How Your Child Learns To Read -- and How You Can Help

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University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children'sExperts in Children's Health
mom lying in bed with child propped up on her bent legs playing finger game

Babies begin learning right from the moment of birth. Spend as much time as you can talking, reading, singing and playing with your baby.

  What Your Child is Saying and Learning What Your Child is Doing Physically  Things Parents Should Do  What To Read To Your Child
6 to 12 Months Old   Babbles, smiles, likes parent's voice, likes photos of babies, speaks first words, responds to name, touches picture to express interest  Sits in lap, holds head steady, grasps book, puts book in mouth, drops or throws book  Make eye contact and talk with your baby, point and name things, sing, talk, play, read and cuddle, follow baby's cues for "more" or "stop"  Nursery rhymes, board or cloth books
12 to 24 Months Old  Says single words, then small phrases, hands book to adult to read, points at pictures, names pictures, follows simple stories  Does not immediately put book in mouth, holds and walks with book, turns pages of board books  Answer when your child speaks or points at things, let your child help turn book pages, name things in book, use books in routines, use books to engage your child's attention  Picture books, board books, rhyming books
2 to 3 Years Old  Learns two to four new words a day, names objects, prefers the same book(s) repeatedly, speaks in complete sentences and rhymes  Learns to turn paper pages, usually multiple at a time, begins to scribble  Ask simple questions like, "What is that?" or "Where's the toy?", read the same book repeatedly if your child wishes, talk about the pictures as you read, use books in routines  Picture books with stories, rhyming books
3 to 4 Years Old   Can recite entire phases from books, begins to detect rhyme, moves toward letter recognition, pretends to read  Flips pages one at a time from left to right, will sit still for longer books and stories, scribbles and draws  Point out letters and numbers, ask, "What happens next?" in stories, Point out words and pictures that begin with the same sounds, make up stories with your child  Picture books with stories, alphabet and counting books
4 to 5 Years Old  Learns letter names and sounds, recognizes numbers and letters, listens for longer periods of time, tells familiar stories, creates rhymes  Begins to copy letters and numbers, shows patience to sit for even longer stories  Relate stories to your child's experiences, ask your child to tell stories, familiarize your child with the letters of their own name, encourage your child to write and draw  Fairy tales, books with longer stories.

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