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Teaching Kids To Read Without Really Teaching!

Don’t you just love the younger years when kids are filled with awe and wonder, and are pretty much satisfied as long as you tell them the same bed-time story over and over again?

I love those years!  The early years are also the ones when kids seem to be the most like sponges– soaking up everything in their environment- including songs, numbers and the abc’s. With the push toward formal education starting earlier, however, there’s also a push toward teaching kids to learn to read sooner.  Thankfully, in home education we have the say so on when we feel our kids are ready to begin their reading journey.

Don’t get me wrong- I’m a strong advocate of exposing our children to good books and literature well before they’re ready to understand it all, much less able to read it.  I think the environment we create in our home can be rich and full of great books that our children will be excited about learning to read-when they’re ready.  But I’m not so big on the rush to formal reading when kids just aren’t ready.

Each child is uniqueand of course some kids will be ready to learn phonics before others…and some might skip the phonics altogether and prefer sight-reading!  In our family, my oldest learned to sight read and we never formally covered phonics with her until after the fact. Now, with my youngest (who is five), we are beginning to cover some basic phonics- and only because she practically begs me to learn to read! (Because her big sister can read, of course she wants in on the fun.)

Up until recently, we’ve introduced our daughter to reading through fun and play- and she never knew she was learning reading skills!  Here are a few activities that made reading come alive for our kids during their preschool years.

Letter Shaving Cream

Need I say more?  What child doesn’t want to slather her fingers around in shaving cream? And at the same time, she’s learning to draw letters and words- just using a different medium.

puffy paint

After mixing shaving cream, glue,  and regular poster paint, my daughter loves painting pictures, numbers, and letters with “puffy paint“.

Popsicle Sticks and Cotton Balls

Yep-it’s exactly as it sounds!   Forming letters with objects is a great pre-reading skill, and usually these items are lying around the house.  We glued popsicle sticks to create the letter “A” on construction paper for our Amelia Bedelia story (and then baked an apple pie after-which was the best part of all!)

We used cotton balls to form the letter “C” on construction paper… and so forth.  You get the drift.


The point is, it’s easy, cheap, versatile, and your kids are connecting the dots about letters and letter sounds.

Preschool Story Wheel

My daughter absolutely loves this (because she gets to be in charge)!  When it’s her turn to tell me a story, I’ll grab a preschool story wheel  (which is simply cardstock cut in a circle and divided up like pizza slices with a pencil).  Each little wedge of the circle gets its own picture (I use free clipart).  You can either roll a dice or punch a hole in the center of the circle to add a brad and arrow so your child can spin the wheel.  Whichever picture the dice or arrow lands on is the story your child has to tell about (and of course, she can be as creative as she wants).

preschool storywheel

 I also have a flipbook I can use to write her story as she narrates it -on the bottom half- and she illustrates the top half.

I like this activity a lot because she’s learning all those formal literary skills she needs to learn (characters, plot, sequencing) without the pressure.

Plus, she’ll often ask me “What’s that word?” after I’ve written out her story just to be sure that I wrote it down correctly!

(Informal) Circle Time

This is when we snuggle close to our kiddos to read a book, listen to a song, do an easy finger puppet (like This Little Piggie), and maybe follow up with a craft.  Somehow kids are soaking up these nursery rhymes and finger plays (which they’ll be sure to repeat in the car on a long drive!), and it’s great to know that exposure is all a part of the reading experience.

Alphabet Letters

Stick ‘em on the fridge, the bathtub, or a cookie sheet, and kids just have a blast! When my youngest was around two, we bought her both a set of magnetic letters and bathtub letters. The bathtub letters were so much fun she couldn’t wait to take a bath and didn’t want to get out of the tub. She’d put letters together on the side of the tub and ask in her sweet little lisp, “Mommy how you say ‘m’ and ‘d’ and ‘o’ and ‘p’?” And of course, I’d give her the pronunciation (“m-dop”) which sounded pretty silly, and she’d laugh and laugh.


Magnetic letters are twice the fun because they stick to almost everything.  Our fridge has been covered in letters for years, and recently my daughter discovered that the arm of our futon is magnetic.  So of course, we’re spelling out words there now. Plus, I found an idea on Child Care Land about using a cookie sheet for magnetic letters- so now we’ll sit at the kitchen table and spell out words just for fun.


And meanwhile she doesn’t know she’s learning to read.  She’ll figure it out soon enough.

Now we’ve transitioned easily into Bob books and my daughter just loves those. The simple line drawings and simple cvc words make learning reading manageable for her.

But I’m pretty certain that those pre-reading fun activities are making all the difference.

So have fun with your kids and happy pre-reading!

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  1. These are great ideas. I have tried a few of them. My three year old has been asking how to spell words. I was thinking I should start teaching her how to write them, she does not all her letter names. I am trying to decide what letter style to teach. No tears? Any advice?

  2. So glad to have found this. My daughter is in Kindergarten & all of a sudden does not want to read.
    After some frustrating moments & racking my brain on how I can help her, your site is refreshing with great
    Thanks again!!!

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