Reading Tips for Teaching Kids at Home | United Way of Metropolitan Dallas

What Are the Best Ways for Parents to Teach Their Kids to Read? United Way of Metropolitan Dallas Has These Tips.

Research shows that early reading is an indicator for future success.

Here’s a hard fact: Children who don’t read on track by third grade have difficulty mastering academic content, succeeding in school and fulfilling their life’s potential. Early reading, says Abigail Sharp, vice president of early childhood initiatives at United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, impacts a child’s whole life.

That’s why our 2030 Aspire education goals include increasing the number of North Texas students reading on grade level by third grade by 50 percent over the next 10 years. And though COVID-19 may have exacerbated the digital divide in education this last year, the fact that parents are their children’s first teachers hasn’t changed.

Sharp says parents of children from birth to age 5 and older can help their kids learn to read—and then support them as they become lifelong reading enthusiasts. Children should know their letters and be emerging readers by the time they enter kindergarten. Teaching kids to read begins with a very simple formula.


For kids of every age, “our highest recommendation is that parents read, play, sing to their kiddos daily,” Sharp says. “It starts with that.”

Simply interacting with your child in a creative way lays the groundwork for early learning and encourages learning all along the way. A few ideas:

  • Get down on the floor and draw and color.
  • Sing the ABCs in the car and keep board books in the backseat for them to explore.
  • Read a short book before bed.
  • Build a living room fort of bedsheets and chairs, then get inside and make up a funny story.
  • Use shaving cream to write the alphabet in the bathtub.
  • Pull out your pots and wooden spoons and hold a kitchen concert before dinner.
  • Take a walk around the neighborhood and name all the dogs or plants you see.

Here are other tips to make learning a part of every day:


Talk, talk, talk. “What we tell parents is to narrate their day. Say, ‘Mommy’s making lunch for you. I am going to pull out the peanut butter. I am going to pull out the bread. Here’s a knife, and I’ll use it to spread the peanut butter on the bread.’ It feels silly, but this really helps grow vocabulary,” Sharp says.

Socialize. Take your child to the park several times a week or join play groups. Encourage your child to talk to adults whenever you’re out and find opportunities for them to play with children outside your household.

Create sensory experiences. Exploring taste, touch, smell, sight and hearing sparks curiosity and stimulates the imagination. Give a toddler finger paints, PlayDoh, shaving cream or sand. Blindfold your child and give them different foods to taste and guess or make homemade musical instruments with objects from around the house. You can even craft sock puppets and put on a puppet show!

Limit screen exposure. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screens for children younger than 2 months, except when they are video chatting with family members. It also recommends limiting screen time for those ages 2 to 5 to just one hour per day of high-quality children’s programming, such as Sesame Street.


Label things around the house. Write the names of things on sticky notes — door, drawer, bed, book. Each time your child uses something that has a label, have him or her look at the word and say it.

Make eye contact. Look directly at your child when you are talking to him or her. Teach them about the importance of sustained eye contact, which encourages conversation and helps children listen and retain information.

Take your child to the library. Yes, libraries are places to find books, but they can have so much more. Weekly story times are great for pre-K kids. Some libraries also offer crafting activities that deepen the interest in a particular book. As kids get older, they’ll be interested in summer reading challenges, book sales and other events that encourage curiosity and celebrate literacy. Libraries also offer free audio books which is another fun way for children to enjoy a story.


Form a relationship with your child’s teacher. Check in with the teacher periodically to see how your child is doing in school. Make time to meet with the teacher to review any assessments.

Set aside time to read at home every day. “In a preschool classroom, kiddos are getting exposure to reading, but it’s still a good idea for parents to engage with their kids by reading at home,” Sharp says. “Reading should be part of your daily routine.”

Pay attention to what interests your child. Is it submarines? Horses? Dinosaurs? Sports? Dolls? “Kids are going to be excited to read what they want to read, not just anything,” Sharp says. Be sure they have books on their favorite subjects.

Modeling reading. Children naturally mimic their parents and feel good about doing what grown-ups do, so sit with your child and read your own book while he or she reads.


Research shows that the size of a family’s home library impacts success in school, and that even as few as 20 books will improve a child’s reading success. But when United Way surveyed nearly 600 parents, the majority didn’t meet a threshold of 20 picture books for their young children.

The good news is that you can help North Texas parents help their children learn to read.

An easy way to be part of the change is to support our Once Upon a Month program. A $36 donation provides a child with one book a month for a year, along with parent guides in English and Spanish. Since May 2017, more than 12,000 children have received books through the program.

You can also help us spread the word about our partnership with Vooks, the leading streaming service for children’s books. Any parent or guardian of children in Dallas and surrounding areas, as well as early education teachers who work in North Texas, can sign up for a one-year subscription to Vooks. Subscriptions are free to anyone with kids ages 3 to 6.

These programs, along with our other efforts in the education space, help us effect lasting change right here at home. Thanks to dedicated supporters like you, together, we can put opportunity in the hands of all North Texans.

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United Way of Metropolitan Dallas is a community-based social change organization that puts opportunity in the hands of all North Texans. Working with our determined supporters, we lead the charge to improve education, income and health—the building blocks of opportunity. We invite all change-seekers in our community to Live United to achieve lasting results right here at home.

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This article was published on: Apr 14, 2021