Teach Your Child to Read Without Even Trying

November 9, 2020 | Heather

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Adult and child reading together

How do babies learn to talk? We surround them with talking people.

How can we teach them to read? Surround them with printed words!

I was shocked when one of the first words my youngest child could read was "sold." This was when the Toronto real estate market was at its hottest, and the word "sold" was everywhere. Nobody taught him to read it. He learned it through repeatedly seeing the word and hearing his parents talk about it. 

Tune your child into the words that are all around us. Before you know it, your child will be able to read "Masks Required!" 

Families play a crucial role in exposing their children to printed words before they enter school. Research shows that this leads to greater reading success.

Here are seven ways to make printed words a natural part of your family's day, so your child can learn to read without even trying.


Signs, signs, everywhere signs

Each day, signs to tell you where to enter, stand or wait. Read these out loud so your child will understand the importance of the printed word. Let your child in on the secret of how you know whether to push or pull a door. Looking for a parking spot? Point out the No Parking sign. Check out Tana Hoban's book I Read Signs or Zoran Milich's City Signs, and watch your child delight in recognizing signs from the books.  




Label things

Your child will easily learn to recognize words that they are exposed to every day. Write your child's name on their backpack and booster seat. Label their drawers with "shirts" and "socks." Bonus: Let your child write the labels!


Start early with the alphabet

Before your child can learn how to read, they must know their alphabet. An easy way to learn it is by playing with an alphabet puzzle. Put the puzzle together and sing the Alphabet Song, pointing to the letters. Talk about the puzzle pieces ("Where does the S go?"). We have a diverse selection of fun alphabet books in our collection. Check out Alphabet Trains by Samantha Vamos or ABC: A Family Alphabet Book by Bobbie Combs. 



Browse this collection of ABC ebooks for more fun with letters!


Play with words

Playtime is chock full of opportunities to use printed words. If your child is playing restaurant, write out a menu. If your child is playing grocery store, help them make signs that say "Sale" and "Open." Tip: Write the words for your child if they ask you to, and don't turn playtime into a lesson. Keep it fun and focus on the play! 

Spark your child's pretend play by reading Pete the Cat's Trip to the Supermarket by Kimberly and James Dean, or Froggy Eats Out by Jonathan London.




Write on the wall

Children naturally want to read because it's a way to get information. Put a large family calendar on the wall and write in important events like "Pizza Night." Or, make a daily schedule poster, with words like "lunch" and "nap time." For my daughter, I made a large poster with the Alphabet Song lyrics. At the bottom of the poster, I wrote all the words that she could read. At first, she could only read "I," "to," "my," and her name. As she learned to read new words she watched the list grow. This was a great way to build her confidence in reading.  


Let your child write

The next time your child is drawing a birthday card, help them write the word "To." Your child will feel powerful with this new ability. Ask older children to write your shopping lists, slowly spelling out each word, letter by letter. I promise you will feel proud as you hold your crayon-scrawled list in the store.




Read the same book over and over again. Is there a book your child requests every night? Read it with glee! This is going to be the first book that your child memorizes, and memorizing is oh so very close to actual reading! This is a great time to read short, fun books. Your little one will love Mo Willem's Watch Me Throw the Ball or the rhyming text of  Dr. Seuss' Green Eggs and Ham. Let your child turn the pages and occasionally trace your finger across the words as you read. This will help your child understand that we read English from left to right.



If you incorporate printed words into your child's daily activities they will learn how to read without even trying!  

Would you like to read more? Reading Rockets has an excellent article on print awareness. We also have some great tips on developing literacy skills on our Reading for Reading website:


What was the first word your child could read? Share in the comments below!