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Preparing your child to read


Every parent wants his or her child to be a successful reader. Reading, after all, provides the foundation for a great education. It is also a lifelong skill that allows a person to gain knowledge or just read for fun. Research shows that there are things that you can do with your child at home from an early age to help him become a successful reader. The ideas in this handout are backed up by research. They should be helpful to parents and caregivers of young children just learning to read and also to children who are fluent readers.

When is my child ready to read?

Your child will be ready to learn the mechanics of reading when he:

  • Pretends to read or look at books;
  • Wants to be read to;
  • Has memorized favorite stories or rhymes;
  • Can recognize letters and know the sounds they make;
  • Wants to hear familiar stories over and over;
  • Turns the pages of the book;
  • Understands that print contains a message; and
  • Understands print concepts such as: top-to-bottom and left-to-right progression of letters and words.

Stages of reading development

Readers develop in 3 stages. Your child will show these stages of reading development as he begins to read and grow into a fluent reader. It is helpful to know at which stage your child is reading.

The first stage is what educators call the Pre-Reader stage. Children who are in this stage will show these reading behaviors:

  • Retelling favorite stories from memory
  • Aware of missing parts in the story when it is read to him
  • Understanding the difference between letters and words
  • Able to recognize a few beginner words
  • Knowing the sounds and names of the letters of the alphabet

Tips for parents at this stage

  • Read stories again and again. Your pre-reader enjoys repetition. It helps him become familiar with the way stories are put together.
  • Avoid baby talk. Speak to your child in grown-up language now, so she will recognize words she sees and hears in the classroom.
  • Emphasize rhythms and rhymes in stories. Give your child a chance to repeat rhyming phrases.
  • Leave out parts to favorite stories, and let your child fill in the missing parts.
  • Sing the alphabet song, and reinforce the sounds the letters make.
  • Set a good example by reading to your child every day.

The next stage in reading development is the Early Reader stage. Early readers begin to use strategies when they are reading. They will show these reading behaviors:

  • Taking an interest in reading on their own.
  • Reading word by word and using finger pointing when reading to keep place.
  • Self-correcting when they know they have made a mistake.
  • Recognizing and building a large vocabulary of sight words.
  • Using the sounds of the letters to read new words rather than using pictures from the story.
  • Using context clues from the story to read new or challenging words.

Tips for parents at this stage

  • Label things in the home such as the table, the refrigerator, doors, etc. Collect the labels and have your child put them back on the correct objects.
  • Ask your child to predict what might happen next while reading a story. Be sure to ask your child to give reasons for what he predicts.
  • Take turns reading a story with your child. Do not interrupt to correct mistakes that do not change the meaning.
  • Make sight word flash cards of words your child has trouble reading.
  • Keep reading to your child even when he can read. Read books that are too hard or long for him to read alone.

The third and final stage of reading development is the Fluent Reader stage. The fluent reader enjoys many types of books and shows these strategies and behaviors:

  • Reading silently without any help
  • Choosing books to read on his own that are at his reading level
  • Reading short and long chapter books
  • Recognizing a large number of sight words
  • Comparing books with other books he has read

Tips for parents at this stage

  • Ask your child to compare a book to another familiar book. How are the characters alike or different? Do the stories take place in similar settings? How are the illustrations the same or different?
  • Provide your child with a home dictionary and an encyclopedia. Encourage your child to look up subjects that puzzle or interest them.
  • Take turns reading a book with your child.
  • Set a good example as a reader. Read every day at home even if it is a magazine or newspaper.

Parents and caregivers play crucial roles in helping a student succeed from pre-school through high school. Encouraging your child to read at home is more important to his success as a student than income, education level, or cultural background.


To learn more about teaching your child to read, call Rehabilitation Services at 595-3621 or the St. Jude School Program at 595-2364. If you are inside the hospital, dial 3621. If you are outside the Memphis area, call toll-free 1-866-2ST-JUDE (1-866-278-5833), extension 3621 or 2364.


This document is not intended to take the place of the care and attention of your personal physician or other professional medical services. Our aim is to promote active participation in your care and treatment by providing information and education. Questions about individual health concerns or specific treatment options should be discussed with your physician.

St. Jude complies with health care-related federal civil rights laws and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, disability, or sex.

ATTENTION: If you speak another language, assistance services, free of charge, are available to you. Call 1-866-278-5833 (TTY: 1-901-595-1040).

ATENCIÓN: si habla español, tiene a su disposición servicios gratuitos de asistencia lingüística. Llame al 1-866-278-5833 (TTY: 1-901-595-1040).

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