Learning How to Read Begins Earlier than you May Think

– By Ms. Laura –

I have always been under the impression that I learned to read through drills and rote memorization of sounds, and that this process didn’t begin until first grade. I loved sounds and the ability to decipher words on a page; this newfound skill was empowering! I was also exposed to early reading “lessons” through television shows such as Sesame Street and Reading Rainbow. (How many of you remember the song “Letter B,” Sesame Street’s rendition of the Beatles’ Let it Be?) I now know, however, that both of these experiences were only small pieces of the puzzle in my journey as an emerging reader. Consider your own early childhood experiences as a reader and how these experiences might impact your approach to teaching your own child how to read. Many parents wonder by what age their child should begin learning how to read (the short answer is birth); although, I believe a more important question is ‘How can I foster a love of reading in my young child?’

The good news is that fostering a love for the written word in your child isn’t difficult when you begin exposing them to early literacy experiences between the ages of zero and six, their sensitive period for language development. Many of us continue to believe that the process of learning how to read officially begins between the ages of four and six, however, we must remember not to neglect the importance of laying a foundation between the formative years of zero and three through the spoken word. In fact, most children have a complete understanding of the structure of language by the age of three through exposure to spoken language alone.

Dr. Montessori explains, “The greatness of the human personality begins at the hour of birth. From this . . . affirmation there comes what may seem a strange conclusion: that education must start from birth.” Does this mean you should introduce flash cards to your child at birth? No! What Dr. Montessori discovered and what you, as a parent, likely observe in your own child today is that learning comes naturally to the young child. During the sensitive period of language development, your child absorbs information from the environment at a rapid rate, and, furthermore, integrates this information with apparent ease. This information should include an exposure to and increased awareness of sounds and their meaning. It should also include an exposure to a rich and diverse vocabulary from birth onward. Young children are hungry for words, especially “grown up” words! The more precise you can be, the better. Instead of saying “doggie,” for example, you might say basset hound or cocker spaniel. Not only will you delight in hearing your two year old speak of basset hounds and cocker spaniels; your child will also love the challenge!

The beauty of the sensitive period is that children not only learn at a rapid rate, they also love learning for the sake of learning. In fact, while you will hear your child’s guides use the word “work” in their classroom environments, we find that “work” is synonymous with “play” for the young child. There are many games and many fun approaches to introducing sounds and words to your young child, and the more positive experiences your child has with language at a young age, the more likely it is that they will develop a life-long love of reading.

Planting this seed early is essential for future success in reading and writing, and you may find that by exposing your child to early literacy experiences, your child will be intrinsically motivated to begin the more “formal” process of reading by the age of six, five, four or maybe even three years of age! (Do keep in mind that there is not a right age to begin “reading,” every child is different, and your child’s gender does play a role in regards to their readiness to begin reading. Your guide will be your best resource in assessing the best path for your child.)

In her article, Reading Begins at Birth, Maren Schmidt describes spoken vocabulary as “the vehicle in which we travel to arrive at reading.” She also describes the ease by which most children travel the road to reading before the age of six, and, while it is obviously possible to learn how to read after the age of six, some children may find the road to be a little more bumpy. Schmidt shares some valuable tips for creating positive literacy experiences for the young child, including playing the game I Spy. Check out her article for more tips and read below:


Additional Recommended Reads for Adults:

10 Reasons Why You Should Read to Your Kids

On the Road to Reading

Early Literacy: Language Tips and Tools


A few tips for fostering a life-long love of reading in your child:

  • Talk to your young child, even in infancy, and use complete sentences as well as a rich vocabulary.
  • Limit your child’s exposure to media and, when you do incorporate media, be sure to talk to your child about what they are viewing. (See last month’s newsletter article.)
  • Sing songs, even made-up songs, and play with sounds and tone to engage your child even more.
  • Introduce reading by talking about books, acting out stories and revisiting the magic of storytelling. (Ask your child how they enjoyed Courtney Campbell’s recent performance or ask your guides, who recently attended a storytelling workshop with Courtney, for tips on incorporating more storytelling at home.)
  • Read in front of and with your child often!
  • Introduce your own childhood favorites to your child. (For inspiration, check out the recommendations shared by your child’s guides!)
  • Visit the library and let your child choose his own books. (Toddlers love to do this as well!)
  • Buy books for holiday gifts this year. (Hint, hint! Shop at Athena’s first book fair from November 10-12 in the front office and order from For Small Hands, one of our favorite resources for young children.)


Recommended Reads for Children: Your Guides Share their Childhood Favorites!

  • Sam and the Firefly – Ms. Amber
  • Dr. Seuss Collected Stories – Ms. Gretchen
  • The Whoosh of Gadoosh – Ms. Nichole
  • The Quangle Wangles Hat – Ms. Morgan
  • Ish – Mr. Scott
  • Caps for Sale – Ms. Brittany
  • The Rain Came Down – Ms. Susanne
  • Where the Wild Things Are – Mr. Jeremy
  • Hope for the Flowers – Ms. Kerry
  • The Lorax – Ms. Carol
  • Good Night Moon – Ms. Lisl
  • Hug – Ms. Laura
  • Ted – Ms. Ellen