6 Tips for Teaching Early Readers

Do you have a child who began reading well at three or four years old? A child who reads far above grade level? Early readers who soak in more books in a year than you’ve read in your entire life? Do you wonder what to do with all that advanced ability?

Just how do you proceed with gifted early readers??  Here’s what I did.

Do you have an early reader? A gifted reader? Should you still teach phonics? Comprehension? These 6 tips will help parents of early readers.

You can listen to this post if you prefer!

Teaching Very Early Readers

My oldest was an early reader. She blew my mind as she reached for book after book, able to tackle nearly everything on her own. As her teacher, I wondered how to handle her reading instruction. Should I still teach phonics? Should I force reading comprehension lessons? Should I hold her back from reading highly advanced books knowing the subject matter would likely be too mature for her actual age?

I don’t think there’s a one size fits all answer, but through trial and error, I made some discoveries that are worth sharing.

1. Since she’s so capable, do I push for even more?

I let my daughter take the lead in reading and never pushed for more when she was younger.  Since she was reading well above grade level on her own, I wanted her to continue finding pleasure in reading. I didn’t want her to ever begin hating her gift of reading.  As she got older and could understand her gift, I began assigning reading for certain subjects.  But I continued to allow plenty of time for pleasure reading.  During pleasure time, she read a bazillion books on the subject of horses and learned nearly as much as a pre-vet student before the end of her homeschool career!

2. Do I teach phonics to early readers?

I gently introduced phonics as issues came up.  This was hard on me because I’m a firm believer in reading/spelling instruction based on a phonics program.  I worried a lot that not taking her through a structured program would prove to be a mistake.  But, because she was capable of teaching herself reading, she was also capable of internalizing phonics rules without too much guidance.  I threw the occasional phonics workbook in just to be on the safe side, but she really didn’t need them.

See my favorite phonics and spelling curriculum:  K-2, 3-5

3. What about reading comprehension?

I didn’t expect much in the form of book reports, comprehension workbooks, or other comprehension projects because these were very annoying to my daughter.  She understood so much (because of the vast amount of books she was reading) that it was rather senseless to make her “prove” her understanding constantly in the form of an assignment. She was having adult-sized conversations about the books already, and that was enough for me.  Again, this doesn’t mean I never gave/give assignments. They just have to have a purpose other than, “Did you understand what you read?”

P.S. I wasn’t using narration much at this point in my homeschooling journey.  For this kid, even narration would have been overkill.  She simply didn’t need it.

4. Where do I find appropriate books for early readers?

As long as the subject matter of a book wasn’t way out of her maturity level, I allowed my daughter to read just about anything she was interested in reading.  This meant previewing lots and lots of books, but it was worth it.

Because she could sail through most books at ridiculous speed, the library was our very best homeschooling resource.

5. What if she loses interest in a book?

If my daughter lost interest in a book, I never forced her to read it to the end – except for books I specifically assigned as she got older. Part of teaching a gifted child means giving them some freedom in their learning. Gifted readers will usually devour so many books that it won’t matter when a few aren’t finished.

6. Should I still read aloud to her?

Oh, yes! I continued to read aloud to her – even some through her high school years.  Early readers still benefit from snuggle time – and continue to develop phonics skills, fluency, and comprehension during read-aloud times.

Enjoy your voracious readers! Reading is a fantastic mode of learning and you’re likely to find they begin to excel in more than just reading because of all the sheer knowledge that passes through those little brains!

More About Reading Instruction




  1. This is exactly how I handled my early reader too; he’s now 10 and just as excited about books as ever!

  2. I love hearing encouragement from other moms how the gentle approach to gifted/early readers works!

  3. I’m so glad you posted this! My 4.5 year old is reading quite well, and I’ve been fretting over whether to continue reading instruction or just let her keep doing her thing. This was very helpful and encouraging!

  4. Hi Cindy! I have been reading your blog for over a year now (I don’t usually leave comments on blogs) and I feel like yours is the one homeschooling blog I really “get.” Our methods are so similar and I find so much encouragement and many ideas here. I recently bought a used copy of your book for gifted learners and after reading your intro, I now see another reason I can relate to you as we share similar experiences growing up in the educational system. Anyway, I just wanted to drop a note of thanks for all that you share here. It has been so helpful for our family.

  5. {{Rachel}} I’m so thankful you took the time to write your comment! Your encouragement means so much to me and keeps the wind in my blogging sails. 🙂 It also warms my heart to know we have so much in common on this homeschooling journey. Many blessing to your sweet family!

  6. Thank you for this. I have an early reader. He started reading on his own unexpectedly when he was about 3 1/2. At that point he was reading short books like BOB books. About a year later (without any reading instruction) he began reading chapter books like Magic Tree House. He is almost 5 now and reads whatever he wants. He prefers books with lots of colorful pictures (he is just 4), so I just get him a lot of picture books and some graphic novels from the library.
    We are starting homeschool this fall. He will technically be in Kindergarten. I have been struggling a little about if we really need a reading program. I am considering just doing spelling. I have been looking at All About Spelling and Logic of English Essentials. (Though everyone tells me he is too young for Essentials and I should get Foundations.)
    I just want to let him continue reading whatever he wants, but I worry a little about any phonics gaps there may be.

    Any advice?

  7. How exciting to have a gifted reader, Becky! I would go with your gut and just teach spelling since your son is already reading so well. I agree that Essentials is way too much for a little guy – even a gifted reader – because it contains high-level grammar instruction that is even proving to be tough for my 4th grader. I think you’ll be pleased with All About Spelling because it covers phonics skills alongside spelling AND you can move at whatever pace you like at any age. Best wishes!

  8. Thank you for your reply. Yeah I think I am going with All About Spelling. I was considering LOE Essentials because he has a big sister who will be starting 3rd grade in the fall and was hoping they could use the same curriculum. I think I will go with All About Spelling with her as well but will have to find a good grammar program. She is reading a couple of grade levels ahead, but I suspect maybe stealth dyslexia. She is currently in public school.

  9. Oh thank you! This was so affirming. This is essentially the same route I’ve been taking but I’ve been so surprised at the reading level that I was worried I was doing it right. I especially worry about not teaching the phonics basics but he gets so annoyed when we try to go through books about it because it is so below his level. This makes me feel better. Thank you!

  10. Girls PG in Noida says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this amazing information, please keep sharing…

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