Pre-reading comes first.

He stumbles across the room on his 18-month-old legs and plops the truck book on your lap. For the fiftieth time this month it seems, you begin to read, emphasizing the rhyming words "The Big Rig".  His eyes sparkle as he watches your lips and responds immediately to your request to point to the red truck. He can also point to the yellow earthmover and the big, green tractor.

He is listening to and learning books.

She sits prettily at her tiny desk, turning the pages of the A-B-C book, glancing up now and then as you do, the inflections on her nonsense words and sounds rising and falling from her now pursed lips, looking incredibly school-teacherish. "Point to the A," you request, and she smilingly touches an image on the page, not necessarily an A.

But she is pretend-reading, an essential first step. She is learning books.

You are teaching both of them reading. It is easy to learn if little ones can associate a word with a pleasant experience and a familiar object.  By reading, reading, reading to the child, turning pages, and talking about what's on the page, you are teaching reading!

What is the work you've already done?

You have raised an intelligent child, nurtured him with a good diet and a good home environment. On an ongoing basis, you have named all the objects in that environment. You've built up a world of experience in your child's mind and been a good role model by reading in front of him or her. You have a positive attitude toward learning. You value it and the child picks that up and is eager to learn. Children like what their parents like.

Before you teach actual words and stories on paper, you can help children become perceptually ready to read by listening and practicing. Read stories to your kids. (Listening.) Label/name items or things: tree, glass, dog. Encourage plunking little things (like clothespins) into big things (like a milk carton). This develops eye-hand coordination, a prelude to writing something, such as A-B-Cs.

Reading doesn't start with words; it begins with seeing and labeling objects, hearing and using label-words, and performing hand-eye activities for small muscle development. School Zone then gives you pagework, the beginning steps or activities, such as pages on sound-alikes or rhyming words (hearing); same or different (visualizing); or mazes or pathfinding (eye-hand coordination and visualizing). The child does lots of pagework and enjoys it, and soon is ready to put those letters and rhyming families together and place them in a story, a tale with a beginning, middle, and end.

Now, you're on your own. You and your child have graduated from workbooks and pagework. School Zone has a beginning reading series called Start to Read, but you should also go to the library and find a book with 15 to 20 words, hopefully animal or object words, words that rhyme with picture clues. Read the book together. Have your child identify objects and animal words on the page, and soon he will read his first story by himself, then to grandpa, then to the dog, etc., etc.

Learning to read is the biggest and most important task in the first six years of life.