Teaching Reading to My Preschooler (continued)

You have been reading about enhancing comprehension. Now it is time to examine the other 3 components of an excellent program to teach reading to a preschooler.

Father reading a picture book to his child. His is sharing the pleasure of reading with his infant. This is the first step in teaching reading.
Photo by nappy from Pexels

•    Explicit instruction in language awareness (rhyming words, number of syllables, alliteration – Sammy, the slithery snake, etc. )

•    Systematic phonics instruction (beginning sounds, ending sounds, blends, vowels)

•    Methods to improve fluency  (vocabulary development, choral reading, pattern books

Language Awareness   

You can build language awareness during the read-aloud sessions or try some activities on their own. For young children, they will remember more and acquire the skills easier if you connect the lessons to an experience, such as a book you have read aloud. I will continue using the Mother Duck and her lost duckling as an example. 

Start the Language Awareness type of activities before you work on initial sounds or any alphabet work. Three kinds of Language Awareness activities are described: Rhyming Words, Syllables, and Alliteration. There are many more activities that you will come across, but these are the most prevalent. Any concepts of language qualify as Language Awareness as long as they do not involve individual letter sounds or sounding out words. 

Letter sounds are more difficult for most children to understand and take teaching specific concepts before you can be successful. Leave that type of teaching until your child has a firm understanding of rhyming, syllables, and alliteration.

Rhyming Words

There are many ways to teach rhyming words. You can read nursery rhymes, sing songs, and use computer programs or apps. You can explain rhyme by saying that some words sound the same. And then, when you are listening to familiar nursery rhymes, you can read the verse and stop at the appropriate place for your child to fill in the rhyme.  For example

Roses are red, violets are blue, sugar is sweet, and I love ________.  If your toddler can complete such a verse with “you,” it is an indication that they understand rhyme.

Here are some classic first rhyming books that you can use, but there are many more that are outstanding as well. 

Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do you See? As you read this story over and over your child will be able to complete the rhyming words for each new situation.

Sheep in a Jeep This board book will soon become a favourite of your son or daughters. Since it is so sturdy, you will feel comfortable in letting them take control of handling the book.

The Wonkey Donkey Your child will delight in the humor of the way the characters change throughout the story.

There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly This is not only a hilarious add on story but it also is a song. There are many versions of this basic tale.

Any rhyming books will be useful, and if you like the books you select, your enthusiasm will be a valuable part of the experience for your toddler.

Keep it a 3D or a Tactile Experience

Some toddlers do not relate to drawings of objects as well as they relate to 3D objects. In many cases, when first working with concepts, it is better not to complicate the situation by using symbols. Also, many toddlers are not attracted to worksheets. 

Since the Mother Duck story is not in rhyme, it is an opportunity to explore rhyme, but it is not a good situation to teach rhyming words. As mentioned already, explain the concept of rhyming words through stories rich in rhymes, songs, and action poems. One of my favorites is the Itsy Bitsy Spider.   

The Itsy Bitsy Spider This rhyming book is more then just a story, it is a song. You can download both an instrumental and vocal version of the nursery rhyme.

In addition, you can see that it is easy to put movements with this song as you watch the YouTube version of a mom with 3 of her children.

But if you want to explore rhyme with this Mother Duck story, you can take 3 objects such as a toy duck, a toy truck and a toy ball.  When starting this activity, keep the number of objects small, such as the 3 that have been suggested.  When your toddler is more proficient add more than 2 choices

Explain to your toddler that you want to know what sounds the same or rhymes with duck. Is it ball or truck?  You can repeat the request and then wait for your toddler to respond. Giving plenty of “wait time” is critical.

If your toddler is struggling to respond, then you answer for them. Say something such as “It is truck. Truck rhymes with duck. I can hear the last part of the word is “uck.” But ball is not the same. Ball ends with “all.” 

If your toddler is successful, then continue with 3 other toys. Once your toddler tires of the game, stop. There is plenty of time another day for intensive lessons about rhymes. 


Have your toddler copy what you do. Make a list of words they know and then clap the syllables as you say the words. For example, start with your child’s name. When teaching young children, it is always best to personalize the experience. You can use the 3D objects as a stimulus, especially when you start this exercise. 

Sammy (child’s name)  –   Sam (clap)    my (clap)

Daddy    –  Dad (clap)     dy (clap)

Mummy   – Mum (clap)     my (clap)

Ball  –   ball (clap) 

Madison  – Mad (clap)   i (clap)     son (clap)

Digger – dig (clap) ger (clap)

Continue the game until your child starts to lose interest.

This game can be played almost anywhere, as all you need is an object and your hands. You can play it in the grocery line, driving in the car or at the doctor’s office. You can combine it with another game such as “I spy.”  I spy something with my little eye that is purple (2 claps).  You can also clap the words to a familiar song. The renditions of this activity are endless.

Guessing Game: You can reverse the process as well. Place a digger, block, and cup in front of your child. Clap the syllables as you say each name of the object. Have them clap the syllables with you. Then ask which object has 2 claps.  The answer is digger. You complete the 2 claps as you ask the question. Again, if your child is confused, give them the answer, and then move on to other examples. You can repeat this game with many different objects. 

Sorting: When your child is more familiar with syllables of words, place 5 objects in front of them and have your child sort the objects into one syllable objects and two-syllable objects. It is helpful to have 2 boxes or 2 placemats or 2 colored sheets of paper to receive the objects in a defined place.  If your child makes a mistake, take the group with the mistake and clap the names together. Hopefully, your child will recognize where the error is. Or perhaps they will call the object a different name than what you expect. Examples of 5 everyday objects are ball, puzzle, blocks, crayons, and book.  The sorting for syllables would result in one clap: book, ball, and blocks. In the other section, you would have puzzle, and crayons. Any 3 D objects that are familiar to your child are suitable objects for this game. However, be aware that your child may not call the book by that name. They may see it as a story. And in that case, it would be with the two-syllable objects. If your child makes a mistake, always ask them to explain their choices. You may be pleasantly surprised by their answers. 

Eventually, there will come a time when your toddler will relate to the symbols on the page. There are many games, worksheets, and activities that are available for you to captivate their interest. Big brother or sister can be a help in a game situation.

Two boys playing a phonics games called BINGO. The small letters, capitals  and pictures encourage building the sound awareness for each letter.

Alliteration   (repeated first letters that are the same)

There are many books built on this concept, and most of them are very entertaining. The alliteration helps the child recognize the same sound and, eventually, the same letter. Always emphasize the sound aspect, not the name of the letter when your child is young. 

Here are some suggestions to help you.

The Spaghetti Slurping Sewer Serpent Not only does this book use alliteration but it is all about the fear of monsters.

The Dinky Donkey The star of this book is the daughter of the Wonky Donkey. You will will love the antics of this stinky punky plinky-plonky winky-tinky pinky funky blinky dinky donkey!

Llama Llama’s Little Library These short board books are a perfect introduction to alliteration for a young child. There are many different stories that feature Llama Llama.

Dalmation in a Digger This story appeals to the masculine set as the story is full of construction equipment with amazing sounds.

The Worrywarts Three friend wander the world. Their names are Wombat, Weasel and Woodchuck. Naturally the “w” sound is featured. The story starts on, of course, Wednesday.

Many Marvellous Monsters Enjoy the alliterative names of these monsters who share their talents in a wacky talent show. Each monster act is described with a page long alliteration.

And there are many alliterations in the surrounding environment to take note. As you come into contact with alliterations in your situation, point out the names to your child. Perhaps a bakery in your neighborhood is called Murphy’s Muffins. Look around as alliteration is used in many different circumstances. Here are some more well-known alliterations.

Chuck E Cheese


Dunkin Donuts

Spongebob Squarepants

Peter Pan

Peppa Pig

Tater Tots

Mickey Mouse

For more information about the value of alliteration, read “ HELP MY CHILD TO READ SERIES: PRESCHOOL ALLITERATION BOOKS”   You will also find more titles of suitable picture books.Read the books that include alliteration for their content first and then explain to your child that the beginning sound for the important words in the book makes the experience special.


Phonics Instruction

When your child is comfortable with rhyming, clapping syllables, and alliteration (same beginning letter), then it is time to turn to individual beginning sounds. It is essential to teach the sounds of the letters rather than the names. For the vowels, you can teach the short vowel sounds and worry about long vowels later. There is also an optimal progression of sounds to teach, and it is not in the order of the alphabet. 

Here is the order

•    s, a, t, i, p, n.

•    c, k, e, h, r.

•    m, d, g, o.

•    l, f, b, q, u.

•    j, z, w.

•    v, y, x.

The sounds in each row can be worked on simultaneously, except for the first row. With the first row of sounds, you will be setting the stage for the introduction of every other letter. It is here where you need to take your time to make sure your child understands that you are going to focus on the sound of each letter and how to blend the sounds together to make 3 letter words. You are also going to teach familiarity with each letter shape.

The First Row of Sounds

Introduction of  “s”


“S” is a very distinctive sound that is used in many words. This is the easiest sound to teach. You can go back to a book with the alliteration using the “s” sound, to begin your instruction to remind your child of the sound. The website http://www.starfall.com provides an example of how to introduce the sounds.


For young children using a 3d object, called a manipulative, is often the most effective way of managing how to represent the letters. Hence you will want plastic or wooden letters for many exercises. The written letter on paper is not as effective. Always use the small letters and not the capitals. There are many toy companies that produce capital letters, but since most reading is done by interpreting small letters, you need to start with these from the introductory phase. 

Here are some manipulative letters you will want on hand to support the learning of initial sounds. 

This set of magnetic letters has both of the capitals and small letters. The set comes with 142 Magnetic Letters for use on your Fridge, a Dry Erase Magnetic Board and a FREE e-Book with 40+ Learning & Spelling Games 

These wooden letters have the small letter on one side with the large letter on the other. Since the letter is indented your child can use the wooden stylus to trace the letter.

To introduce the sound of “s” it is helpful to use alliteration in a story format. Here are some books that highlight the sound of the letter “s”.

Sammy Snake and the Snow This is one of a series of books to introduce the sound of the letters. The letter s at the beginning of the words are printed in a different color for easy identification.

Who Is It? This book is full of surprises. Lift the flaps to reveal the animals hidden on each page. Your toddler may relate well to this touch and feel book to learn the sound of “s” like snake.

Scaredy Squirrel Makes a Friend There are many different Scardy Squirrel books. They are suitable for introducing the sound of “s” as well as learning a valuable life lesson.

Silly Sally Every child loves the ridiculous! And in the Silly Sally picture book both the illustration as well as the story are whimsical. Delight your preschooler and use the alliteration for a phonics lesson, too.

Your local library will have some picture books that emphasize the “s” sound. Or you can do a search on the internet for appropriate picture books. 

Once you have introduced the book of your choice that highlights the “s” sound, you can start to work on the sound itself. You will want your child to be very familiar with the book first and by association with the sound of the letter “s.” That means that you have read the book many times and laughed over the episodes of the main character. 

Whenever you are working with the ”s” sound, you can reference the book to remind your child of the sound. You are making strong connections for your child, so he or she can begin to understand that the squiggle “s” has meaning. This first letter introduction may take some time to accomplish. Take heart in the fact that the others will be easier. And some children do not need an intensive introduction to all of the letters before they understand how to decode words. 

Use a 3D letter “s” (magnetic or wooden) to introduce the beginning sound of your child’s favorite character.  Use playdough to roll out an “s”. Make “s” out of macaroni, lego blocks, breaskfast cereal or any other materials you have in your home already.

Practice the sound that s makes together. The website, www.starfall.com has many fun activities that help introduce the “s” sound. It also uses excellent teaching techniques to enhance learning. Use the ABC section of the program.

Go to the Kindergarten section to get started. Then select the letter “s”. You can introduce any of the sounds this way.

Make sure that you and your child say the sound and the name of the objects that are introduced.

As a follow up, you can go on an “s” hunt around your house. Locate these items, spoon, slipper, sun, salt, and any more that you can find.

Some of the activities in the website are free to anyone, but there is a $35 a year membership to access every area of the website. 

How About Teaching Vowels?  Teaching the sound for “a”

Vowels are very prevalent letters as every word needs at least one vowel. When teaching vowels, it is vital to use the short vowel sound. Once again, http://www.starfall.com does an excellent job of introducing this letter sound.

Select this area of the website and work through the process with your toddler.  

This is under the ABC section in the Kindergarten area, Follow along how to introduce the sound of “a”.

The teaching method is very sound in this section of the program. Become familiar with the short vowel sounds by using this section for the vowels.

Once you introduce the first row of letters, s, a, t, i, p, n, you can start making some words with these sounds. Starfall shows you how to say the letter sound slowly and then blend them together to get words.

See the “Learn to Read” in the Kindergarten area  for an example of sounding out the letters to make a word.

Two Types of Words

There are 2 types of words in English. There are the words that follow the phonetic rules and you can sound them out. The easy first ones from that first set of letters – s, a, t, i, p, n – are:

sat, nap, tip, pat, tap, nap, pin, nip and more.

But there are words that do not follow the rules and you must memorize them. Some fist sight words are the, is, there.

Words to Sound Out

Once you are familiar with the process, you can use your wooden or magnetic letters (s, a, t, i, p, n) to build your own words in isolation. Just a word of caution – only work with the letters until your child signals that he or she is tired of the activity. Continue the sounding out of each letter and then blending the word together, as is demonstrated in the Starfall website. 

You can work through the learn to read section bit by bit as your child learns more of the letters. Some children take a long time with this process, and some children move faster. You have the luxury of moving at your child’s natural pace. 

Sight Words

English is a very tricky language. Some words can be easily sounded out, but other words do no operate that way. So, you will be successful with sat, tip, nap, for example, but not with “them,” “it” “were” or a host of other words. The sight words need memory work. At this point, you need to be aware that there is a time to use phonics, and there is a time for just remembering the word.  Here is the list of words that are considered as sight words. Professionally it is called the Dolch Sight word list.

First 40: a, and, away, big, blue, can, come, down, find, for, funny, go, help, here, I, in, is, it, jump, little, look, make, me, my, not, one, play, red, run, said, see, the, three, to, two, up, we, where, yellow, you

Next 52: all, am, are, at, ate, be, black, brown, but, came, did, do, eat, four, get, good, have, he, into, like, must, new, no, now, on, our, out, please, pretty, ran, ride, saw, say, she, so, soon, that, there, they, this, too, under, want, was, well, went, what, white, who, will, with, yes

Next 41: after, again, an, any, as, ask, by, could, every, fly, from, give, going, had, has, her, him, his, how, just, know, let, live, may, of, old, once, open, over, put, round, some, stop, take, thank, them, then, think, walk, were, when

Next 46: always, around, because, been, before, best, both, buy, call, cold, does, don’t, fast, first, five, found, gave, goes, green, its, made, many, off, or, pull, read, right, sing, sit, sleep, tell, their, these, those, upon, us, use, very, wash, which, why, wish, work, would, write, your

Next 41: about, better, bring, carry, clean, cut, done, draw, drink, eight, fall, far, full, got, grow, hold, hot, hurt, if, keep, kind, laugh, light, long, much, myself, never, only, own, pick, seven, shall, show, six, small, start, ten, today, together, try, warm

Some guidelines about Sight Words or Difficult Words to Sound Out

No Special Order: There is not an optimal order to teach them. But some are more prevalent than others. If you are working on categories such as colors, do not be reluctant to teach all of the color words at the same time, even though they are in different list.

Preteach the Words: Some easy read books will provide you with a list of hard words. Many parents like to use flashcards to teach these ahead of time. If your child is nervous about making mistakes, it will be a comfort to them to know the word ahead of time. But this is a very natural situation for competent readers. All readers, even the most proficient ones, meet new words all the time. that is one of the benefits of reading a lot.

Meet them as Part of the Process: You and your child will most likely meet these words in stories. You can start figuring out the word by using the first sound. Then it is best to read the sentence and make an educated guess about the word. If your child comes up with a nonsense word, say “Is that a real word? In books, there are real words not any nonsense words.” If they cannot guess the word, provide it for them and keep reading. If you like you can make a flashcard for the difficult word to practice late.

Mother and child working on unfamiliar word. Try making a meaningful guess as a strategy.
Photo by Jerry Wang on Unsplash

“Agast ? Is that a real word?”

“Try reading the first part of the sentence again and then guess the word. ”

Wait time.

You were close. The word is “against.”

<a href="http://<a href="https://www.allaboutlearningpress.net/go.php?id=1862_43_3_45&quot; target="_blank">All About Reading Level 1All About Reading: And if the entire process seems very complicated for you, there are some all inclusive, prescriptive programs that will walk you through the entire process of learning to read.

Increase Fluency

There are 4 main ways to increase fluency: read books to your child, use pattern books to have your child chime in, choral read with your child, and introduce new vocabulary. 

Continue to Read Picture Books

While you are working on sounding out 2 or 3 letter words, continue reading those wonderful picture books so that you reinforce the purpose for reading – communication to teach, inform, and entertain.  Ask questions while you read to emphasise that reading is all about communication.  “Children who are read to at least three times a week by a family member are almost twice as likely to score in the top 25% in reading compared to children who are read to less than 3 times a week.” As noted by Ferst Readers

Pattern Books

Pattern Books are very rewarding in the learning to read process. These are books such as “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you see?”  Every page of the text has a pattern with 1 element that changes. At first, your child will memorize the answers in each book and delight in proclaiming what is about to happen. They are practising rhyming and learning about full sentence structure as they ask for the same book to be repeated over and over. 

At this point, you can start to incorporate what is written on the page. If the keyword on the page is “tail,” you can frame the word tail with your 2 index fingers. (one finger before the “t” and one finder after the “l”) and explain to your child that this spells “tail.” Have them use their fingers to frame to word on the page. Once your child understands the process, they can frame the words in context. 

Choral Reading

When your child starts to read, you can read aloud with them. Match your pace to theirs. Indeed, they should be familiar with the text in the first place. Your choral reading with them will improve their fluency in reading as you will phrase the words together and put expression into your voice. Do not worry if they miss words. Just keep up a slow pace to match theirs. This will demonstrate that the entire purpose for reading is to focus on communication and not to just read the text word by word. 

Building Vocabulary

One advantageous method of building vocabulary is to continue reading excellent picture books with your child, viewing age-appropriate media with your child while asking those penetrating questions. This method of introducing vocabulary is powerful as it is in context of a natural flow of language. And there are many workbooks, websites, and apps that focus on this aspect of language as well. It is stunning to note that “books contain many words that children are unlikely to encounter frequently in spoken language. Children’s books actually contain 50% more rare words than primetime television or even college students’ conversations,” as reported by Ferst Readers.  Reading to your child may seem as if you are not teaching them how to read, but research proves that idea is false. Reading to your child is a critical step in developing confident and competent readers. Three to five times a week is optimal, but every day is exceptional.


Some excellent resources will give you more specific advice about how to introduce the sounds of letters in a significant manner for young children. This article has given you the pathway for introduction, but these resources provide you with many unique ways for each letter. 


Lesson Plans

The lessons in this book cover many innovative ideas for introducing a single letter sound to make it memorable for your child. There are daily activities to complete that cover a wide range of activities

Here is the list for introducing “s” as an example.

  • Make a “s” for snake picture (phonics response)
  • Paint squiggles (art response)
  • Star counting (science response)
  • Make smores (cooking response)
  • Letter “s” mystery bag (tactile guessing game)
  • Shape Puzzle (problem solving response)

From this list of activities, Autumn McKay describes the process in detail for each activity. For every letter, there are innovative ideas to reinforce the sound and to make the association memorable. The only issue with the book is that Autumn doesn’t introduce the letters in the optimal order.


For children, games are an ideal learning experience as they are motivated to practice the skills in a fun environment. There are many games to help you child practice phonics skills. For each one check it to make sure that it is using small letters, not capitals and that it focusses on the sounds of the letters, not the names.

Spelling Memory is a simple game of matching. Each letter match is put in the context of a 3 or 4 letter word.

When you begin the game limit the number of cards you use to the letters you have already taught. As your child learns more letters increase the card numbers. You can make the activity more difficult by using the back of the card.

If you have some magnetic letters you can have your child spell the entire word using the magnetic letters.

Fishing Game The draw of this game is the fishing activity. Since each spot on the board is labeled, your child can match the fish into their holes.

Alphabet Island This game reviews matching the small letters to the capitals as well as initial sounds of the letters. Parents have found that such games really encourage reluctant readers.

Easy Words: This is more of a puzzle than a game. You can make it into a game by taking turns to solve the puzzles. Limit the puzzle pieces when you start playing.

Alphabet Bingo Your child can get familiar with the sound of the words while matching the small letters to the capitals. For letter resistant kids, this may be the perfect solution to learning the letter sounds.

Computer Apps

ABCmouse is a popular program for toddlers. if you pay for the full subscription, you will have access to  songs and animations for learning letter sound connections. There are 50 engaging music videos.

Animated Books

On Vooks you will find animated books of popular stories. There is a free access area for you to try out some of the collection before you sign up for the service. If your child is not interested in books, try the animated versions to see if they are more engaging. https://watch.vooks.com/free-access  

Phonics Programs

<a href="http://<a href="https://www.allaboutlearningpress.net/go.php?id=1862_43_3_45&quot; target="_blank">All About Reading Level 1All About Reading This is a well-known program that is evidence and research-based. The parent book is comprehensive and will walk you through the process, step by step. The programs start at a prereading level and build until your child is a competent reader.

There are many programs like this from which to choose.

Non-Fiction Books

Guided Science Readers Your beginning readers may prefer non-fiction books to start their reading journey. There are 16 different books from which to select.

Non Fiction Sight Word Readers: Many boys prefer non-fiction books to fiction. This package teaches the first 25 sight words.

Nonsense Books

You have probably noticed that children love silly things. So you will find many children’s books with peculiar ideas and non-standard words. It seems as if the kids have an understanding that the entire intent of the books is for FUN. You can explain that the non-sense words are for fun, but in reality most kids understand that concept already.

You and your child will laugh out loud at the antics of this colourful character. Reading books with nonsense words illustrates to your child that English can be a very playful language.

The Book With No Pictures At first your child may be disappointed with the plain looking pages, but soon they will be rolling on their sides with laughter at the nonsense language of the story.

For a real treat, see the Youtube video of the author sharing this story with a group of kids. It will give you the freedom to ham it up when reading with your child.

Last words

Two boys laughing while reading. No phonics workbooks, no phonics worksheets.

Photo by Victoria Borodinova from Pixels

Have fun with your child
as you want to active those
pleasure centers in the
brain to cultivate a positive
attitude for a lifetime.

Related Articles

Use workbooks and activities effectively.    9 Tips and Tricks for using Phonics to Teach Reading

How to Select a Phonics Program: 5 Criteria    

Help your young child understand emotional distress of all sorts by using this technique for storybooks.  5 Tips and Trick for using Storybook to Alleviate Emotional Distress

5 Powerful Strategies for Using Storybooks to Combat Racism: Young Children 

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