How to help your child learn to read

Written by contributor Jena Borah of Yarns of the Heart

My little guy was six years old and we had been casually talking about letters and their corresponding sounds. I put a phonics page on my refrigerator and used it as a guide to talk about letters and sounds over a box of cereal every morning.

A month or two later, we were at the library and he noticed a banner on the wall that said “Reading is magic!” It must have been Halloween time. He turned to me and said, “Yes, reading is magic,” and continued playing with the toy train.

What? Did you just read that?

Not every child learns to read as easily as Peter. My daughter was 10 before it started to make sense to her, but all children go through that first stage of learning their letters and sounds.

5 Simple Tips for Teaching Reading

  1. Read to them daily. Through books they learn which way to turn the pages, the direction of words and sentences, vocabulary, proper grammar, and information about the world.
  2. Run your finger under the words when you read so they can connect what they hear with what they see.
  3. Point out words in the world (stop signs, exit signs, food labels) and tell them what they say.
  4. Provide magnetic letters for the refrigerator. Start with the letters in your child’s name, helping him spell it and learn the letters and sounds. After he masters the letters in his name, move on to the rest, a little at a time.
  5. Below is a one page guide to letters and sounds. Attach it to your fridge and refer to it while you are eating breakfast–give an impromptu lesson over a cereal box.

Download the PDF of Letters and Sounds

One of my favorite reading resources is the Florida Center of Reading Research. Here are links to their K-1 lessons. They are well designed and easy to use.

Just print what you like and you’ll have your own educational learn-to-read activities:

  1. Letter Identification 43 pages of great activities ready to use
  2. Letter-Sound Correspondence 115 pages of printable phonics games

Do you have any links to free reading resources?

About Jena Borah

Jena Borah homeschooled her three children all the way to college. She blogs about her homeschooling years and her interest-led philosophy at Yarns of the Heart.


  1. The first “kids” website my boys ever experienced is

    Most of the site is free and it’s all easy to navigate, even for kids. Many different methods are used to teach about letters, phonics and reading plus it’s fun!

    I’ve been using it for about 2 years and finally bought the $30 yearly subscription this year to gain access to the “extras”.
    Megan’s latest post: Five in a Row: The Rag Coat

  2. My kiddo is just about to turn three so I haven’t really looked into websites about this stuff yet. But she is loving letters right now and constantly asking me “What does _________ start with?”
    Steph’s latest post: Hosting Guests with Food Allergies

  3. I am just starting preschool with my two younger girls and this post was great!
    Twisted Cinderella’s latest post: Wordless Wednesday: Hard at Work

  4. I have used a process called “tandem reading” or “shared reading” with all 10 of my kids. It is a very gradual shift from me reading everything to them up to them reading everything to me, with a mix of both in between.

  5. love love love the Florida reading resource site! The games and activities are wonderful! We are definitely going to include this source in our lesson plan for my Kinder and even my third grader could use some review~ thank you! 🙂

  6. Am I crazy or is the chart missing a long “O” as in omen and over?

  7. All of my three children learned the sounds letter make from an early age and were read to tons but they all began actually reading at different ages. I also used Bob books with them (just the first set) and recommend these. My oldest began reading at about 6 and a half- tearfully; my second child begged me to teach her and the day she turned 5, after literally 20 mins with “AlphaPhonics”, she began to read; I think she knew how just thought she had to wait for permission:). My youngest is currently 7 and is now reading small paragraphs. (She jumped from reading an occasional word to an entire paragraph but only in her science curriculum which she adores). Yet she has known phonetic rules for two years and is quite good with them. She just didn’t WANT to read, as she told us. It is fun to see how personalities really come into play with learning. My oldest is still cautious, my second still dives into life and my third… well, my husband says her stubborness (I prefer determination) comes from her mama.

    • Very encouraged by your post. My son is year and really doesn’t like books. Yet my one year old can’t get enough of them. I was beginning to worry.

  8. we love Starfall- also- this isn’t free but look in libraries at their multi-media offerings- we really love ‘Sing, Spell, Read, Write’- especially for the songs

    Check out all the Mo Willems books (we love Elephant and Piggie the best)
    priest’s wife’s latest post: Almost Organic Cabbage & Potato Soup

  9. We’re sold on “How to teach your child to read in 100 Easy Lessons”
    Sounds like a joke I know, but it’s working wonderfully and keeps me from elaborating unnecessarily. 🙂 It’s great cause it keeps me steadily moving forward and gives me vision for what the next steps are!

    Lana Wilkens’s latest post: aiding and abetting?

    • We used that with Meg! I like it too.
      Jena’s latest post: A Practical Guide to Loving Homeschooling

    • We are going through that book as well, but we’ve hit a roadblock with lessons 8 & 9 becase my child does not understand how to put sounds together when sounding it out. So for “mat” she is saying “mmmm (pause) aaa (pause) tih”. She can get it immediately after I model it for her, but then she is just copying what I say. Today we decided to go back to lesson 1, but then I kind of screwed up by having us try to sound things out again afterwards (I know you are not supposed to go out of order). Again, she doesn’t know how to not pause between the letters. Any tips you have for me? Is this a sign that she is just not ready yet?

  10. I did all of the above (except Starfall- have to check that out) and more with my son but he still wasn’t “getting” it, even to the point of not recognizing all of the letters no matter how much we reviewed. When he was almost 9 and still struggling with the alphabet and not reading at all no matter what I did, whole language, sight words, phonics, you name it, I decided it was time to have him tested, and it turns out he does indeed have a reading disability and working memory problems. He’s been working with a reading specialist since then and is now doing quite well, although not up to grade level yet. (But it’s only been a little over a year so his progress is extraordinary.) Sometimes we can chill and let them be late bloomers, like my older daughter who was also a late reader, but sometimes you have to call in outside help. The reading specialist has been able to teach him using techniques I didn’t know about, for instance, she ties in kinesthetic movements with the letters, vowel sounds, and words, working across the body so both sides of the brain are activated. She’s been able to work effectively with his memory issues and get around that. She’s “untangled” him phonetically as well, since that was an issue for him. He would try to sound out words but would get everything out of order and mixed up, but now he taps it out and that seems to help him with keeping things sequential. It’s been amazing; following my instincts, even when others were saying he would be fine eventually, was the right thing to do in his case. It’s wonderful that, as homeschoolers, we have the luxury of letting our kids develop on their own timetable and if they are late readers they don’t have to be labelled or put in special classes, but by the same token, if they need outside help we can seek that out as well.

    • Kim, I totally agree with you. Not all children learn with a laid back approach. My eleven year old dyslexic son needs direct and intentional teaching geared specifically to his learning style. I think a relaxed approach is absolutely important for young children but if kids aren’t “getting it” (even when they desperately want to and are trying to learn) there could be something else going on that needs to be looked into.

      In our son’s case, it was dyslexia and now that we’ve identified that and are being very intentional about reading lessons and practice (that meet his needs) he is truly making reading progress.

      PS. we used 100 easy lessons with all our kids and the same strategies Jena talks about (and a lot more), except I never was much into fridge magnets. Didn’t like the clutter.
      renee @ FIMBY’s latest post: State of The Union ~ Homeschooling The Middle Years

  11. I love the simplicity of this list. It’s not as hard as we think. It sounds scary, but the way you have it presented is much of what we did and my two older kids picked it up pretty naturally. We used the ideas of 100 Easy Lessons. Though I didn’t work through the whole book, I know many who have found success w/ that method. Thanks for sharing this!‘s latest post: 10 Real Life Tips for Reading Chapter Books – Part 2

  12. Oh, I just read the question– “Do you have links to reading resources?” On my blog I have been doing some posts on chapter books and a Chapter Book Challenge, so this is for reading aloud, but of course helps with vocabulary and lays the foundation for the child’s own reading. So here’s a link to the challenge. Come join us!‘s latest post: 10 Real Life Tips for Reading Chapter Books – Part 2

  13. I’m so glad to find your blog again, Jena. I remember reading it a while back, and it was so helpful, and then I couldn’t access it for awhile. I really appreciate you sharing your journey. I’m teaching my six-year-old son to read now, though very slowly. Every other day I plan a short activity (and alternate with math). Right now we’re working on long vowels. I use a phonics program (which uses cassette tapes) that a retired Kindergarten teacher gave me, Starfall, and just whatever I find that I think he’ll like. After a year of practice homeschooling, I think I’ve finally figured out how to let him try something but not push it and when to help him and when to just keep going over stuff in new ways. He’s not a child that’s eager to read, but he also does not resist my lessons, especially if I keep them short and fun. The other day he told me he liked our homeschool, so I think I’m finally on track!

    We did start with 100 Easy Lessons, and it worked well, but we stopped at Lesson 70 because it got monotonous, and he started to dislike it.

    Here’s a summary of what I did with him last year:
    shelli : mamaofletters’s latest post: Worthy Reads & Blog Business

  14. This is great. My son is just getting in to consonant blends. Really, I wasn’t ready to teach him this much (he already knows his 3 letter word families), but he wants to read. So… 🙂

    I like the idea of putting on the fridge to remind me!
    Johanna @ My Home Tableau’s latest post: Children’s Books: Counting

  15. We used “Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons,” following the method exactly as laid out and it worked amazingly well to teach both our children to read. The lessons were short. I’m a big fan.

  16. I’ve tried twice before to post but it isn’t working so here’s my last try.

    We have loved It is fully free and you print out the books to read with your children. It is a ‘shared reading’ program, with the parent reading the words in black and the child the ones in red. The system is great and enjoyable. It starts simple and goes right up to intermediate levels. I highly recommend it!

  17. Jena Borah you are using an application for learning to read? Can you recommend some that are worthy of attention? I know Applications “Duckie Deck” but they teach children sharing cleaning teeth and that kind of ability, also can recommend them 🙂

  18. Thanks so much for this post. I’m putting together a Reading Binder / (future) teacher resource for my son and daughter-in-law and their 1-year-old son. I have an AAS degree in Early Childhood Education (PreK), but in our classes we never did go through exact steps on HOW TO teach reading, just mainly the importance of reading and developmental levels of the young child. I started homeschooling my youngest of four only after her third grade year. So, I’m in the learning phase, myself, as to the formal HOW TO part of teaching reading to a child. I’ll be definitely adding this information to the binder, including the comments, since there’s such great info in all. I’ve seen “How to teach your child to read in 100 Easy Lessons” referenced in various blogs and homeschooling videos with mixed reviews as listed in comments above. I ran across “Starfall” and “Sing, Spell, Read, Write”, in my initial homeschooling resources research and liked what I saw. I’m reading a lot of good reviews/reports on the “Bob books” from my research. One year we bought the subscription to “Reading a-z” ( -(where you can print off books and assemble them at home) and to the accompanying on-line reading program “Raz-Kids” (, then the next year we just kept the “Raz-Kids” to reduce the cost. These were pricey for a homeschooler, as the subscription was for a whole class, but there were more books available at levels a-z than we could have ever purchased individually, in addition to all sorts of matching printables, etc. It was good for me to use, since it gave me the ability to place her at the appropriate level or bounce between levels (if needed) while I figured out the whole ‘homeschooling thing’. We didn’t have the finances to keep up the subscription, but for me…I loved the ability for her to do on-line recorded readings that I was able to go back and mark and grade. Comprehension tests were available, as well. All the various printable features for grading ‘reading’ was beneficial to me, as the teacher. It provided a concrete way for me to provide a grade through the recorded readings, comprehension tests, and fluency test features. Reading a-z / Raz-Kids is a good program for kids who have already passed through the beginner stages of the reading process. I never really checked out the A,B,C,D,E,F stages of the program, as my daughter was already reading when we bought the subscription, so I can’t attest to how the program works in the beginning levels. But, overall, I loved the overall program and wish I could afford both subscriptions, again. I look forward to checking out some of the other resources listed in the comments. Thanks fellow homeschooling moms for the great input! 🙂

  19. I’ve been looking through the “Letter Identification” and the “Letter-Sound Correspondence” resources you listed in your post and have found some wonderful activities which I have printed off to prep for the Reading Binder. Thanks, again, for listing this info and turning us onto this wonderful resource. 🙂

  20. Nearly any teaching program can work if the student is motivated. I believe children should be reading before kindergarten. I wrote a book for parents to teach their children to read and write through SOUND. Anyone can download it for free.

  21. I’m Brazilian and I’m trying to learn the phonic method. I acctualy can read, understand and write a little in english, but I can’t talk very well, so I decided learn with phonics. Should you explain me how you use this letters and sounds guide? Thank you for the article, it was very interesting, I hope teach my children with that later…

  22. 👏👏👏👏👏. Wow thanks for sharing your knowledge, it astonishing. It’s very simple, very clear to everyone’s understanding and also accurate. It actually brings joy to the heart seeing our precious babies read and understand at the right time, and thank God for the parents that can do anything to see that children succeed. Putting a phonic on the refrigerator on the regigerator is actually a very brilliant and creative idea and I’m gonna try that too. I would like to share this miracle article that helped my kids; it was actually a great struggle for me until I saw this stuff and decided to try. My kids will actually do everything except studying and doing their assignment and that was a big deal for me not having enough time to teach them because of my jobs until I was recommended this article. It’s not time consuming and very simple to understand It’s worth every penny

  23. Nicole Schaben says:

    I’ve worked as a Reading Specialist for the past 15 years and am amazed how much money the schools are spending on the next reading trend. Direct Instruction programs like Reading Mastery and DISTAR (Teach Your child to read in 100 Easy Lessons Methodology) are among the best approaches to help your most struggling readers obtain success. I use it along with the Reading for all Learners Program. This is also known as the “I See Sam” decodable books that were very popular back in the 70’s. These books can actually be aligned with Reading Mastery. Most of my students gain an average of 2. 5 years in their reading level in one year.

    Check out the “I See Sam” readers and program at: There is also a google group called Beginning Reading Instruction that shares resources and files to use with the program. You can actually download the readers for free online.

  24. Mel Lopez says:

    Thank you for this. It is always very reassuring that children do have their own pace to learn. I would like to share a site that I found that helped a lot of children to read. It is
    Reading is power! 🙂

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