Before a child learns to read, he or she must first learn the spoken language, and this is one of the first instances where family members such as dad, mom, older siblings, and grandparents play an important role in "teaching" the child the spoken English language. Whether young children realize it or not, they gain very early exposure to the alphabet when parents sing the alphabet song to them. They begin to develop language skills by being read to and spoken to. One of the keys to teaching children reading early on is by exposing them to alphabet letters, books, and reading to them often.
Reading nursery rhymes and children's books are an important part of getting children to understand printed text. Talk to your children, and talk to them often, whether they understand or not is not important when they're just babies. The more you talk and interact with your little ones, the better they will develop. The key is exposure, and repeated exposure. Once your child learns to speak, you can begin teaching them reading at home.
I often hear parents say that they don't want to "push" their child too hard. How can teaching your child to read at a young age be considered "pushing" them too hard? If you as a parent already have the mentality that reading is a chore, and teaching them to read is pushing "too hard", you certainly can't expect your children to be excited about learning reading. On the contrary, learning to read offers a young child an opportunity for a lifetime to learn, discover, and enjoy the wonders of reading. Parents (including myself) will often underestimate the abilities and learning capabilities of young children. When we first began our teaching reading program with our first child when she was 2 years and 8 months, little did we expect that in just a few short weeks, she would be reading not just words, but sentences and story books. After about 3 months, by the time she was 2 years 11 months old, our daughter could read "Step in to Reading - step 2 (pre-school to grade 1 level)" books with some guidance. The benefits of learning to read were apparent - improved speech clarity, and better reading ability and reading comprehension.
There are no shortage of studies which find many benefits in teaching children reading at an early age. For example, one study administered a Stanford achievement test at the start of kindergarten and then again at the end of grade one found that early language based skills were highly associated with later academic performance in school aged children. Similar studies also found that a high level of letter knowledge in kindergarten can reliably predict better later literacy skills. Having a home environment that's conducive to literacy growth is critical in a child's development, and directly affects a child's language and literacy development. Studies have found that responsiveness and support of the home environment is the strongest predictor of children's language and early literacy skills. My point here is help make parents aware that children who enter kindergarten with highly developed early reading skills will achieve greater success with systematic reading education.
It's never too late to start home lessons and programs to teach your children to read. Regardless how old your child is, starting a reading program at a young age will have ample benefits. Start with lots of talking, singing, and reading to your child right from birth, and once your child is able to speak, you can start a simple reading program.
Begin with teaching your child some basic letters and their sounds, and even as soon your child learn just a few letters and their sounds, you can begin teaching them simple blends using the letter knowledge that they have acquired. Work on ear training with your child on oral blending and word segmentation. One of the keys to teaching children read is developing phonemic awareness. Studies have shown that phonemic awareness is one of the best predictors of reading success in children.