Literacy Helping Your Four-Year-Old Become a Reader

Young children are all "pre-readers" who pick up clues about reading from their environment. This is great news for parents — you already have everything you need to help your child succeed. Four-year-olds are curious explorers who want to understand their world — and books can help! When you read to and talk with your child, you build key early reading skills. As children's author Emilie Buchwald wrote, "Children are made readers on the laps of their parents." This is a great age to help your child recognize letter sounds, identify letters and build vocabulary.

Simple ways to help your child build reading skills:

Find Funny Books

Kids like to read funny books! A whopping 70 percent of kids say they want books that make them laugh, according to Scholastic's Kids and Family Reading Report. Check out this list of fifteen books to get the whole family giggling.

Super Why! Saves the Day

Super Why needs the help of your super reader to fix silly stories with new words that your child reads and spells.

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Finish That Rhyme

Nursery rhymes aren't just catchy — they are amazing tools for helping kids recognize rhyme and "end sounds." Here are a few rhymes to teach your child:

  • The Itsy Bitsy Spider 
  • Hickory, Dickory Dock
  • Mary Had a Little Lamb
  • Baa, Baa Black Sheep
  • Humpty Dumpty
  • Hey Diddle Diddle
  • Jack and Jill

After your child is familiar with a few rhymes, pause when you get to the final word in a line and let your child finish it. For example: "Hickory, dickory _____; The mouse ran up the _______." Point out that "dock" sounds like "clock" and see if your child can come up with other words that rhyme.

Super Grover in The Nick of Rhyme

Super Grover is here to save the day! Your child can help Grover find missing items by choosing the correct rhyming words.

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Reading on the Go!

As you run errands together, point out signs and symbols, from traffic signs to the names of businesses to flyers at the store. For example, you might say, "Look at this flyer! It says there's a sale on fruit today. Can you find the word 'banana'? Look for the letter B."

Car Trip

Get the whole family involved in this game to play in the car! Your child can learn new words and practice map reading skills while you go from place to place.

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Be a Role Model

Finally, don't forget to be a reader and writer yourself. One of the most effective ways to help children become readers and writers is to show them through your own example that you value literacy — and that reading and writing have useful purposes. Keep books and writing materials in the home, and talk to your child about what you are doing when you read and write.

Play Pretend: Encouraging Your Little Chef

Your child can create his own kooky recipes by describing, writing and illustrating the needed ingredients and procedures.

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Read to Your Child

Reading aloud to kids is "the single most important activity for building knowledge for their eventual success in reading," according to a landmark study. When kids sit next to a caring adult and hear engaging stories, they develop positive associations with books and build their vocabulary and comprehension skills. For helpful hints about how to make the most out of read-aloud time, click here.

My Very Own Ug Book

Your child can develop rhyming skills by making a book of words that rhyme.

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Keep Books in Easy Reach

Make it easy for your child to explore books. Keep a basket of books at kid level or in a "book bag" in the car for kids to flip through on rides. Place a couple of books at the foot of the bed for your child to look at first thing in the morning. Make a small reading corner or nook for your child — something as simple as a few pillows, soft blanket and a stack of library books. In other words, make books an ordinary and essential fixture in your home.

Neighborhood Clean Up

Daniel, Katerina, and their neighbors work together to clean up their playground. Your child can learn about recycling, community involvement, and reading skills in this story.

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Connect Books to Real Life

Skilled readers make connections between what they read in books and the world around them. When you read books with your child, look for connection points.

  • That character reminds me of your Uncle Juan! They both love telling funny stories.
  • She's sure a picky eater — just like your little brother. 
  • He's afraid there's a monster under his bed. When I was little, I used to think a monster lived in the washing machine because it made loud noises when my mom turned it on!
  • Oh, they are going to the hospital. Do you remember when you went to the hospital to get stitches?

Creating Memorization Skills Through Play

Playing pretend restaurant can be fun and help build memory and literacy skills.

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Fill Your Home with Letters

To help young children become comfortable with letters, keep a few alphabet sets around the house that your child can touch and manipulate, such as alphabet blocks, foam letters for the bathtub, ABC puzzles, magnetic refrigerator letters, alphabet board books or letter stamps.

Twinkle Twinkle

Decorating your child's ceiling while practicing alphabet concepts is as easy as A, B ,C when you and your child create a nighttime star scene using the alphabet and lots of sparkle.

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Play "What Else" and "What If"?

Before kids recognize letters, they can recognize sounds. Help them connect sounds to letters. This can be as simple as saying, "I like ba-ba-ba-bananas and ba-ba-ba-baseball. What do you like that begins with the letter B?" You can also practice manipulating word sounds by replacing the opening sound of a word with a new sound. For example, you might say, "What if every name in our family began with the /w/ sound? Mommy would be called . . . Wommy! And Grandma would be Wandma!" Or "What if all the food at the table started with the /t/ sound? This pickle would be a . . . tickle!"

Pig's Perfect Pizza

Pig is making a pizza with toppings that start with the same letter. To help Pig make a perfect pizza, your child can match words that begin with the same sound.

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Talk About What They Are Watching

Television shows and movies tell stories, and understanding the structure of stories builds reading comprehension. So talk to your kids about what they are watching. Who is their favorite character? Was any part scary or surprising? What happened at the beginning, middle and end? For example, if you are watching Curious George together, you may say, "There's that monkey again. I wonder what he is going to be curious about today?" After the show, talk about favorite moments: "Remember how the monkey dug a hole and then the hat fell in? That was funny!"

Radio Martha

In this game from Martha Speaks, your child can practice listening skills by carefully listening to Martha's radio and then picking 5 pictures that match the theme.

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Use Stories as a Springboard for Pretend Play

Children will delight in taking on the roles of favorite characters, whether it's Fancy Nancy or Pete the Cat. In addition to acting out favorite scenes, they can create new ones of their own. Play can help children develop skills that are fundamental to reading by stimulating language development and the creative use of words. Moreover, as they create new worlds, they begin to gain an understanding of characters, the structure of stories and point of view.

Keep Trying! Create a “Tightrope” to Talk About Practice

Walking on a masking tape "tightrope" can help your child build confidence, concentration, and coordination while encouraging imagination through pretend play.

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Raise a Reader with Sesame Street

On this very special street, children learn early language and literacy skills such as letter knowledge, vocabulary, and reading and writing fundamentals.

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Activity Finder: Learn With Your Four-Year-Old

Explore our Age-by-Age Guide: