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How to Teach Toddlers to Read Words

By Sharon Dominica

Want some new ideas on teaching toddlers to read? The following activities and ideas that you can use in teaching toddlers to read words make learning fun and engaging.

Reading is a skill that stars developing very early, and often as early as one year of age. Children learn sight reading before they learn actual reading. This means children learn to read the shape and arrangement of letters in a word long before they learn all the alphabet letters and how to combine them.

Some parents I know, were surprised to see the way their one and a half year old child could point out brand names on signboards. When I talked to the child and parents I realized that the child was watching TV advertisements with the brand names, and was able to recognize the color, shape and structure of the word from there. This is what we call sight reading, and this is the type of reading that we aim to teach toddlers.

The ability to read words through sight reading gets children interested in reading and helps them get familiar with sounds and alphabets, which make actual reading easier. This article suggests ideas and games to teach reading to toddlers, and highlights some strategies that can be used to teach sight reading.


Labeling the house or the playgroup room with words is a great way to teach children to read words. For example, on the mirror, put a label which says “mirror”. On the bottle, put a label that says “bottle” and so on. Point out the labels and what they say, when you use these objects with the child. Over time, the child will get familiar with them and will be able to read these words, even when they are not stuck to the corresponding object.

Story Time:

Have a regular story time with the children, where you read out short stories with lots of illustrations and few sentences. Place your finger under the words that you are reading. Get the children to “read out” the title, and the names of the common characters in the story. For every story, pick a few key words that you want the children to learn. Try to use these words in the written form in different activities. Help the children to learn the words by writing them on a whiteboard, or paper separately. You can also teach songs and rhymes that use these words and write out the words of the song on the board. Highlight the key words and help the children sing along.

Memory Game with Picture Cards:

Play this simple game. Make equal sized cards with a picture and the name of that object below it. Make two of every picture. Place all the cards upside down on the table. The child can flip two cards at a time, see them, and place them back upside down. The child has to find the matching pairs, and if he can he should remove the pair from the table. As the child open cards, go over the name of the word, and get the child to look at the written form of the word. Start with a few pairs, and go on to more if your child is able to do it.

Puzzles with Words:

Another great activity when teaching toddlers to read words, is by using basic puzzle games. Make simple puzzles by printing out a picture, writing the name of the object below it, gluing it on cardboard and cutting it into two or three triangles. The child has to put them together and also read the word. Initially, the child will just be joining the pictures. As they do it, they will become more familiar with the word, and finally they will be able to recognize it, even if they see it without the picture.

Attendance Time:

The start of the day when you check on attendance is a great time to introduce words to children. Initially, use cards with the picture of the child, as well as the name of the child. Encourage the children to look at the card and say if that child is in the classroom or not. As children become familiar with the cards, introduce new cards without the pictures. Continue to use the children's written form of names on artwork, materials, and work spaces. Children will slowly start recognizing their own name, and also the names of the other children in the class.

Guess the Word Game:

Use words that you have taught, or words that you have used for labels in the classroom or playroom for this game. Show the children a word in the written form, and help them guess what's written there. You can also give them hints like the name of the story, or the place the label is found. This game will also help you know which children are picking up sight reading and which ones are not.

Labeling Artwork:

Whenever the children do any artwork, label all their pictures after that, or at least give a title to their picture. This helps children understand the use of words and also learn new words.

Writing Notes and Letters:

Introduce children to the concept of writing notes and letters early in life. Help them write little notes to their parents and grandparents. You could ask what they want to write, write it to them and ask them to give it to their parents. This will help them understand the value of words and writing.

All of these games may not work for all toddlers. You will need to try them in your classroom or playgroup and see how the children respond. In many cases, toddlers who are not speaking pay attention to written words, and start reading aloud very early after they start speaking. Hope these ideas on teaching toddlers to read words were useful to you. Here is another article on promoting early literacy in children. Continue to browse through this website for more resources related to early childhood education.