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How My Two Four-Year-Old Boys Learned to Read

How two of my boys learned to read at age four.

Can a four-year-old learn to read? And more importantly, should they? Here are my thoughts as a mom of two four-year-old boys who learned to read…and are now 22 and 15-years-old.

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Hezekiah, age 4, can read!
Hezekiah, age four

Originally written in 2008:

Four-year-old Hezekiah can read. And it came on rather suddenly. Hezekiah has known all of his letters and sounds for a few months now. He can do the normal pre-reader things like recognize his name, or family names, and a handful of other words, but hasn’t done any decoding yet.

The day after a trip to the dentist with some significant work getting done, I was in my room resting. In crept Hezzy with our battered copy of Teach Your Child to Read. He decided, on his own, that he wanted to learn to read. I was feeling okay, so I decided to do a lesson or two with him.

Hezekiah ended up whipping through the first twenty lessons in about half an hour. The very next day we went through the next twenty lessons. That’s right, forty lessons in two days. That was a little over two weeks ago, and he continues to make rapid progress. How well is he reading, you ask? While we are only halfway through Teach Your Child to Read, he now picks out words everywhere. In books, on signs as we are driving. He sits on my lap as I blog (or look at blogs) and is reading words on the computer (so keep it clean, Folks).

Homeschooling with anxiety is a daily challenge and keeps me busy finding activities for Apollo.

My Two Four-Year-Old Readers Were Boys

Interestingly, Hezekiah was not our first four-year-old to learn to read. And more interestingly, my other four-year-old reader (against all conventional wisdom) was also a boy.

When Judah was four years and one month old, I finally gave in to his constant begging, decided I would start going through the book Teach Your Child to Read with him. He has observed his older sister, Adalia learn to read, and was determined to tackle the skill himself. I decided that if and when he lost interest we would simply put it aside. Much to my surprise, he was reading after his very first lesson. To this day, I have no idea how he learned his letter sounds, but the fact is he was developmentally ready at age four, and when we sat down to learn, he picked it up with almost no effort.

But What Books Does a Four-Year-Old Read?

By four and a half, Judah was reading chapter books. In fact, it was a problem because there are very few chapter books written that are appropriate for four-year-olds, but a  kid who can read that well isn’t exactly interested in Dick and Jane. While at the time (and even now) I would love to claim that my children are geniuses, the truth is studies show that the age at which a child learns to read has no bearing down the line, on how well they read. They almost always even out.*

*the truth is, while I originally wrote those words in 2008, Judah and Hezekiah are now 22 and 15-years-old. If I were comparing my kids (which I try not to do) across the board, based on IQ, these two are definitely two of the smartest. So while studies may show reading levels eventually even out, my early readers are definitely more academically inclined and conventionally “intelligent”.

Enoch, age nine, reading Jurassic Park

And while Enoch could read technically at age six, he was not comfortable and reading independently until age eight. By age 8 1/2, he was reading above grade level. At age nine he tackled Michael Crichton’s, Jurassic Park.

Observing My Kids Learning to Read

School attendance matters. So does not breaking your website.

After teaching seven children to read, I have made some interesting observations. These are hardly scientific, just things I have noticed in my own children. My two four-year-old readers have picked up reading more quickly and easily than my five and six-year-old readers. Is this because they were younger? Or just that they were ready to read at that moment? I don’t know. Right now Hezekiah (4) can read better than Jubilee (5), and more smoothly than Kalina*(7). He simply and methodically decodes each word, one letter at a time, he doesn’t try to guess or skip over difficult words. He just reads his way through them.

*When Kalina was twelve, we learned she has hearing loss in her right ear. in fact, she can’t hear any vocal tones in that ear at all.

Not every four-year-old can learn to read. Focus, instead, on a love of books.

Four-Year-Old Humor

At any rate, we’re having fun watching Hezekiah, and remembering Judah as a four-year-old reader. The fun thing about four-year-olds is, they can’t pronounce half the words they read. And they can often bring their own humor to situations. I remember driving around in our van when Judah was four. He saw a Porta-Potty truck go by with the words Honey Bucket written on the side. He piped up from the back of the van: “Don’t dip your chicken in the Honey Bucket sauce!” thinking he was hilarious and cracking me and Chuck up.

2018 Book reviews of my favorite books.

A Relaxed, Low-Pressure Approach to Learning

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know we take a relaxed approach to formal learning (especially in the early years) while at the same time preparing a very thoughtful environment to foster learning. We have carefully chosen our children’s books and toys and have made every effort to make learning fun, not work. This has been our goal since our oldest was a baby. Maybe things would have turned out the same no matter what we have done, there’s no way to know. We’re just having fun over here with our tribe, making things up as we go along, and watching them each develop at their own pace.

1973 was a good year. $19.73 was a good investment.

Why Factors Helped My Four-Year-old Learn to Read?

In conclusion, I believe my two four-year-old boys who learned to read, learned because

1) They were already highly intelligent/gifted

2) They were developmentally ready. Both begged for reading lessons. Both times I thought they were “too young”.

3) They learned to read in a very low-pressure environment

4) They lived in a home full of books, were read to every day, and were encouraged to explore and learn at their own pace.

How two of my boys learned to read at age four.

Can Any Four Year Old Learn to Read? And Should They?

I believe the most important trait in learning anything is to develop a love of learning in the first place. Have a prepared environment for your children. Choose their toys carefully. If something is too hard, drop it for a few weeks, or even months, then give it another try.

When Apollo was in first grade his teacher wanted me to drill him on sight words so he could “catch up”. I very politely told her, I was not going to drill him. He enjoyed reading and being read to and I firmly believed he would “catch-up” in his own time, with no pressure. Today, at age nine, he has read The Hobbit and is now making his way through Fellowship of the Ring.

So, no, not every four-year-old can learn to read. Nor should they. Develop a love of reading and a love of learning, and the rest will come.

You may also want to read:

How to Raise a Lifelong Reader

Coming of Age Books Every Kid Should Read

Reading Buddy Software: Perfect for Reluctant Readers

Check out our favorite resources for learning to read.

6 Comments

  1. corinne gonz

    This info about many kids not reading as early is comforting. My 6 yr old grandson is having a tough time of it and has been diagnosed a low but I have to believe that he will catch up at least close to by the 3rd grade. He is repeating K and it hurt me so much when they did that but just hoping it will come.

  2. Renee

    You are welcome. There is such a wide variety of “normal” when it comes to learning to read. I think it is schools that make us all think a child needs to be reading by 5 or 6.

  3. ahavah

    I grew up in a large homeschooling family and my experience matches yours. The siblings who learned to read a good bit earlier would probably test today as the smarter ones :). Not only did they go on to easily grasp most school subjects, they were always that little bit better in any games where you had to hold a lot of information in your head. It’s not super important and I don’t see how it’d change my parenting. But it’s definitely interesting.

    • Renee

      Yes…I was actually surprised to discover this because everything I read said later readers eventually catch up and they even out…but I guess that isn’t speaking to the intelligence they are born with.

  4. Erin

    I’m curious to know how you went with teaching Malachi to read. I have a child who is more like Malachi than any of your other children. At 11 he is still just at the early steps of reading. He has only been with us for 18 months. We read to him every day. He has been involved in many intensive reading programs at the various schools he has attended. We think we’re starting to see some positive steps towards reading, but he mixes up a bunch of different strategies he has been taught that don’t mess well at all. The sight word strategies seem to have done quite a bit of damage to be honest. He sees lots of words as being the same as a learned sight word. eg that and what are the same word, as are was and saw. He is really just taking in the rough shape of the word.

  5. Renee

    I assume you are asking about Mordecai, since we don’t have a Malachi (don’t worry, people mix that up all the time). I used the same methods…it didnt’ seem to be working…he learned his alphabet and letter sounds through LeapFrog Alphabet videos. We put him in school in 3rd grade and lo and behold, he already knew how to read…we just didn’t realize it…

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