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Five Literacy Tips for Parents

early literacy tips and tricks for parents

My approach to early literacy is inspired by the way I learned to read – and reinforced by the way my first three children have learned to read. It’s somewhat unconventional, but we have found it to be a very low-stress way for a child to learn to read – one that has worked very well for us!

Here are my top five literacy tips for parents:


  • Literacy begins with mathematics. Not a popular idea in the math-fearing United States of America, but true. Children learn to recognize patterns long before they recognize letters – and recognizing patterns is a key part of learning to read. Sixteen-month-old Anna already knows when one of the three small plastic babies that sit in my bag for out-of-home entertainment are missing. She also notices when we change something around the house, and which clothing belongs to which child – even socks and underwear. Math is everywhere, and an awful lot of math is fun! You can promote literacy by giving your child lots of math manipulatives to play with: blocks, pattern blocks, beads, and little counters. You don’t need to give them problems to solve – they will create those for themselves.

  • The easiest way to teach letters is to have them present. Emma, Johnny, and Lily have learned their letters simply by having them present – and I remember learning the alphabet as a child because my former elementary school teacher mother had them up on cards in our playroom. I love puzzles that feature the alphabet like this My First Alphabet Puzzle from ALEX Toys (sent to us by ALEX Toys), because the letters cannot be reversed, and children get to practice using logic (fitting the pieces together) while learning the shapes of the letters. And, most importantly, puzzles are fun! It’s okay if a puzzle piece gets used as a goofy eye patch. This teaches kids that letters are something that we play with, and enjoy – so that, later on, they can learn to enjoy playing with words!


  • Limit screen time. I’m not anti-television and definitely not anti-technology, but I think it’s great to limit them so that kids can learn to entertain themselves. Children learn by playing! I think well-designed apps are brilliant – but not at the cost of time spent exploring the world at a child’s pace. We left our TV in Massachusetts, and – while we may get another one, eventually – I don’t miss it. The kids do watch movies – usually Kipper, Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, Little Pim (French and Spanish), or Reading Rainbow – on our computer through our (This post may contain affiliate links which won’t change your price but will share some commission.) Amazon Prime account.


  • It’s okay if your child is not an early reader. I spent my early childhood years being unschooled, back before the term even existed! My mother called her philosophy of education “school can wait”. Several of my siblings and I didn’t start school until 2nd or 3rd grade – learning to read only weeks before entering school. We did very little academic learning at home, but never had trouble catching up (and exceeding) grade level once we started school. I decided I wanted to start school when I was seven years old. My mother was dealing with a very difficult pregnancy/birth, and we had just moved. She handed me phonics worksheets and tapes, and my younger brother and I sat and did them together. We both learned to read – he was four; I was seven – and I was one of the best readers in my class when I started school a few weeks later. If you are concerned about learning disabilities, I’m all for looking into that possibility and getting help – but I think it is also important to understand that different children develop different skills at different times. My kids have all learned to read at very young ages, but gross motor skills have presented more of a challenge.

  • Read to your child. I think this is the most important part of raising a reader! Some adults read more easily (and more entertainingly) than others, but all parents should read to their kids! Reading wordless picture books also counts as reading – as does flipping through a board book out of order talking about the pictures! Read books to your child that are above their reading level – especially if they are older. Those early readers can be a littler frustrating to be stuck in! I have a friend who learned to read in spite of pretty severe dyslexia because her mother started reading Lord of the Rings to her when she was in fourth grade. She wanted to find out what happened next without having to wait for her mom to read the next chapter, so she found a way to read them herself! Emma had a big reading breakthrough because I was reading the Ramona series out loud – and she decided to find out for herself what would happen next!

What are your best literacy tips for parents? How did your kids learn to read? How did you learn to read – do you remember?

MaryAnne lives is a craft loving educator, musician, photographer, and writer who lives in Silicon Valley with her husband Mike and their four children.

24 thoughts on “Five Literacy Tips for Parents”

  1. Great list! I worked so hard on reading with Tyler and Collin at early ages, and did not work with Reagan much at all. Funny enough, she is my strongest reader at this age.

    We are fortunate to have a good emphasis on math in our schools, and great advanced math programs. I have to say that math makes me dizzy and I was an honors math student. I know it has a lot to do with the way math was taught to me. I try to hide my math dizziness from my kids.

  2. Great tips! I never thought about starting with math before teaching your kids literacy. Like you I limit my kids television time. I usually play music during the day from Pandora so that the Television shows are turned off. My kids also love sitting in front of the computer so I only allow a half an hour a day of computer time. Have a Happy and safe New Year!

  3. I don’t remember how I learned to read, but my husband remembers learning by being read to especially by his older siblings. Definitely surrounding our home with letters and words has been key. We used alphabet magnets to first really introduce letters and sounds to our toddler. And yes we didn’t do TV or any screen time (phones, ipads, etc) with our kiddo for at least two years and he could care less about it now. And yea he can read pretty long words without them!

  4. I love this post – I don’t really remember learning to read but I do remember reading about Dick, Jane & Spot. I never really thought about the math/reading connection but it makes a lot of sense. I’m working on reading with my oldest and I’m realizing that I over thought it and worried about it way too much.

  5. Christine M. (Cool Mom) - Tech Support for Stanley & Katrina

    I think the last one is the REAL key (my opinion). Tons of books in your home (owned or library) and read, read, read, read! Visit the library and read some more. I don’t know about the math thing but while math facts still give her trouble, she’s advanced there, so that might be the case.
    I have a daughter that broke many of the “rules”. I had more than a few people tell me she would never read or just have a really hard time with it b/c she skipped crawling and was walking at 9 months. She may have some fine motor issues but trust me, reading was never a problem for her.

    I love your posts! Have a wonderful New Year!

    1. I find that most kids break at least some of the “rules” – we are all different! I agree that having lots of books available is one of the easiest ways to encourage reading!

  6. I still remember the book I learned to read on…There Are Rocks In My Socks, Said The Ox To The Fox. It’s a bit of a mouthful but I loved that book so my Mom would read it to me often. I worried about my boy when he could barely read right before his 3rd grade year of school. He did 3 weeks of Summer school with my mother-in-law and everything clicked. Now I can usually find him with his head buried in a book. He loves to read! He got several books for Christmas and those were the gifts he was most excited about. I think pushing kids before they’re ready can hinder them. The last thing I wanted to do was hinder my boy from loving to read!

  7. For our family, phonics (specifically Jolly Phonics) and music (strongly correlated with patterns and math) have contributed to eager and successful readers.

    How do you facilitate letter recognition? Do you say the letter name, the sound(s) it makes, or just let them get used to the pattern of lines and curves on their own?

    I think I learned to read at Kindergarten. My two-years-younger sister learned to read by watching me practice at home.

    1. From what I’ve learned on your blog (and through internet searches after seeing your posts) the Jolly Phonics syste sounds great! I agree that music can help prepare kids for reading!

      I haven’t made a big effort to facilitate letter recognition, although I have told our kids the names and sounds when they showed an interest. I find that they pick it up almost instantly when they are ready to.

  8. Emma @ P is for Preschooler

    I’m not a professional, I don’t have any special knowledge about early childhood learning, but I think the best way to promote literacy is reading to children. Make it a special time, cuddling up and putting aside everything else. And I also like your suggestion to just have letters around. Even if you’re not focused on “teaching” the letters, kids still will become familiar with them and that’s a start!

  9. Wonderful tips! I am pinning to my “Learning to read” board. I never thought about pattern recognition and reading but agree whole-heartedly with your points.

  10. I really like your first idea about connecting math and reading. I think you are dead on about recognizing patterns and it’s a nice connect for also being exposed to math.

  11. I totally agree with all of these – especially the idea that literacy begins with mathematics. After all, decoding language and math are both organized systems. Although it’s interesting that you say the US hates math, because I would say the opposite. I would say the US hates art.

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