How to teach your child to read (without getting frustrated)!

by | Aug 5, 2019 | Mum life

I was talking to some girlfriends on a recent trip and we started to talk about school and pre-school. One of my friends was telling me how frustrated she felt trying to teach her daughter to recognise letters. Her daughter’s teacher had her doing flash cards every day. My friend said it was unenjoyable and she hated getting frustrated with her daughter who was just not ‘getting it’. When her daughter didn’t know what letter was being shown after repeated attempts she thought there was something wrong with her.

This made me so sad.

Firstly, it made me sad that this teacher was suggesting this ‘homework’ for a three year old. Secondly, I was sad that my friend and her daughter were hating the experience. Don’t get me wrong, flash cards can be incorporated into a classroom successfully when used appropriately, but forcing a three or four year old to learn letters this way usually doesn’t work well. 

Learning should be fun, especially in the early years!

Another example was when my husband was trying to teach one of the twins to count to 10. She was getting stuck and missing numbers. They were both getting frustrated.  When I heard her getting upset I turned it into a game and said… 

“Let’s play a game of taking turns! You start by saying 1!” 

So she said “1” and I said “2”, then she said “3” (and so on).

If she hesitated I prompted her. I hate the game of “guess what’s in my head” when they obviously have no idea what the answer is. We played the game a few times and she did it! Plus she had the biggest grin on her face. Mission accomplished.  When I was teaching Kindergarten, I remember a new parent coming up to me in the first few weeks of a new school year. She said to me “I’m a bit concerned because Mary is coming home every day and telling me she plays games all day.” That made me smile because I knew I was doing my job well. We did play games all day. They were learning and didn’t even know it.


So you may be asking, how do you get your child to recogniSe letters, sounds and even numbers?


Instead of flashing cards at them (which doesn’t help when you’re out in the real world), the number ONE way to help your children recognise letters, sounds and eventually words, is READING and having CONVERSATIONS with them. 

Research shows that the more books a child reads (or is read to), the higher his literacy skills. Also, children who have parents who talk regularly to them are exposed to about 45 million words in their first four years compared to around 13 million for those children who are not spoken to regularly.


Reading is SO FUN! I bet you if my friend spent that 10 minutes reading with her daughter every day instead of doing flash cards, she would pick up what the letters were eventually. Let’s also remember that there is no need at ages three or four to know what letters are. They have plenty of time for that. Reading and talking are really the best things you can do. Also, spark up conversations in the car, while you’re eating dinner and while you’re walking to the park. 


Other ideas to help develop young children’s literacy and numeracy include:


Focusing on their names. Children are egocentric. They are very interested in their names so focus on those letters first! You better believe that my Willow recognises the ‘W’ and pretty much every other letter in her name wherever she goes. She also recognises Olive’s and Piper’s name. That’s seven letters already. So start with your family names! Games like making giant letters and using a car to trace them, tracing a finger though shaving cream/sand/paint or in the shower on the steamed glass doors are fun way to practice letter recognition. I also love filling a large ziplock bag with hair gel/paint for mess free tracing!


Look at letters and numbers when you are out and about. For example, at the supermarket, in the elevator, and looking at menus in a restaurant. When you are driving, point out stop signs and other traffic signs, number plates and street names.


Give your child a post it note and pencil. Have them walk around the room and copy as many letters (words if they are a little older) that they can find. Clip boards/notebooks and pencils are fun for this too. My girls love to pretend they are at a restaurant and take our order on their notebads!


When reading books, let your child use the cues in the story to help with words. I’ll never forget a parent telling me they covered all the pictures so their child couldn’t ‘cheat’ to work out the words. Do not do this! Let them use the pictures to help them. It’s an amazing cue for beginning readers to use and eventually they won’t need it.

As a parent, it can feel overwhelming to want to help your child succeed at school. After all, we all want to best for our little ones! But don’t make it such an awful experience that you and your child miss quality time together. Just remember to make it fun! If you want any further advice for your family, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me! I’d be happy to talk to you 🙂

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