Reading for littles under 5

We have enjoyed learning how to read, and my son is doing really well, even though it’s the hardest thing we do all week. Once we mastered phonics, which we started after my son learned his letters, we started “Teach your child to read in 100 easy lessons” (“100”) by Siegfried Engelmann, Phyllis Haddox and Elaine Bruner.

This year, he’s old enough to participate in the “Book It” program from Pizza Hut, which give his extra incentive to do twenty reading lessons a month.

We started this “100” book when my son was 3.5 years old. We just did one lesson a week then. This year, at 4.5, we decided to do one lesson a day. We just finished lesson 75, so I another five weeks we can close another chapter of this story, and move on to first readers. My son can read first readers, so sometimes we do that anyhow, but I really like the systematic introduction of reading in the “100” book.

I thought I’d give you some reading pointers that have helped my son a lot. 

Reading readiness for babblers:

  • Sing your ABC’s everyday – we do this whenever we swing along with a series of other songs
  • Sing a tune that teaches phonics. Leapfrog sells phonics toys that say “a says a, and a says a, every letter has a sound and a says a”. 

Reading readiness for children becoming verbal (they mimic your sounds).

  • Continue singing everyday. It uses a different part of the brain than talking.
  • Use alphabet flashcards and just go through them once a day. As your child is becoming verbal, ask them to repeat the letter name after you.
  • Make letter crafts. You can google letter crafts for every letter and find the cutest letter crafts! They only require construction paper, scissors and glue. Embellish these however you wish (or don’t, haha).
  • Start asking your child to pick out the right letter when you place two or three cards in front of them. I use this technique for everything I’m teaching kids at this stage, because they know far more than they can speak!
  • Use ASL sign language as you sing if you know it. Or learn it. It’s easy.
  • For my 2 year old, we color in a composition book every week, and I write a new letter on the page for him and tell him what letters they are. Then he just scribbles. He’s been asking me to write his name, so I write his name, spelling it out loud as I write. And I write the alphabet for him in upper case letters as I say the name. He watches me write. (Note: This is only at my 2 year old’s request. My firstborn was very different and wouldn’t have sat through this, though he was ready to start reading at 3.5 years old anyway.)

Reading readiness for verbal children (kids who can say simple sentences) who know their phonics.

  • Start reviewing the sounds of each letter. “What sound does A make?” “Do you know what other sounds A makes?”
  • Start putting two letters together for your child and making up nonsense words, like “ba, ma, ta, da”. 
  • Work on rhyming words together like “bat, mat, at, sat, cat”.
  • We played with letter tiles that we moved around to make words. Scrabble letters, bananagrams, and the logic of English tile letters have been useful for this activity. We also have letter die cutters he likes to use, which are useful for developing hand strength.
  • We finger tap syllables out loud at this stage too. That’s a tool I learned from a veteran homeschooled who had a lot of experience working with her boys with special needs. Look her up. I greatly admire her: Randi St. Denis. She’s responsible for starting and running the Southeastern Homeschool Expo – this is still my favorite expo by far. I’ve been to expos in the South, North, and Western parts of the United States now.

Reading readiness for children ready to go with “real” reading (you’ll know your child is ready when they start reading road signs to you, or trying to anyway!):

  • Do reading lessons daily. My son will be 5 this week. We’ve been doing daily reading lessons since he was 4.5 years old, but your child’s age is not the determining factor for reading readiness. I’m just pointing out, that daily practice is appropriate at some point. You’ll find some inertia in your child’s reading ability with daily lessons, which will encourage you both. 
  • Do your lessons at your child’s most alert time. But if math is harder for your child, then reserve this energy for math instead – that’s just my advice to you.
  • Pick books your child wants to read.
  • Get your child excited about reading through your own enthusiasm and encouragement. Your praise is honey to their hearts! This is true at all ages.
  • Acknowledge when things are hard.
  • If your child is out of brain power, put it down immediately and come back later. Keep reading fun, not punishing.
  • Make the crossover brain connection for your child with “finger tracking”. This is where your child tracks the words he is reading as he is reading. This method is also used for adults who are recovering from strokes when they are relearning how to read.
  • When my child reads letters out of order (which he tends to do), I ask him which letter he sees first. This is usually enough to get his mind to pronounce the letters in the correct order, left to right.
  • When he mispronounces the words, I tell him which letter he added or took out. “You said torn, but I don’t see an r there. Pronounce t-o-n.” 
  • When he is reading, I also tell him the English rules that are modifying the sounds of the letters. “There’s an e after a consenant, so the letter o says its own name”. 
  • Teach your child the vowels and consenants.
  • When my child is stuck on words, we build them with letter tiles. This gets him right back on track.
  • We made a “reading guide” that covers up all but one line of text. You can purchase these from educational supply stores, but ours was cheaper and just as effective. I used tacky laminating paper, and card stock.
  • When you’re done with the “100” book, move on to easy readers from the library, and when your child has exhausted these, move up to level 2, and so on.

I hope this has helped you!

​Here is a picture of our reading guide. Just card stock and self-adhering lamination paper. I’m sure you could use a regular laminating machine too.


Here is my son using the guide. We are “car-schooling”, because we are on a weekend adventure, but are getting 20 reading lessons in this month, which means we need to do this today. 


Here’s a little video of my almost-five year old reading lesson 75. How well is he doing?!


Here’s a bonus idea, which you homeschool veterans have done over and over already. We practice skip counting many ways, but one of them is through manipulatives. I printed a space image I found online, and just glued it onto popsicle sticks. I wrote the numbers for the 14’s on the ends, and trimmed the image down to fit. I used a sharp kitchen knife to separate the popsicle sticks after all was dry. At first my son didn’t want to do this puzzle, so I told him he didn’t have to and walked away. (Wink, wink). I came back 5 minutes later and he was almost done. He only wanted help with the sticks that weren’t numbered.


We also hop on numbers on the floor, and flip numbers over so we can’t see them as we learn them. We practiced a lot of our memory work by hanging upside down this week, inside play tunnels, spinning in chairs, spinning on our feet with arms out ‘all willy-nilly,’ in forts, doing flips and summersaults too. This is perfect for my sensory-seeker. Got to keep it moving, right? And my 2 year old hangs and hops and spins right alongside him, which makes this mama’s heart happy!

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2 thoughts on “Reading for littles under 5

  1. I’m always glad to see someone recommending “100 Easy Lessons”!

    I taught my child to read with “100 Easy Lessons” starting when she was about 4 years 4 months old. I had worked with learning disabled kids professionally and knew that in a typical school, my child would be labeled LD and would fail to learn to read. But “100 Easy Lessons” is a superbly designed program, designed to teach even kids who know NOTHING about the alphabet or phonics. “100 Easy Lessons” is so good that it’s used by private special education schools to teach intellectually impaired kids to read (autistic kids, too).

    My kid started out “100 Easy Lessons” knowing that the little black squiggles in books told stories, in sentences and words, and each separate little squiggle had a name. That was about all. It took my child about 5 months to go through the book. It turned out she had a mild vision problem (astigmatism) which made reading smaller print difficult, so for about the last half of the book, I photocopied the stories, enlarging them. This vision problem gradually corrected itself over the next year or two, as the developmental optometrist had predicted it would, and then my daughter could read even the tiniest print.

    BTW, there was one thing in “100 Easy Lessons” that didn’t make sense to me. Starting at about Lesson 74, the child learns a technique of rapidly reciting the names of letters in a word and from that, guessing the word. I skipped this and in place of it, I used the exact same words to teach my child about “Magic E”: “An E at the end of a word is usually a Magic E. It doesn’t make a sound itself, but it puts a mark over the _____ right here [I would fill in the name of the long vowel earlier in the word, and make the long vowel mark over that letter].”

    My daughter enjoyed her 100 easy lessons, and wanted a reading lesson right after breakfast every day. When we finished the book, we continued learning with picture books from the library. My child loved being able to read books “all by herself” though I still read to her lots, and we “shared the reading” in many books. By the time she turned six, she was reading fluently at a third grade level (e.g., the Boxcar Children books, which she loved). So by age six, her “reading level” matched her “interest level” — in other words, she could read virtually any book that caught her interest. She was an enthusiastic reader and by age 11, she was reading at mid-high-school level.

    Frankly, my advice to parents would be to skip any preliminary alphabet or phonics instruction and just start with “100 Easy Lessons” at age 4 or 5. If your child has difficulty learning to read with this book, or seems to “lose interest” partway through the book, take your child to a developmental optometrist for a vision exam.

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