This is the third post in a series of posts covering teaching literacy skills to young children at home. To see the home page for this series, click on “Teach Your Child Early Reading Skills

Teaching your child to read seems like a daunting task. But if you’ve read my previous two posts, and begun your journey, you’ve laid a great foundation. You are off to a fantastic start!

I debated a while on whether to put this post after or before “How to Teach Letter Sounds”. In my personal experience, teaching my daughter to read and teaching professionally in a preschool, sight words come into play almost from the very beginning. The first letters both of my children learned were M, D, and R, which are the “special letters” that begin the names of the special people in our family: Mama, Daddy, and both of my children’s names begin with R. So you see, I would always write out and say the letters of our names, but then I went back and pointed out our special letters. The child was almost always shown the entire word in addition to being given the information that the one letter at the beginning is special and has a name to remember. In this way, you’re teaching about the building blocks of reading and words.

  1. Words are made up of letters.
  2. Letters have names.
  3. A group of letters come together to make up different words.
  4. By pointing to the first letter in the names you write, you reinforce directionality, that we read left to right.

I know that all sounds complicated. But honestly, all you did was write out a name while saying the letters and then point to the first letter. You can TOTALLY do that! It becomes a habit whenever we pull out any sort of art project or play with chalk outside.

So, your child’s first sight words are names! And not just any names, but their name and the names of their family members. This is where you start teaching letter sounds from as well, from the knowledge a child has about sight words.

How to reinforce learning sight words

Write your child’s name often! I already mentioned that your child’s name is their first sight word, but if they don’t see it often it won’t be! So label their artwork when they’re sitting with you and post it to the wall where they can see it. Label their coats and back pack so that they don’t get lost but also for another meaningful way for the child to see their name written out.

In the toddler room I worked in, we also labeled water bottles so they didn’t get mixed up, but at the same time the kids learned to find their own names when they were looking for their water.

Point out environmental print as you notice it: street signs (STOP), logos, restaurant names, menus, food labels, the name of a favorite sports team on the television or other item.  Get REALLY excited when you notice environmental print that starts with your child’s special letter. Notice these things and make it a habit to point them out, reinforcing them as important with your child. I know this takes some retraining of your brain in some ways , but believe me it is worth the effort. All the tiny things you do throughout your day will add up to big break throughs for your child without hardly thinking of about it as these things become habit for you. 

Read Menus together, ask your child if they see anything that looks good and give them a chance to explore things on their own.

A cute small girl with mother indoors at home, playing with toy binoculars.

Make Word Walls: for both my children, I wrote out on a large sheet of paper all the words they could say and posted it on the wall. Make a word wall related to all the fruits and vegetables your child likes or all the places you go! You can make word walls for anything! Later you’ll create word walls to show word families such as words that start a certain way or share other characteristics.

Make labels for items around your house – I know this sort of makes your house feel like a preschool, but when I became a stay at home mom my home sort of became my classroom. There’s a reason we do this in preschools and in elementary schools, to build sight word recognition, so take note! As soon as your child stops noticing the labels, or you stop pointing them out, you can take them down. I promise they won’t last forever.

You can use index cards to create easy labels or just cut pieces of tape and write words with a sharpie marker. I suggest not making too many, because then they’re easily lost in a sea of words. Focus on around 3 to 5 labels to start: sink, trash, gate, door, kitchen. If you have something you think makes sense to label that shares the first letter of your child’s name DEFINITELY do that!

I also label some toy containers using tape. I store blocks in plastic containers to rotate and put tape labels on them to reinforce sight words.

Remember, it’s not enough just to have the labels in your house. They need to see the label, AND hear you say the word as you’re pointing to it MANY, MANY times before it has an impact. This is one reason you forget that you’re teaching, you just get in the habit of doing little things until one day it seems to click for your child out of nowhere!

When drawing with markers or crayons, write out the words of the colors in the color marker that matches. I write red in red marker. I write yellow with a yellow marker and so on and so on. It’s a subtle, easy way to promote sight words. Of course, don’t forget to write your child’s name too!

Make grocery lists together! Write your child’s favorite fruit on your grocery list and say, “Ooo do you know what this one says?! It starts with b- (say the sound B makes) It says bananas! We’re going to get more bananas at the store!!” (Inset happy dance)

Write Your Child’s Words. Whenever we are giving someone a  card, for whatever occasion, I ask my children what they want to say in the card and write it out for them and point to the words saying “Those are YOUR words!”

I also often add words to their pictures, asking them to describe what they’ve made and writing out their words exactly. After writing their words, I re-read the words back to them, pointing at each words as I read.

Create a paddle to play a Stop/Go Game. Essentially you are playing the childhood game “Red Light Green Light” but using a paddle to show the words, stop and go, to let your child know what to do and reinforce these two words as sight words. Adding literacy to a large motor activity is a way to maximize retention.

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Use a pocket activity cube to make multiple games using words and pictures, and eventually just words. Write action words on pieces of paper and slip them into the pockets of the cube. You can use words like jump, spin, dance, squat, march, etc. Have your child roll the cube. Read the cube together then do the action its telling you to do. You can add early math skills too if you add a number cube to your game. Roll both dice and one tells you how many times and the other tells you what to do!

I really recommend buying this set because of the multiple games you can create with them and the fact that they can grow to learn different concepts with as your child grows. Buy them here: pocket activity cube set. As a baby, you can simply put pictures inside and then use them as stacking blocks! Put pictures of family members inside, or put pictures of various animals to teach animal names and sounds. When children are older you can make two dice with numbers and they can add the numbers together!

Whenever you create racetracks, or board games, include the words Start and Finish to add these sight words to your child’s repertoire. Basically whenever you can incorporate words into your child’s play it is a good thing and this is an extremely easy way to include sight words, that adds meaning and value to your child’s play. The goal is to show a child how reading and words enhance and add to their play. Otherwise, why would a child be interested?!

Can you see how sight words and learning letter sounds is intertwined? The two concepts support one another. As you show a child a word, repeat the first sound, say the word, then state what the word starts with. For example, when looking at a stop sign, this is how to reinforce sight words, letter recognition, and letter sounds all at the same time:

“S-s-stop. Look it starts with the letter S!”

Regulatory signs, red stop traffic sign

It is truly that simple! The key is making it a habit in your life to notice and point out words that are meaningful to your child and help enhance their world. Learning should always have meaning. Remember how frustrating it was as a child to be sitting in class and thinking “when am I seriously ever going to need this in real life?!” I was motivated to get a letter grade. I can tell you with certainty, in times like those I attempted to memorize simply for a test and then forget everything the teacher had just taken the time to teach me.

Your child is not motivated by letter grades. They are naturally curious and want to learn all about their worlds! They WANT to know important, interesting things that add value to their lives and the lives of the important adults around them! So let them see you reading, getting important information from print. Don’t just read the “Store Closed” sign in your head, show them that print is meaningful and important to your life too. Show your child the important words that can help them to navigate the world.

I promise the effort you take in changing your mindset and daily patterns will not be in vain. All the effort you take in teaching your child will be worth it!

You CAN teach your child to read! I believe in you!

Additional Resources to Explore

For more ideas on how to teach site words in a fun, play-filled way, check out this post by Mama Rohrer’s Pride at:

I really enjoyed this post and will be using many of the ideas with my own children! Worth it to check it out! There are so many ideas of ways to incorporate sight word practice using games to engage your child!

To continue on in this series about teaching reading skills, click HERE. The next post covers teaching letter sounds.

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