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teaching early reading without overwhelming beginning readers

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How to teach my child to read?  First, a solid foundation of the letter sounds must be learned, but what next?  Here are the early reading activities that we are working on with my four and a half year old son.  He is eager to read, at his own pace and in his own time, and I am eager to give him the tools and teaching to set him up for great success!

early reading activities for beginning readers that don't overwhelm - wildflower ramblings - preschool blog!

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Learning to read with phonics

My son is at a brilliant age.  He knows his letters.  His sounds.  And even though we have only really focused on uppercase letters, he also has come to know his lowercase letters too.  He is ready to read.  He is on the cusp.  I am doing everything in my power to not deter him from the intense desire to read and learn and the innate excitement within him to know what books say.  Oh his love for books is strong.  We are so blessed to have brought many high-quality books into our home.  And this number of incredibly sound and beautiful books has increased exponentially since I became a consultant for PaperPie.

What to teach him?  Well, I must remember my training and not jump in and confuse or frustrate him!  What are the early literacy stages?  I wrote an eBook on early literacy (that you can get for free) for this very reasons.  Parents, and even teachers like me (I taught Kindergarten and have a Masters in Elementary Education), need reminders for understanding the natural progression of learning.  How can we define and teach the developmental levels of literacy learning?

We are starting with these basic principles (these are individual to him, right now, so they may look completely different for your child!):

  • He only wants to read one word at a time — so I don’t put too many words or too difficult a text in front of him, so I don’t overwhelm him.
  • We read consonant-vowel (cv) or consonant-vowel-consonant (cvc) at this time.
  • We choose many different phonics activities and readers to hold his interest for five minutes at a time!
  • We read our First Phonics Readers that I created just for him!

What about immersion reading?

Some children don’t need things so separate or regimented, some can learn organically or through “whole reading” or immersion teaching.  I teach this every day simply by reading with my son and recognizing the beginning letters of words together in books or in our environment.  He loves to read and reads on his own, too, at least several times a day.  We encourage quiet, independent reading time — this and seeing you read is the single most important thing you can do for your child!  You don’t need to be a “certified teacher” to set your child up for success!

Setting him up for success

But when we sit down, intentionally, I want for him to excel, without frustration, but by using his former knowledge to build on his time, at his pace.

We’ve been putting together sounds to make words.

We’ve been playing games to build words.

Reviewing sounds and creating words with hands on tools

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Lately, we are using our alphabet felt letters (that correspond to their beginning sounds) for matching upper and lowercase as well as for building phonetic words.  And words that rhyme!  

cat, bat, mat, sat

dog, log, bog

cup, up, pup


This Learning Palette seemed a bit overwhelming at first.  But once I saw the demonstration, I couldn’t stop thinking how much I wished I’d had this for my Kindergarten class and centers time. It is an independent, self-correcting tool that young children can use to learn math and reading concepts!  This goes all the way up to 5th grade, so it is a worthwhile investment.  I have a full review and video here.


We are also using our (slightly ancient) Leap Frog reader set.  I got this from a friend who was cleaning out her garage.  It is from about 1995, but it is lovely.  The child builds the word, and the Leap Frog sounds it out and states the word for, and with, the child.  A wonderful tool!  It has six different sets of about 30 thick cards, so it will be a tool we’ll bring into first and second grades.

Reading early phonics readers to sound out two and three letter words

It is not without patience and stamina on my part.  He is so excited for brief moments and I must get him at his level and his pace.  But when we’re there together, excited, and learning, it is magic.  It is pure joy.

I have more than ten phonics readers sets.  (I wrote about them over at This Reading Mama: Distinguishing between Phonics Reader Sets}, and I also discuss them here: best workbooks and readers for early learning here.)


So I think I’m going to create the perfect phonics readers for him.  If anything, I want them to build confidence and the proper structure for my son to succeed in his early reading time. {I created the First Phonics Readers, you can get them at the link, so make sure to check them out, as they are perfect for early reading!!}


These A Beka Phonics Readers are near-perfect.  Except the fatal flaw that they teach ALL the vowels first.  Ugh.  a, e, i, o, u.  The sounds all sound so similar and are difficult to distinguish from one another.  They do not set up a child for success.  Though I like how slow they take the reading and how big the letters are for reading.


This Very First Reading series from Usborne is amazing.  The parent reads a stanza in the upper left side of the page, and the child read the bigger phonetically-building words.  Wonderful.  However, they are just too much for my very early reader.  He can read “Pat” in Pirate Pat, but it is difficult for him to still string words together: “Pat is mad” is simply too much text at this point.  At that is just fine.  Meet the reader.  Adapt to the reader.

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I love the Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Lessons book by Siegfried Engelman.  It is not perfect — but one of two programs that I like for parents that have no previous experience.  I like how it teaches mastery and touches on phonemes, rhyming, and other language learning interspersed with the reading.  We don’t do the handwriting portion because John is just not ready to write letters yet.  This book has a wonderful sequence, though it introduces long and silent e sooner than I’d prefer.  Overall, I highly recommend it and we open it up every couple days, when I know John will give me a solid five minutes to review the hands on work we’ve already done.

We are reading.  It is the proudest moment of my life.  To watch my son sound out a word.  Oh the joy I’m experiencing right now.


I hope these ideas have given you inspiration for teaching your child at home, both if you homeschool or if they are in a preschool or kindergarten program.  We are their first, and most important, teacher.  Happy reading.

Make sure to check out our list of 10 Phonics Readers Sets for Early Reading at This Reading Mama and our First Phonics Readers that you can download free!

You may also be interested in our Early Literacy Stages eBook (it’s free!) and our List of workbooks and readers for Ages 2 to 5!

For more phonics learning ideas, check out our Phonics Pinterest Board!

Follow Amy – Wildflower Ramblings’s board Phonics Learning on Pinterest.

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  1. This sounds really similar to what I’m doing with my 3 year old. I am going really slow with him especially because he is only three- but he has that same desire to learn to read! A few weeks ago blending sounds to make CVC words finally clicked and he was estatic! We are using the 100 Lessons book a few times a week too, he just finished the lesson where you read your first “story”, so I really need to look into those easy readers. I’d love to hear more about the one you are creating!

    1. Liz, how wonderful!! Sounds like your son is really excelling with easing into reading! I am not near finished, but thanks for motivating me to work on them and put myself out there :)

  2. May I ask, what is the title of the mermaid book in the top picture? It looks like a book my daughter would like. Thank you.

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