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You know there are kids who learn to read on their own, even before kindergarten. How can you make that happen for your child? What’s the trick?

Here’s what we know about spontaneous reading: kids who learn to read on their own are not smarter than other kids; they have not been taught to read;  and their parents do not spend any money on fancy programs or classes.

This means that any child – including your child – might be able to teach himself to read before kindergarten without any special effort on your part. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have anything to do. Here are five easy steps to follow.

  1. Making reading what your family does. If the adults in your household are “not readers” then you’ve got to change that. Kids do what their parents do, and reading is not just a “school skill.” So let your kids see you reading. Read to them at every opportunity during the day – just reading at bedtime is not enough. And always have books on hand. Get a library card. Making reading what your family does.
  2. Talk with your child. The more words your child hears and the more words your child uses when she talks, the easier it will be for her to learn to read on her own. The biggest difference between kids who do well in kindergarten and kids who don’t is the number of words they know. The more you and your child talk together – about anything and everything – the bigger her vocabulary and the readier she’ll be to read.
  3. Talk about words and letters. Notice signs for Target and McDonald’s and see if your child can “read” them. Point out the first letter of his name and hunt for that letter in other places. Read ABC books and let your child learn the alphabet. Point out interesting words in the books you read together. The idea that written words represent spoken words is an idea your child will pick up if you help to make the connection.
  4. Play with letter sounds and words every day. Make a game thinking of things that start with the letter B or the letter S or whatever. Make a game thinking of words that rhyme. Play with language when you’re riding in the car or waiting for the bus or sitting in a restaurant waiting for your food. Start to build a reading vocabulary with the signs you see every day like “bus stop” and “no parking” and “stop.”
  5. Let your child read in bed. Every child I’ve ever known who taught himself to read was allowed to take books to bed and had a reading light or flashlight to read by. In the quiet time before sleep, children repeat to themselves the stories they love and start to make the connection between the print on the page and the words in their heads. Kids who love reading read in bed.

Do these things and your child will either learn to read before kindergarten or will be ready to learn to read in kindergarten. You will be giving your child the best chance of loving to read.

But there is one thing you must not do:

Do not “teach” your child to read. The moment you make learning to read your project reading is no longer your child’s discovery. Reading becomes something to feel anxious about and something to fail. Don’t get flashcards. Don’t buy workbooks. Don’t sit down to teach. None of that. Don’t compare your child with the child next door, since every child will follow her own path.

Just strew that path with words and books. Make it easy to figure out how to unlock the code. Then step back and see what happens.