Teaching a Pre-Schooler to Read for The Washington Post

During an observation day at my son’s yochien, my friend translated for me that the teacher was splitting the kids into two groups: those who could read, and those who were still learning.


Much to my surprise, my three-year-old American son fell into the first group. MBH and I were delighted, and more than a little shocked. We practiced his katakana and hiragana alphabets with him, sure, but that’s because we were also learning. We were completely blown away when his skills surpassed ours, and it’s something I’m amazed by to this day.

When it came time to teach him English, we were similarly amazed by the sheer difficulty of our language. Why is there a ‘k’ in knife? Why does ‘igh’ make an ‘I’ sound? Why do tomb and bomb not rhyme? NO ONE KNOWS!


After a few days of these frustrations (which admittedly, were entirely mine), I felt there had to be a better way. I used the Google machine to explore the interwebs, and found this gem of a video that breaks down the phonics involved in English better than I’d been doing on my own, and led to a rabbit hole of phenomenal teaching videos, some of which  are also perfect for our morning dance party routine.

It was the piece we’d been missing. We read widely, and diversely (make sure you do too! Show your kids positive examples across culture, gender, and races every chance you can!) and we visit the library twice a week to stock up on more books. My son’s TBR pile is larger than mine, and I’m not exaggerating. Suddenly, though, words were coming easier to him, and at four-and-a-half, he was reading!

Many have written about what a bittersweet milestone it is when your child learns to read. For the first time, their world isn’t through your voice and your eyes. They are taking their first steps away from you, and their possibilities become vast and limitless. Reading is a powerful thing. Generations of people worldwide have taught themselves in secret, studied by hidden candlelight, and fought for the ability to access the world through words. It’s a heavy responsibility, and one that I take seriously. We have such a limited time to exclusively shape their worldviews, and I want to give both children the best foundation I can.

We listened to the audiobook of Peter Pan a few months ago, and I wrote about what happened when we unexpectedly came across the racial slurs within for The Washington Post – spoiler: it’s hard to have hard conversations, but they’re so necessary, especially as our kids learn to read on their own, encountering ideas and powerful words we haven’t yet prepared them to handle, and it really strikes home exactly how short (and important!) the time is when your kids are learning only from you.

It’s an awe-inspiring journey, helping children learn to read, and I’m so proud of my son for taking the first steps forward on his own, even though they’re beginning to be on his own (cue sobs!).

If you liked this piece for The Washington Post, check out my other work for them, as well as my writing for TODAYPOPSugar, and SavvyTokyo!

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