Best Resources for Teaching Young Children to Read

I have two children- a girl in preschool who just turned five and another one who is three and a half.  The five-year-old can read and comprehend on the fourth-grade level, and the other one can read most five and six-letter words without hesitation and reads books like Fancy Nancy with total fluency.

I know that might sound like bragging, and of course, I am proud of them. Still, I take very little credit for their abilities other than giving some time and guidance here and there–my wife definitely deserves more credit, but even if she doesn’t get most of it–the kids themselves do.  They like reading so much that they want to do it independently.

Parents have asked me “how we did it,” and I can point to a few things that I believe helped.

Let me preface this list by saying that I think it’s really important that kids enjoy reading.  Some kids just might not be ready to read at a young age.  I do believe to a certain extent, that the earlier they can get learning to read out of the way, the faster they can read to learn.  I also think that many, many more kids are capable of learning to read young than actually do learn.

There are plenty of different reasons for this, for instance: many times the parents just don’t think they need to do it, they don’t have time, they don’t think they are able to do it, they think it’s the school’s responsibility to teach them.  The bottom line though is not to push them too hard on it.

Give them the resources and patience, and don’t be upset if your child just isn’t ready.  I also want to mention that my wife stayed home with the older one until she was three and the younger one until she was almost two.  I know that’s not possible for many parents, but I do think there were huge dividends from this.  

[Looking for ideas for things to do with kids in Maryland?]

Ok, and now for the list of reading resources:

1) Hooked On Phonics — Hooked On Phonics is a very good program.  You can order all sorts of different age-appropriate kits from them.  They send you workbooks, flash cards CDs, DVDs and progress charts.  It is definitely a commitment from the parents to do HOF with them.  But I tell you, it works.  If you decide to give it a try, definitely look for a promotion code.  The kits we ordered were around $50, but we probably paid about 30 shipped.  Here is a review of the Hooked on Phonics program.
2) PBS’s “Word World” TV show.  You can get it on Netflix.  This is a great animated show where all the animals and objects are made of letters…so if there were a barn, it would be the letters B-A-R-N in the shape of a barn.   My kids really enjoy this show, and I believe they do learn some reading skills from watching the show…BTW, I’ve written a complete list of TV shows that I think are great for kids.
3)–My kids love this website.  We have a (relatively low-cost) Android tablet, and my 3-year-old can navigate it herself with the touchscreen.  Starfall is free for a huge chunk of content, and you can pay $35/year for “more Starfall”.  I can’t tell you how strongly I recommend this website to parents of toddlers.
4) Sesame Street – For very young kids, this is a great show, and they have a great website.  On the website, a parent can select the most educational videos and ignore the fluff videos.  There is some fun for parents there, too–you can find alot of your favorite stars who made cameos on SS.
5) Leapster 2’s has some pretty good games you can count on when you’re in the car.  They are relatively educational.  The cartridges teach all kinds of reading skills including phonics, parts of speech, and more.

6) LeapFrog animated videos such as Talking Letter Factory. This an effective and very entertaining series. Also suitable are the TV shows Little Einsteins, Martha Speaks, and Super Why–although the first two don’t help with reading directly.  Martha Speaks builds toddlers vocabulary.  Little Einsteins introduces children to art, musical instruments, and composition.  Super Why does include some literacy.

See my list of educational TV shows on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and YouTube.    In another post, I discuss great educational gift ideas as well as some ideas for activities for homeschoolers.