How To Teach: 2 Year Old To Read (An Overview)

A toddler reading a book

Sometimes, just living with a two-year-old is challenging enough without adding more mayhem to the mix. As parents, though, we want to give our children the best start in life we can, regardless of how difficult it might be.

Maybe you’ve studied up and understand how important early childhood education is and have decided you want to teach your 2-year-old to read. So did I. And…I did!

Be warned that you’ll probably encounter some of the same reactions I did: “Are you crazy?” and “Two-year-olds can’t learn to read.”

Rest assured that yes, 2 year olds can be taught reading skills. The trick is learning how to teach them.

Why Teach Your 2-Year-Old to Read?

I’m sure you’ve noticed – two-year-olds are all over the place. They are into everything. But did you know their little brains are busy too? According to a 1997 study1, the brain of a two-year-old is as active as an adult is. By age three, their minds are twice as active as an adult’s. You might say the brain of a two-year-old is fertile ground just waiting for seeds to be planted.

National Education Association studies have proven that reading to your child of any age is one of the best ways you can boost the likelihood they will succeed academically. When you teach your child to read, the chances are even higher that they will excel in school and after that as well.

Why teach your 2-year-old to read? When the signs are all there that your little one is ready and able to learn, why wouldn’t you?

Is My 2 Year Old Ready to Read?

No two children are the same, especially two-year-olds. While one toddler might be recognizing letters & their sounds as early as one year of age, some three and four-year-olds are far too preoccupied or unfocused to do so.

If your two-year-old is soaking it all in when you read to them and is interacting by pointing out words, letter sounds, or even pictures, odds are you can start teaching and get them ready for the next level – to do the reading themselves. After all, just in case you haven’t noticed, that’s being two is all about doing things on their own.

Two-year-olds can learn to read, as shown by the Children Learning Reading program. See our article to learn more.

Am I Ready to Teach my Child to Read?

No matter what age your child is, teaching them to read is a commitment. It requires time, patience, and love. You’ll need to be willing and able to set aside a portion of quality time regularly. Brushing up (or learning) some basic reading techniques, like phonics, letter sounds, songs, and coding, is optimal. Teaching your two-year-old doesn’t happen magically, but it is magical when kids become readers.

How to Teach Your 2-Year-Old to Read

Teaching a child of any age to read takes a little preparedness. Since two-year-olds are from a different planet entirely, you may want to spend a little extra time getting in the right place, both mentally and physically. Here are some terrific tips:

Setting the Stage

Many people are skeptics when it comes even to believe that a two-year-old can read; a good number of parents don’t prepare their children for reading until their children are older. By leading the way and developing the path, however, it is very likely your little one will naturally follow along.

One of the best methods to use is phonemic awareness. We’ve written up a brief guide to this method, you can see it here.

Research on phonemic awareness shows that this approach is better rather than just being told to memorize sight words.

Lead Up to Lessons

From the time my daughter was born, I began to lead up to the day I (or someone) would teach her to read. I read aloud to her for 10-15 minutes every day in a way that involved her. Reading to her was always an interactive experience – I asked questions, made comments, and made story time enjoyable with sounds and gestures.

I also made sure to expose her to plenty of writing and books. I often showed her the wooden letters of the alphabet on her bedroom wall that spelled out her name and told her the letter sounds and what they spelled.

We made word games out of most everything we did together like spelling out words onto brightly colored sticky notes and placing them on coordinating objects like “doll,” “book,” and even on the “dog.”

The alphabet and words became familiar, and when that happens, the scene was correctly set for my child to read and it will be for yours too.

Keep Your Child in the Loop

Communication is vital when it comes to teaching your child anything. Get your child excited by letting them know they are going to learn to read. Tell them when and how too. You know a two-year-old wants to know all the details and about the books they’re going to see!

Do What You Need to Do

You can’t give out what you do not have. Just keeping track of a two-year-old can be mentally and physically exhausting, much less adding on the task of teaching your child to read.

Be sure you are getting some good “me” time in. Get a manicure. Treat yourself to a cappuccino. Take a nap, read some books yourself. Do whatever it is you do for you and then. You’ll be refueled and ready to roll.

Don’t Be Afraid to Reach Out

If you are a teacher, chances are you’ve got the reading thing down and don’t need any assistance. But those of us who don’t often need a little help. Some of us need a lot of support!

Don’t be afraid to ask a friend who has taught their child to read for pointers or to go online to find out how others mastered the plan. If you are considering using an early childhood reading program in your venture, don’t feel bad.

There are some great ones out there that can work wonders for teaching even two-year-olds to read. Do your research, reach out if you feel the need, and do whatever you find necessary or helpful to teach your little one to read.

For a comprehensive reading program, see our in-depth review of the Children Learning Reading program.

Flash Forward

Two-year-olds can be very head-strong. Five years down the road, this attribute can be a good thing (ok, let’s give it ten). The less you focus on the trials of the moment and look toward the future, the more encouraged you will be. Who knows what all your labor of love might bring to the life of your child in the days to come.

Lights, Camera, Action

With everything in place, you and your child are set up for success. Here are some easy steps to teach your child to read.


Two-year-olds love familiar things. The more you can have reading lesson time at the same time in the same place, the better. It’s even okay to use the same book for a while. Sound out the words and letters of the alphabet with your child while showing them the letters.

Using phonics and coding together is very useful. Be sure not to do all the work yourself. Interaction is the name of the game.


Two-year-olds have a short attention span. Keep lesson time simple and keep the time short. When your little one loses focus, you’ll know the class is over. Unrealistic expectations shouldn’t be placed on a youngster, especially with hard books.

By doing so, you could be setting your child up for failure rather than success. Fear and disappointment spur learning blocks. Praise encourages success.


Two-year-olds love to have fun and play. Anything can be made fun so be sure their first exposure to reading is sheer joy. Lots of laughter is undoubtedly in order because learning to read and exploring books is loads of fun when you make it that way.


Fidgeting and play is as essential for a two-year-old to do as breathing is. They will wiggle and scoot and run off for a minute only to return to wiggle some more. You’ll need to get on their level to meet them where they are.

It’s alright for your child to move around, to ask questions, and to learn however they naturally need to. When learning to read it’s ok for a two-year-old to be a two-year-old.


After repetitively being shown alphabet letters and words and being taught to sound out and recognize the words and letters, your little one will begin to repeat the words.

Some of this can be their sharp memory skills in motion. You’ll be tempted, like I was, to think it is only from memory. But, here is the real test the finale.

Give your child a fresh, new book. At first, your child may panic. Something is different, and two-year-olds don’t always like change. Once they warm up though, wait for it, wait for it, boom!

When your two-year-old begins to read words he or she has never seen or heard before, you will know that you know your child can read. And you are the one that has taught them. Get out the tissues!

Plan that outing at the park or whatever it is your child loves to do. A celebration is in order!

And they said it wasn’t possible. Well, I am here to tell you it can be. Two-year-olds can, indeed, learn to read. Mine did, and yours can learn too.

“The End” is Just the Beginning

There is nothing like hearing your very own child read through an entire book or story to hear the most precious words ever, “The end.” Teaching your two-year-old to read is a reward like none other. Don’t stop there though. It is essential for your child to read regularly, every day if possible.

Bump the difficulty level up a notch now and then. Challenge your child and encourage them. Most importantly of all, give both yourself and your two-year-old a big pat on the back for a most excellent job done. Now, move on to the next chapter of your story.

A Comprehensive Learning Reading Program

For more info on a program to teach your child to read, check out our writeup.

References: 1Shore, R. (1997). Rethinking the Brain: New Insights into Early Development. New York: Families and Work Institute.

National Education Studies –

Cheryl Jerabek

Cheryl Jerabek lives in a tiny remote town in Southwestern Colorado. She writes full-time from her cabin nestled in the mountains. She often expresses how lucky she feels to be able to do what she loves from a setting that looks like a postcard. When she’s not writing, Cheryl loves hanging out with her husband and two grown children, her dog, Joe, and adores spending time with her three grandchildren.

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