• Raffi Bandarian

The Best Way to Prime Young Kids to Read

Updated: Mar 10

According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, 37% of fourth graders are not fluent readers. Why are so many children struggling to read?

Children who struggle to read at grade level require direct, explicit instruction and practice in reading. Teachers often assume struggling readers will catch up. Often, the gap widens. So, a solution is to screen kids early on, not only for hearing, vision, health, but also for reading. Every child should be assessed as early as Kindergarten by a reading specialist to determine if they have certain risk factors that may cause reading problems.

Children with dyslexia either struggle with phonological awareness or rapid naming or a combination of the two. In Early Intervention for Dyslexia, I wrote about some ways parents can help their children develop phonological awareness. The other deficit, rapid naming, involves the ability to quickly name objects by sight. A weakness in rapid naming creates a lag in reading fluency as well as reading accuracy. Maryanne Wolf created the Rapid Automated Naming (R.A.N.) test that helps determine if quick visual recognition is responsible for a child’s reading fluency problems. Kids with reading issues are typically slower on R.A.N. tests.

Parents and teachers can help children recognize that reading involves connecting visual images to language. To read quickly, children need to stimulate the portion of the brain responsible for matching language to symbols.

Naming objects in and around one’s environment develops the areas of the brain that are responsible for reading. This level of automatic naming can be encouraged at home through fun activities that prime kids to associate visuals with their spoken words.

Rapid Naming with superhero and villain figurines

Here is a fun way to develop rapid naming:

  1. Take collection of action figures or small dolls or miniature objects and place them in a plastic tub. Make sure they are all familiar items. Locate a plastic tub that can hold the figures selected.

  2. Set the climate with your child – “We are going to play a game. I’m going to put these toys in the tub. Then, I’m going to shake the tub until one falls out.”

  3. Bounce and shake the tub making sure one jumps out of the tub. (Using an announcer voice really makes the activity fun.)

  4. Take the object that falls out and assemble it in a row and have your child name it.

  5. After each round, have your child name each object as quickly as possible.

  6. At the end of the game, announce the winner of the match-up.

  7. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

Rapid Naming with Star Wars figurines


Parents can prime their kids, especially preschool age children, to develop rapid naming skills. It’s a playful and easy way to help kids get ready for reading even before kids actually learn to read.

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