3 Reasons Why You Should Teach Sight Words to Preschoolers (Gasp!)

Play is the business of childhood, right?

There is ample evidence to support that statement. We know toddlers and preschoolers are in a developmental stage in which they learn via their senses through play and exploration, but the rub is that a large percentage of our very young children are now exposed to frequent testing and too many are not meeting expectations.

The reality we are living with today is that corporations and foundations have taken over our education system and are mandating that not only our preschoolers be tested, but now are mandating that our special needs children also be tested and show proficiency. So now, when children fail the ever lengthening list of tests their teachers are required to give them, we lengthen the school day, cut out recess, add tutoring sessions after school, require summer school, and offer formal education to younger and younger children in the attempt to raise achievement levels.

My about-face

Several things happened in my own life that caused me to do an about-face in my career. I became a teacher of struggling learners, then I became a product designer for struggling learners, and most recently I have had hundreds of parents share with me their child’s rather checkered experiences in formal education settings.

I still believe that very young children should not be forced into formal education, and while I still believe that traditional ways of teaching reading are not beneficial to the very young, I now encourage people to teach sight words to preschoolers. Doing so can be beneficial to them given the educational climate we are in. Testing preschoolers has no benefit whatsoever to the children and in fact only harms them. But if parents have to put their children in school where these demands are in place, I urge you to be proactive and teach your child at home in a few minutes a day so they will have a better chance of emerging from school unscathed.

The scenario for kindergartners today

1. A child usually shows the first signs of difficulty with reading in kindergarten. 

This is a pivotal year in the education of a child. And now because of the huge emphasis on content and testing, children will either exit kindergarten believing they are capable of handling anything life might bring their way, or they will exit kindergarten lacking the belief in their own competence.

2. Children know when they don’t meet expectations. 

They become aware that they are under scrutiny, they sense they are not keeping up, and then emotions kick in. Some children withdraw, avoid the learning activity they can’t handle, or they act out. Some develop a sick stomach and try to avoid going to school. But all begin to believe they are not capable. This is a horrible outcome. It is like putting out the lights for thousands of children.

3. It is a child’s belief in their abilities that will fuel success in life. 

This belief and excitement for learning simply must not be damaged. It is sheer lunacy to screen preschoolers to determine who is going to be successful in school and careers, isn’t it? Are the corporations already selecting who they will train to become the workers in our economy? Who will be able to get an advanced degree? And is getting into college and getting a job a true measure of a child’s potential for being a success in life anyway? And while we are on this topic, isn’t it true that it has been decades since getting a college education pretty much guaranteed a job in ones chosen field?

4. Schools most frequently assume the child is not capable of learning if they are showing signs of struggle.

Parents report hearing everything from “Your child has a reading disability” to “Your child has a disability and cannot learn.” Some parents report they were told their child was incapable of learning. All this doom and gloom because a child was not keeping the pace and meeting the demands placed on them. Really? You can tell that early that a child is disabled? That they can’t learn?

5. This scrutiny and judgment is enough to change the course of a child’s life. 

For a child it is overwhelming to sense that they are not capable and then to hear the judgment pronounced over them by educators confirming this fact. Well, this early experience will shape their beliefs about who they are, what they are capable of, and the consequences are unspeakable.

Behind the scenes in education

 How to prevent very young children from being labeled as disabled

In spite of our “enlightened times,” times in which we celebrate the differences between people, acknowledge the varying gifts each adult brings to the table, we still approach young children with a rigid standard of how to teach them, calling it “the right way,” and believing that every child has to learn the exact same way (the way we call “the right way”), or something is wrong with them. Our arbitrary yardstick is held up to child after child after child, and so many of them are found wanting.

Is it rational to, on one hand, acknowledge the myriad ways in which people are gifted and, on the other hand, force our children into a rigid, lockstep system of learning? How is it possible that those children who are gifted in the arts and athletics are expected to learn and remember the same as those who are gifted in math and science? 

We are going in the wrong direction

Our education system is far worse today than it was decades ago. We are heading in the wrong direction very quickly. Corporations, Foundations, uber-wealthy individuals, and politicians have taken over our educational system and are shaping it to fulfill their own special interests.

None of what is happening is best for our children. None of it is helping make them more educated and prepared for life. It is lining the pockets of the very wealthy. Go ahead and Google “Rupert Murdoch and education,” “The Gates Foundation and education,” “Pearson Inc. and education,” “consequences of failing to meet requirements of No Child Left Behind.”

It is up to parents and teachers to follow their beliefs about what is best for our children. Refuse what we know is wrong for them. Reject what will harm them. Stand up for what we know our children need in order to flourish as the gifted human beings they were created to be. Parents can decide how the plethora of required testing fits into their goals for nurturing their children as they grow to be competent and capable human beings who are fully prepared to live their lives successfully. They don’t need to pass tests in order to grow to be competent human beings. 

Why teach sight words to preschoolers? 

1. You will prevent possible failure

A very high percentage of children end up either struggling with reading or failing reading tests. If you take action early, it is very likely that you will be able to create a path of success for children and thus prevent any possible failure, labeling, and loss of confidence. Someone may ask, “What if the child would have done OK without early intervention?” The problem is we don’t know for sure who is going to struggle, so in the interest of making sure they don’t, we introduce words in the most kid-friendly way possible before formal schooling begins! We even offer a SnapWords Preschool list to get you started!

2. You will ensure success by teaching to their strengths

If you teach sight words to preschoolers using materials that utilize their primary modes for learning, you will provide them with a background that will satisfy any kindergarten requirement but you will do so in a developmentally appropriate way. It is important that you not use just plain words for this activity because trying to teach plain words requires very young children to memorize words: something many, many children cannot do, is not appropriate for young children, and is something the child would never likely want to do on their own. If you use SnapWords® sight words with pictures, images, and body movement, learning will seem like play for young children.

3. You will provide relevance for what they learn in kindergarten

If you use SnapWords®, sight words with pictures, you will reach the beginners who have a hard time managing the little details of learning to read (such as letter names, letter sounds, sounding out, blending, etc.). A high percentage of children learn most effectively from whole to part, and if they don’t have that, they will bog down in the details. Provide them with a rich arsenal of words brimming with meaning and they will “get” what reading is! They will understand from the beginning that reading is not stringing sounds together but it is actually extracting meaning from words. This is the way to reach those who might struggle in school and keep them from losing belief in themselves.

What does early learning look like in toddlers?

This is what early learning can look like. One child has a very quiet style while the other is a bundle of pure motion. Both are learning SnapWords® rapidly, each in their own best way. When you use SnapWords® with preschoolers, it is easy. Show them a few cards, tell them what each one says, and then ask them later what each word says. If they hesitate, tell them again. You will see from the videos that the quieter child is handling the cards himself, turning them over to read the plain word on the backs of the cards. The active child is literally jumping from word to word, as he is asked what each one says. The plan for the active child is to turn over one word at a time to see if he can still identify the word when the picture has disappeared. However it is important to not rush the process of moving to the plain words on the backs of the cards. In these videos, both boys are just newly two years old, so there IS no hurry to move to plain words.

True Story: Ezzie

Teaching sight words to preschoolers - how and why

In my communication with Ezzie’s grandmother, I learned a lot about Ezzie’s style. He expressed earnestly his interest in learning to read (this is because that desire to learn has not been squelched). As they read books together, he would ask Grandma what specific words said. So she picked up Alphabet Tales, assuming the first step was to teach the sounds of the letters. Ezzie was polite, but not interested. He wanted to READ. Grandma asked me what she should do.

Ezzie, age 2

I urged her to ditch the alphabet and go right to SnapWords®, so she did just that. Ezzie was delighted. The video below was the third time they had visited SnapWords® from List F:

Just this morning I received another email from her. Here is what she said:

“Re Ezzie: Sarah -- We took a short walk two days ago, and Ez was very earnest about taking along a large paper grocery bag holding a stack of his favorite books. I said ok. So we walked, Ezzie dragging the bag of treasures behind him. :) It goes to his wanting to read. He's mastered about 2/3 of the F List. The letters and their sounds are slowly sinking in. A few minutes ago he was looking at a book and said, "Katie Kicker!" Then, "Katie Kicker says "K” (k sound.) I was pleased! ❤❤❤

Here is Ezzie exploring SnapWords® with his Grandma:

Ezzie is a pretty typical 2 year old, but not as active as some. His Grandma follows his lead, showing him what he is interested in. This type of interaction is absolutely child-led, is developmentally appropriate, and there are no demands or expectations in place.


Here is, Jaxson, an active 2 year old on his second exposure to SnapWords® List F:

I have included this video by way of contrasting two very different little boys and how they approach learning. Neither child is pushed to engage in the activity. The adults follow their lead. In this video, Jaxson, age 2, is in his pajamas hanging out with his parents before bed.


At Child1st, we are all about helping a child love learning. We believe in preventing learning problems before they happen and moving quickly to help once a child has begun to falter. Please join us in spreading the word so more and more children out there can learn the basics of reading and math in a way that is easy for them.

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