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How do you teach a four year old reading?

Greetings Let's Go Learn: My wife and I have a four-year-old boy that loves to be read to. He will sit for over an hour, asking for another book to be read as each book is finished. I am thankful that he (and his two year old sister) likes to be read to. The problem I am having is knowing where to go from here. He likes to work with letters and sounds, and has learned some. We never push him to read or practice letters and sounds. He asks to be read to, and then we end up working on letters and sounds while we are reading. While he doesn't seem to be an exceptionally bright child, he does like to be read to and work with letters. Where can we go from here? We have thought of getting one of the phonics programs that are available, like Hooked on Phonics or FrontLine phonics, but we are not sure that that us the best thing to start with. What do you think we should do? I don't like the idea of just reading to him when he is showing an interest in learning more. We probably read to him a total of 1 1/2 hours a day. He would have us read more, but we don't. Should we? Thank you very much for your concern and the time that you sacrifice to help parents teach their own children.

Hello, Thanks for your email. Here are my thoughts:

1)"He likes to work with letters and sounds, and has learned some. We never push him to read or practice letters and sounds. He asks to be read to, and then we end up working on letters and sounds while we are reading. While he doesn't seem to be an exceptionally bright child, he does like to be read to and work with letters. Where can we go from here?" Reading to him is great, an interest in oral and written language is always a good sign. It sounds like you have been on the right track already. Some people confuse an interest in being read to with reading readiness. Reading readiness would be indicated by some of the other things you mentioned, like his interest in letters and sounds.

I have never been a great fan of super early reading instruction, however encouraging his existing interest can't be a bad thing. This is what was a wonderful and wise speech pathologist that I used to work with said to me: "A child who is ready to begin learning to read will show an interest in sounds. Don't ask the child to say the sound or to repeat after you. Say the sounds yourself and when the child is ready, he or she will start repeating after you." That really stuck with me over the years. Sometimes when I am with my gaggle of nieces and nephews, I will just start saying specific consonant or vowel sounds as we are playing with blocks or legos. They usually don't say anything or they say something different. After a while, if they repeat after me, then we say sounds to each other over and over. There are about 42 sounds in English, some linguists and speech pathologists dispute that number by one or two. Saying sounds in isolation may be very easy for your son, or not. The ability to distinguish single sounds within words is called "phonemic awareness", this is what ultimately allows children to "sound-out" words. Some scientists say this processing ability does not fully develop in a child until the age of 6 or 7, so you may find that saying distinct sounds in isolation may not be a simple task for your son. I think you should begin by saying the consonant sounds with your son. If he finds these really easy, you can move on to the vowels. Go slow and only practice for a few minutes at a time. If you decide to do this, it is important for you to remember to say each sound IN ISOLATION. In all my years teaching teachers to teach reading, (say that ten times fast!) I had a very hard time trying to get teachers to say each of the consonants in isolation. Some of them would say PUH for /p/ and TUH for /t/. You can understand why people do this, consonants were never meant to be pronounced in isolation. Since every syllable has a vowel sound, we automatically add a vowel where there isn't one. These are the consonant sounds we use in English, there are others that have snuck into our language that are from foreign derivatives. Remember these are sounds, not letters. Some sounds use different letters. Like the sound /k/ as in "kite", is the same sound in "cut" and "school." I don't recommend teaching your son to write or read letters quite yet but just learning to say each of the sounds will be a great foundation. Saying them in isolation can be harder than you remember. After he has learned to say all the sounds after you, you can start saying words that use that sound. You can say things like /m/ and then say "map" or "make."

2)"We have thought of getting one of the phonics programs that are available, like Hooked on Phonics or FrontLine phonics, but we are not sure that that us the best thing to start with. What do you think we should do?" If you find that your son has an easy time learning to say the sounds in isolation, then perhaps formal reading instruction is in order. Are you planning to homeschool your son? If you are not, then perhaps you would want to hold off on instruction for him because you don't know what kind of reading instruction he is going to get in school. You might start teaching him one way and then the school would start teaching him another way and it could get confusing for him. However, if you are planning to homeschool, starting out with a solid phonics program would be a good idea, if you are confident that he can say the sounds in isolation with out difficulty. Frontline Phonics has received very good reviews, I have never seen it in practice but it looks good. However, I always remind people that reading instruction should not be solely phonics. The best reading programs involve instruction for the three skill areas of reading: 1) sounding out words (phonics) 2) whole word memorization and 3) contextual cues. All of us need to know how to sound out words but we also need to have a large selection of words memorized. And last but certainly not least, we all need to understand what we are reading as we are reading it. So, with that, I recommend supplementing any phonics based program with some sight word memorization as well as guided reading instruction.
3)"We probably read to him a total of 1 1/2 hours a day. He would have us read more, but we don't. Should we?" Your son enjoys being read to and that is a good thing. However, being read to is a form of entertainment. Most kids enjoy being read to just as much as just being told a story or listening to a story on a CD. Entertainment like this in the form of oral language is certainly healthier than something that "does the thinking for you" like TV or video games. Never the less, it is entertainment and you should only do whatever fits into your schedule. Don't feel guilty that you don't have time to read to him as much as he would like you to. I suggest setting aside a specific time each day for reading and sticking to it. (Like 30 minutes before bed or 30 minutes each day after lunch etc.) If your son likes reading that much, you might find it fun to read him a longer book that would be read over several sessions instead of reading lots of short books. You guys can talk about how the story is going and discuss what you think is going to happen next in the story etc. Your 2 year old might not be as keen on that.

I hope this all helps you. Feel free to email me more questions. It sounds like reading is going to be a strength for your son! Happy Reading!

Tags: emergent reading skills, early reading instruction, phonemic awareness

Comments
  1. Lydia Campbell
    Reply 06/20/08

    HI~!!!
    I was writting you beacuse My Child is 4 years old and he WANTS to read , I wanted to know if there is a CD that have the SOUNDS OF ALPHABET (SOUNDING OUT LETTERS AND WORD.)i have been searching all over the web to find something like this.

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