letters, bake and eat.
  • Play in the mud, treating the ground and sticks as chalkboard and chalk.
  • Use your body to make letters. Make up song-and-dance. Or Sing and dance the YMCA song by the Village People. The adult innuendo will fly over their heads, while the tune is much fun. These kids are not quite doing it right (where's the "C"?), but you get the idea. May not translate to French, though. :-)

Children’s Hour at the Library

Check with your local libraries for activities for children. Many have fun events around reading such as story-telling and puppet shows. I have even seen a live rock band for kids at a library! You might find activities to build her reading skills.


We are now at the point where our daughter can read letters, and she can tell the first letter of word I tell her.

How we got here: A lot of montessori-like activities with letters, things like this

letter puzzle

or just cards with big uppercase print letters and images of things beginning with a said letter.

She didn't know it's letters, it was just 'this is R as in Rabbit'. And we didn't force her, we just put the cards or puzzle into her shelf, played a few sample games as long as she enjoyed it, and let her take her time (months :)) till she found the activity naturally interesting (see montessori and sensitive periods) and picked it up and wanted us to play it.

Then there was drawing, and when she got a bit confident with crayons and whiteboard felt pen, we tried drawing letters time to time, and at some time she caught up with it and started to want more. So now she can read letters, write letters, and recently she realized (from books maybe?) that those groups of letters mean words. And recently it was huge fun to write a shopping list (letter by letter onto several A4 and A3 papers :)) and go to shop, read the list, decipher it with hur help and buy the items :).

But we still have a chasm to cross - a realization that consecutive letter sounds make a word sound. It is fun, we go out and I tell 'this is L, A, M, P' and then I say it faster and faster, but there is still a point where I stop pronouncing individual letters and say a word, and only the she recognizes it.

It won't help to rush this, I know that she develops quickly, and at a right time she'll get this - but it would be a lot of pain to try to force her prematurely.

So, we'll keep playing this and other games as long as she finds it fun, and she'll take the step when her head is ready :).


It's definitely possible.

I myself learned reading at 4 or 5 pretty much on my own. According to my mother, I just started pointing out words and letters in my books asking for the pronounciation, and so gradually learned to read without any active participation from her.

I'm not sure whether that's the best way, and 2.5 may be a bit early, but it indicates that her expressing the wish to learn reading is a very encouraging factor.


It's not only possible, but can be done pretty reliably. There are two aspects to reading: there is deciphering the sounds that compose a word, and recognizing what that word is. These aren't the same thing. The more regular a languages' spelling is, the easier it is to teach deciphering and let the child generalize through experience. But if the spelling rules are too numerous or irregular, a child can learn to recognize words by overall shape (helped out by knowledge of what the letters are): the "look-say" method.

My sister, brother, son, daughter, and myself all learned to read very early (starting at ~2) in English by beginning with the look-say method in conjunction with learning letters. With my son and daughter, we started with wooden tiles (that we made ourselves) with a word on one side and a picture on the other. That was accessible at an age where rules like "a final e is silent but makes the previous vowel say its name (except for words like cafe and wrasse)" are too abstract to grasp.

I am not sure why there is such controversy about look-say vs. phonetics for teaching English. English spelling is ridiculous, at least for the most common words. You need to throw everything at it at once if the child is to learn early. I am not sure about the situation with French, but if you can fairly reliably teach 2-year-olds to read English, I can't imagine French is worse.

Because I do not speak French I can't recommend particular books (the Ladybird Key Words books are decent--the idea is great, but they are a little dull to motivate some children). But a strategy of reading while pointing to words, having the child recognize a few words while reading, using flash cards, teaching her the names of the letters and, when it's consistent, the sounds they represent, and then moving to syllables with consistent spelling, and so on, ought to work if the interest is there.

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