The Missing Letter. I mentioned that we bought a puzzle with removable letters, and this was important because we could learn to recognize the way letters look. Removing all of the letters from their puzzle block, I would hold up a letter and ask my child if he knew which letter I had in my hand. Before placing the letter in its block, we discussed what sound the letter made, sometimes we traced the letter with our hands, and we would think of words beginning with that letter. 

Read, Read, and Read Some More. From infancy, we read to our son. Not only would we read the books, but we also would point to the pictures as we read. I would also point to each word as I read it aloud. Of course, a baby or toddler does not understand the word you are pointing to, but you are laying a foundation for future understanding as you do this. The same holds true for older children/beginner readers.

As you point to the words, your child begins to realize that we read from left to right. He will begin to see how each word you speak is represented by a unique combination of letters, on paper. Words such as a, the, or and will become sight words in his vocabulary, i.e., words he recognizes immediately by sight (without decoding the word, letter by letter or syllable by syllable).

If possible, try to find books whose illustrations are displayed above the words. The beginner reader books give children a sense of accomplishment, even if they are just “reading” the pictures. Find ways to encourage confidence in your child, as this will have such a positive impact on them.

Sounding the Syllables

Once your child can confidently identify the letters and letter sounds, have fun learning to read actual words. One activity to encourage three-letter word recognition would be to create word cards. Cut cardstock into 2-inch by 3.5-inch rectangles, as well as 3.5-inch by 5.5-inch rectangles. On the smaller cards, write the consonants, B through Z, in colored letters. On the larger cards, write suffixes, such as -at, -an, or -ar, on the right side of the card in black letters, leaving enough room for a beginning consonant letter card to be placed beside it, on the left side. By making the beginning letters different colors and writing all the suffixes in black, your child can learn to recognize the suffixes as ending sounds that are always the same. 

Example: Cat

Begin by introducing the -at card. Point to the -a and ask your child if he remembers what sound this letter makes. Once he says the correct sound, move along to the t sound. Slowly start saying the two sounds, one at a time, repeating the sounds time and time again, getting a little faster each time. Can the child hear the sound the two letters make together? Allow him time to think and process the sounds, and if you see your child needs a little help, say the two letters blended together slowly until he can discern the combined sound.

What’s next? Lots of cheering! Praise your child for reading the -at sound, and let him know that this puts him even closer to the goal of reading words!

Now the fun part is adding the consonant at the beginning. Hold up your C card and ask your child if he can tell you what letter he sees. What sound does the letter C make? Once he has identified the correct sound, place the C card on the left-hand side of your suffix card. Pointing to each letter, say each sound individually. Repeat this over and over, getting a little faster each time, and begin to blend the sounds together.

Can your child put together the sounds and answer “cat” yet? If not, don’t get frustrated; keep pointing and saying the letter sounds together. There may be days when your child tires out and gives up. At this point, reassure him that he is doing a great job, and step in with the correct word. Does this mean you can move on? Not really. Go back and let your child break apart the word a few more times by himself, reinforcing what he has learned.