Many children are ready to read before they enter school.

How to Teach a 4-Year-Old Child to Read

by Nancy Lovering

If the stories of potty-trained infants, 3-year-old piano prodigies and 14-year-old high-school graduates are getting you down, don't worry -- maybe you too can join in the fun. While many kids who are intelligent in other ways may not be ready to read at the age of 4, yours might be one of the lucky ones who can walk into preschool and lead story time. Take the task of reading and break it down into a few simple steps to present to your child to see if she is ready, willing and able to read.

Foster a love of books. Start reading to your child in infancy so that she develops a positive association with the written word. Make reading a source of entertainment, joy and learning. Build or purchase a bookshelf for your child's books that is within her reach. Let the inclination to read strike her, but not the books themselves: Make sure her shelves are safely anchored to the wall, and the largest and heaviest books are at the bottom.

Model the behavior you wish your child to adopt. Put away the potato chips and TV remote and grab your favorite paperback or magazine. Indulge in some time each day reading to yourself. When you are not reading, mention how much you enjoy it and how much you've learned from it.

Review phonics with your child. Make sure she knows the sounds the letters make. Start simple -- for example, with single-letter sounds and short vowel sounds. Move on to three-letter words that are phonetic, such as C-A-T. Say each letter sound separately and then string them together to make the word.

Once your child is comfortable with a simple phonetic word like "cat," change one letter to form a new word, such as "mat." Go back and forth between the two. Reinforce the concept further by removing the first letter to spell "at." Add a third word, such as "bat." Once your child has grasped the concept that a new first letter means a new word, change the remaining letters and start a new series, such as "dog," "log" and "bog."

Introduce letter blends. Start with blends that keep the original letter sounds, such as "st," and progress to blends that create a new sound, such as "th." Add the blends to your previous series to contribute even more words to your child's reading vocabulary.

Teach sight words -- words that are not phonetic and must be memorized, such as "the." Create a small list or set of flash cards and review them with your child regularly. Remember that 4 years old is still young for reading, and don't worry if she doesn't learn as quickly as you'd expect.

Create simple sentences using the words your child has learned. Make homemade books with one sentence per page that your child can read and then illustrate. Continue the fun by having her create her own stories while you write them down for her.


  • Watch your child closely for signs of boredom and stop immediately when she starts to lose her focus. Try to inspire, not tire.


  • Don't put unnecessary pressure on your child or create a bad experience that will deter her future interest in reading. Keep in mind that there are many very clever kids who are simply not interested in reading at the age of 4.

About the Author

Nancy Lovering is a writer, photographer and teaching assistant. She took novel writing at Langara College and photography at British Columbia Institute of Technology. She obtained her teaching assistant certificate through Delta School District Continuing Education. She previously worked as an assistant controller while in the Certified General Accountants program, and has training in dog psychology through Custom Canine Teaching Ltd. in Vancouver, BC.

Photo Credits

  • Ryan McVay/Lifesize/Getty Images