How to Teach Reading to Preschoolers (Age 3-5)
Co-authored with Ritvvij Parrikh.
We had always been interested in helping Sabi develop a love for reading. In fact, we had been nurturing her affinity for reading since she was a toddler. During her time in daycare and kindergarten, she began to improve her language skills. However, when the pandemic lockdowns began, her education transitioned to online learning, and we noticed that her progress started to slow down.
That’s when we decided to invest focused time and effort to guide her on the path to reading proficiency.
In this blog post, we’ll walk you through the various stages of Sabi’s reading journey, from her initial foray into phonics to her eventual mastery of complex words. We’ll share the resources we found to be most effective and discuss the challenges we faced.
First 6-8 months, we focused on phonics
Sabi’s formal introduction to reading began at around 4 years old with the Fitzroy book series. These books offered a structured approach to learning, introducing new letters and sounds sequentially. This gradual build-up reinforced Sabi’s understanding and mastery of phonics.
We paired Fitzroy with the Khan Academy Kids app, which would show the character and fun characters like Kodi that would pronounce the sound. Constant repetition helped build phonemic awareness.
While Sabi easily grasped simple sounds, like the ones for ‘m,’ ‘b,’ and ‘d,’ she struggled with blending sounds, particularly with complex combinations like ‘c&h’ and ‘s&h.’ Even after six months of learning phonics, the idea of combining two sounds together initially eluded her.
Understanding the concept of phonics was challenging for Sabi. For the first time, she showed signs of disliking the learning process. To prevent this single phase from negatively influencing her perception of learning, especially when taught by her parents, we introduced the character ‘Mumma Mam.’
Mumma is fun-loving and affectionate. Mumma is always available to Sabi, but Mumma Mam comes at a 5pm everyday, wearing spectacles and a headgear. When Mumma Mam arrives, three-year-old Sabi is expected to focus and engage in learning.
After Mumma Mam’s leaves in 30 minutes, Sabi meets Mumma and then Sabi can discuss everything that transpired with Mumma.
Many months later, one day, the concept of blending sounds and overnight just clicked and there was a noticeable leap in her reading ability. Sabi quickly became adept at blending any word or recognizing any phonetic structure because she now understood the core concept.
Challenges with English
As Sabi progressed, she also discovered the idiosyncrasies of the English language—sounds that do not conform to basic phonetic rules. Words like ‘gender,’ which she initially pronounced phonetically as ‘gen-der,’ and silent letters in words like ‘island,’ which she initially read as ‘is-land,’ started to crop up. This presented a new layer of complexity, one that Sabi was more than ready to tackle given her foundation.
To gamify phonics usage, we started playing Scrabble with her.
Next 4 months, she explored “Read Out Aloud” Epic Books
Next, we subscribed to ‘Epic Books,’ a platform offering “read out aloud” books that not only showcased the story but also read it out loud, highlighting each word in bold as it was being read. This multi-sensory approach of visually seeing the words while hearing them aloud helped reinforce Sabi’s understanding of language.
The results were phenomenal. Within a span of just four months, from July to October 2021, Sabi daily spent 1-2 hours daily and completed 225 hours of reading or 2095 books on the Epic Books app.
Reading Parties 🥳 🎉
Now that she was comfortable with phonics, it was important to encourage her to pick up reading as a hobby. Every evening, I would make a fun snack and take her to the terrace where we’ll sit down and read together. Alternatively, we would do a reading party with family members over phone or in the park.
Finally, she started reading Physical Books
There was a phase when Sabi became so engrossed with her iPad while reading on the Epic Books app that she began to use it more for entertainment than for actual reading. She started randomly opening the app, constantly switching between stories, and telling us that she wanted the iPad for reading—only to eventually move on to YouTube to watch cartoons. After observing this behavior, we decided to halt her iPad use for reading on Epic Books and transitioned back to physical books.
The “Piggy and Gerald” Series
Sabi’s love for reading blossomed the moment she started reading the “Piggie and Gerald” series. Much like the Bob Books, this series is also easy to understand in terms of both vocabulary and narrative. The series explores everyday themes such as friendship, emotions, and life’s little challenges. Sabi found the characters’ expressions particularly amusing, which likely enhanced her enjoyment of the books. The text and dialogue are crafted in a way that naturally encourages readers to experiment with expressions, tone, and voice modulation.
Ladybird’s “Read It Yourself” Series — 1 and 2
Slightly more advanced than the Bob Books, this series helped Sabi read longer sentences that didn’t rhyme. While it was challenging and slow-going at first, we read these books repeatedly until she became comfortable reading them entirely on her own.
The “US Borne” Series
This series has a collection of around 40 books, but we acquired 15 random ones. These selections helped Sabi progress to a reading level that is one step above that of the Ladybird books.
By May 2021, she was comfortable with reading basic books! Sometimes she got so addicted that she started reading when she shouldn’t be. 🙈🙉🙊