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The sky's the limit when introducing the written word to your preschooler. Don't think your child has to wait until Kindergarten to learn how to read. Basic skills and knowledge of letter sounds can be taught beginning at age 2! It may seem overwhelming at first, but if you take it step-by-step, you will see how easy it really is. The important thing to emphasize is making reading fun. Start out slow to build your child's confidence and enthusiasm. You can teach your child to read in no time!
The first step in teaching your child to read is making sure your child can recognize all the letters of the alphabet, uppercase and lowercase. You can make this fun by using flashcards or a variety of computer games that specialize in letter recognition.
Next, you can move on to letter sounds. Recognizing that each letter has a specific sound attached to it is an important step in the learning process. Once you teach your child the sound for a letter, encourage them to think of words beginning with that sound. Most of the letters are pretty easy to remember, however there are some "tricky letters" that some children have difficulty remembering the sound for, since they differ slightly from the letter name. Those letters are c, g, h, q, w, and y. All the vowels have two sounds, the short sound and the long sound in which they say themselves.
Once your child is able to remember most of their letter sounds, you can begin asking them to sound out short, 3-letter words. Many teachers begin by using word families; for example: -at (cat, bat, rat, mat, sat, hat), -en (hen, men, den, pen, ten), -ot (pot, not, hot, cot, dot). Be careful to choose words that follow the "rules" for the sounds they have learned so far. Now is not the time to confuse your child with all the exceptions of the English language.
You may also want to introduce some sight words once your child starts reading three-letter words. Explain to your child that sight words are common words that we use very often, and they don't always follow the rules. The best way to learn sight words is with repetition, since many of them must be memorized and cannot be sounded out. You can get the Dolch sight word list by doing a search for it online, however it consists of 220 words, which can be overwhelming to a young beginning reader. Instead, begin with the following 50 words:
I, a, the, have, we, is, and, are, you, to, said, for, was, like, does, has, he, she, be, me, see, they, were, not, in, about, there, them, where, why, when, who, go, out, your, no, with, that, do, this, from, or, what, can, all, how, want, some, am, of. Introduce each word, maybe one per day if your child seems to remember them easily, or one per week if you need to work a little slower. In addition to sight words, you may also want to introduce color words (red, blue, green, yellow, orange, purple, black, brown) and number words one to ten.
After your child has mastered letter sounds, and can sound out 3-letter words quickly and easily, he is ready to move on to blends. Begin with th (thumb), sh (shut), ch (chick), wh (whale), ph (phone), tr (truck), and dr (drum). Ask your child to think of words beginning or ending with that sound. You can also teach him the sound for -ing, which will help him read words like sing, king, ring, wing, jumping, having, running, etc.)
The next concept is Silent e. Silent e is used for most short words ending in e (cake, time, stripe, late, hope). The idea to stress is that the letter e gives up his voice to the other vowel and makes it have the long sound.
The final concept is Two Vowels. You may remember hearing the rhyme: two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking. The first vowel has the long sound and the vowel next to it is silent. This is used for words with two vowels next to each other (boat, seat, rain, peel).
Don't try to rush any part of the process. If your child is having difficulty sounding out short words, don't move on until she is ready. Some children have difficulty with the blends, especially pronouncing th. Make sure your child is pronouncing them correctly - have her watch your mouth carefully as you say the word slowly.
That's it! Once you have taught these concepts, your child should have an excellent foundation for reading. Of course, there are many exceptions and rules in the English language, but your child can tackle those as he builds his vocabulary and confidence reading on his own. You're off to a great start!