How to Teach Toddler to Read: Building Early Reading Skills

by | Jan 7, 2022

Do you have a little bookworm who loves reading? You might decide you want to learn how to teach toddler to read, but is that possible? Is it too early to teach your toddler to read?

Toddlers, kids between one and three years old, are typically unable to read, but they can learn some early reading skills that will help them on their journey towards being a reader.. Learning how to read takes a lot of skills that may be too hard for a toddler to grasp.

However, toddlers can start learning the letters and associating the sounds with letters. They also can learn proper etiquette when reading books and start to gather comprehension when reading.

If you want your to teach your toddler to read, here is what you need to know.

Related: 14+ Simple Activities to Teach Toddlers the Alphabet

Can You Teach a Toddler to Read?

Teaching your toddler to read may be too early, but it's a great time to introduce early reading skills that your child needs to know.

It is possible to teach a toddler to read, but it’s not the norm. Most kids will not learn how to read until five to seven years old, but it’s possible that a toddler may pick up some early reading skills.

Many times, when parents say their toddlers know how to read, their children are actually mimicking and reciting rather than truly reading.

There is nothing wrong with working on early reading skills with your toddler, but parents shouldn’t be upset or disappointed when their child isn’t able to pick up the skills yet. Reading is developmental and involves different milestones before your child can truly “read.”

Let’s take a look at some the process that kids have to learn to be able to read.

The Process of Learning to Read

1. Phonemic Awareness

Letters make sounds called phonemes, and kids have to hear those sounds before they’re able to read. It’s the process of hearing the sounds; phonemic awareness is an auditory skill with no printed words.

2. Learning Phonics

The next process while developing reading skills is phonics, which is different than phonemic awareness. Phonics is the process of identifying the sounds letters make alone and with other letters written on the page. Kids start to connect the sounds to the symbols.

3. Learning Vocabulary

As your child gets older, they move to the vocabulary process when they know that words are connected to objects, places, people, and things around them. Vocabulary is important because it means your child is able to understand what they’re reading and connect it to real life.

4. Building Fluency

Gradually, over a span of a few years, kids build up their fluency. Reading fluency is all about the accuracy of the words read and the rate of words per minute they read.

5. Focusing on Comprehension

The last stage of the process of reading is comprehension, a big skill when reading. A child may be able to connect the sounds and create the words, but they have to understand and interpret what they’re reading before they can make any connections with their world.

Reading Skills Toddlers Can Develop

Toddlers cannot make it through all these steps since they take years to develop, but toddlers may start to develop some of the early reading skills needed to take them through the years to come.

It’s important to remember that all kids learn to read at a different time. Some say that their toddlers read by 3 years old, but on average, the earliest we see reading happening is four to five years old. Most learn around six to seven, and some take even longer to learn.

However, never force your toddler to lean to read. This should be fun, or you’ll start them down a road of disliking reading.

That doesn’t mean you can’t introduce some skills for your toddlers that will benefit them as they learn how to read. Here are some suggestions!

How to Handle Books

Start by teaching your toddler how to physically hold and handle books properly. Infants often chew on the pages, but toddlers can learn how to hold it the right way and to be gentle.

Recognizing Parts of the Story

Toddlers gradually increase their attention span, and as they get older, you want your child to make connections with what they see in the books. Point out objects they recognize.

Comprehending Stories

Another reading skill that your toddler can develop is comprehension. We want our toddlers and kids to understand the picture and text that they’re read. This is a developing skill that often starts with your child imitating what they heard in a book.

Turning Pages

Turning pages properly is a skill! Start with board books because they are easier to flip and gradually move to turning actual pages. Then, as you read to your child, have them turn the pages to keep them involved in the reading process.

Following the Words on the Page

Your child might like to follow along with the words on the page. Start doing this by using your finger under each word, moving as you read. Over time, your child may want to run his finger over the words as you read.

Some kids may be able to start recognizing regular words they see on the pages, and some are able to recite books from memory. However, this is not reading in the true sense; it’s memorization, which is still a process that helps their cognitive function.

9 Activities to Teach Toddler to Read

Even though it’s a bit early to teach toddler to read, you can still work on the love of reading and develop early reading skills. Over time, having these skills will help your child learn how to read when they’re ready.

1. Play I Spy for Phonemic Awareness

One of the earliest games is I Spy to teach phonemic awareness. This game is played regularly in a Montessori education, and it’s easy to adapt as your child gets older.

First, start with a small basket of tiny objects. You can find collections of Montessori objects or simply find little things around your house. Place a mat in between you and your child and put the basket behind your back.

Grab an object and place it on the mat. Let’s pretend you put down a marker.

“I spy with my little eye something that starts with the sound ‘mmmmm'”

Then, your child will say “marker” and take it on his side. Continue this game until the basket is empty, and continue this game regularly, using different objects as often as possible.

Once your child masters this, start putting two objects on the mat, each starting with a sound, and see if your child can determine which object starts with that sound.

Early phonemic awareness helps our child learn how to read and understand the process easier!

2. Read Together

Start reading to your child as a baby; all kids benefit from their parents reading to them. Start by making reading part of your daily routine, and your child will experience a larger vocabulary.

Take your child to the library to pick out books, and make sure you have all sorts of books available on different topics. Your child wants to relate to the story they read to help keep the more engaged.

Related: How Does Reading Improve Speech for Your Child

3. Ask Questions about the Story

One way that you can keep your child engaged with the story is to ask questions and talk about the story. Using language with your child and talking is just as important as literacy skills.

Ask your child questions!

Ask what he thinks a character is feeling or what will happen next in the story. Many kids like the opportunity to discuss what they think a character is feeling, and then you can ask if they’ve felt something similar in the life.

4. Work on Letter Recognition

Words and letters are all around us, so we have plenty of opportunities to point out letters and words to our kids. However, don’t make it feel like a quiz.

“Do you see that sign? It says stop: S-T-O-P.”

Point out the first letter on signs around your house or on birthday cards. Letters are everywhere, so you can do this regularly and eventually your child will point out letters on his own!

5. Practice Sight Words

You might be tempted to grab sight word flash cards, but they aren’t a necessity. Flash cards help with memorization, but we want our kids to work on sight words through sounding them out as well.

Think of sight words like building blocks for reading, and they offer rhyming practice as well.

Related: Free Printable Sight Word Flashcards

6. Sing Songs

Lots of songs incorporate letters and spelling, and singing them with your child is another way to work on literacy skills.

Start by singing by regular alphabet; all kids love to sing their ABCs. Then, move onto other songs like C is for Cookie and Elmo’s Rap Alphabet. Look on YouTube for other fun letter songs to sing!

7. Play with Magnet Letters

Little kids love to play with magnet letters on the fridge. Start by just playing and pointing out letters, and ask if they recognize letters.

Later, use this time to build words and show your child how to sound out words properly.

8. Try Rhyming Games

Rhyming is one of the best early literacy skills to practice. You can start by making silly rhyming songs using your kid’s name or random words. They think this is so funny.

Later, move onto asking if they know a word that rhymes with bat or mat. Let them tell you as many as they can.

You also can find all sorts of rhyming games!

9. Try Letter Activities

You can find all sorts of letter activities to practice matching uppercase and lowercase letters together. Find playing Go Fish with alphabet cards to hiding letters around your house and having your child find them.

There are all sorts of letter activities you can play with your child. The only requirement is that it’s fun for your child, and it will help teach your toddler to read.

Related: Clothespin Letter Match Preschool Activity


While teaching your toddler to read will more than likely not happen, this is the perfect time to work on early reading skills that will help your child as he grows and gets closer to learning to how to read in preschool and kindergarten.

Teaching your toddler to read may be too early, but it's a great time to introduce early reading skills that your child needs to know.