How I taught my daughter to read

Our house is full of books. When my daughter was born I read more. I wanted her to see me reading. I hoped that would make her interested in books. It did but not in the way I planned. As soon as she could crawl and stand any book within reach was in danger of being eaten.

I started reading to her when she was one. Initially I followed the words with my finger as I was reading them. After a while I got her point to the words as I read them. She has had at least 2 stories read to her every day since then.

I had learned to read by the time I was 3 so when my daughter turned 2 I asked my girlfriend when we were going to teach her to read. I imagined that my girlfriend, as an infants teacher, would lead on this as she’s the expert and I don’t really have a clue.

When she said that we were only going to start teaching her to read “when she was ready” and “when she wanted to learn” and that “children start formal education too early in this country so we’re not going to force her to learn yet” I wasn’t thrilled.

My daughter loves jigsaw puzzles so I bought her some alphabet and number puzzles and taught her that alphabet and numbers that way. Once she showed some enthusiasm for learning my girlfriend joined in with the teaching. We taught her the letter sounds at that point.

When my siblings were born reading saved my sanity. I spent an awful lot of time in my room reading while my parents were swamped with work and the other kids. I had hoped that my girlfriend would teach my daughter to read but she was adamant it was too early and she wasn’t ready. Although I wasn’t thrilled I went along with what she was saying.

When the baby was born my daughter was bored stiff a lot of the time and her behavior went rapidly downhill. She was a very bored 3-year-old who has an awful lot of energy sitting around watching her mum look after a baby. Generally when I got home from work there was a litany of woe and a child requiring telling off waiting for me. After a couple of months of this I decided to grasp the nettle and teach her to read myself.

I got some phonics programs and games on our tablet and spent 30 minutes a day teaching her phonics. She absolutely loved it and picked it up very quickly. I started getting her to sound out words. She would often ask to do some reading on computer but my girlfriend wanted to limit her screen time so generally reading would happen when I got home because she wasn’t confident reading books yet.

When she felt confident I slowly reduced the amount of reading I was doing and got her to read the words she knew and sound out words if she didn’t know them. I found that she already knew a lot of words from the time we had spent reading to her and following along with fingers so she wasn’t sounding out as much as I thought she would be.

I started teaching her phonics in October. She is now reading Mr Men books and stuff like Mrs Plug the Plumber and The Practical Princess by herself.

I wanted to check if she was reading or if she had just memorised some of the books so I gave her one of my books to read and she had a go and she could recognise or sound out about 70% of the words. She didn’t understand all of them but she could read them.

I’m writing this because before I started trying to teach her I was slightly scared too. I was worried that if I pushed it too much I might put her off reading. I was worried that if she didn’t get it that might put her off. I was worried, to be blunt, by the controversy about phonics.

The public arguing about the teaching of phonics and dire warnings from both sides about the consequences of getting wrong put me off teacher her to read. I also thought that it would be an awful lot harder than it has been. For a while every time I was teaching her instead of enjoying teaching her I was worrying about whether I was doing it wrong and whether there would be some awful consequence as a result.

That might seem stupid but I’ve never taught anyone to read before.

I’m really pleased my daughter can read. She spends hours reading every day (particularly when we are occupied with the baby). I’m really pleased that I taught her. I hope my girlfriend will teach my son because she’s the expert and she would do a better job of it but at least I’m now confident I can do it if she can’t/won’t. Next time I won’t be so worried about possibly getting wrong.

Did I teach her the best possible way? I doubt it. I didn’t have much of a clue what I was doing.

Has that had dire consequences? No. She can read, she loves reading.

Having taught her I look back on it and wonder what it was I was so worried about. It seems a bit silly really.

It makes me wonder what parents who don’t know anything about teaching are thinking if someone as awesome as me was worried about it.


4 thoughts on “How I taught my daughter to read

  1. Kate C (@kateab)

    My elder sister taught me to read when she was 6 and I was 2; she decided at that age she wanted to become a teacher (she never did!) and I was perfect pupil material. My youngest sister would have been 6 months old so a similarish situation to your family. This was good at the time, but I was so advanced when I got to school, they didn’t know what to do with me. Admittedly, this was 40 years ago and things were very different then.

  2. Debbie Hepplewhite

    Well done – but very telling that you were so fearful of doing the ‘teaching’ because of all that you had read in the media, for example, about ‘phonics’.

    It seems to me that your girlfriend just might have some pre-conceived ideas that are self-fulfilling. Although there is such a thing as ‘not ready’, this can also be a bit like ‘how long is a piece of string’ because some children simply never appear ‘ready’.

    It could be, then, that your instincts make you a better teacher of early reading than your girlfriend – although I don’t mean to sound provocative or undermining of either her view or her expertise.

    I do believe, however, that the information about the two main processes involved in ‘reading’ – that is, the knowledge of our complex English alphabetic code and the phonics’ skill of sounding out and blending (word decoding or word recognition) alongside ‘language comprehension’ (understanding the spoken language) should be readily available to parents and not just the teaching profession – and to this end I make sure that I provide a great deal of information about the teaching of, and acquisition of, ‘reading’ through various websites and free information and free resources.

    What you will find is that I don’t have the approach ‘Leave it up to the professionals’ which may differ from your own initial view regarding your daughter’s reading experience.

    I think parents should have the choice to ‘teach’ their children the mechanics of reading alongside providing their children with rich experience in language and literature. In the article below which I wrote for a parents’ website, you may be interested to see the difference between my approach which is to encourage parents to learn about phonics, and another literacy specialist’s approach which is to leave the ‘phonics’ to the teachers in school.

    At least if parents have good information, they can make ‘informed choices’. Something we are surely all entitled to.

    All the best,



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