Teaching the Gifted Preschooler: “How I Taught My Toddler to Read”

Teaching the Gifted Preschooler- How I Taught My Toddler To Read

Do you think that it is possible to teach a two year old to read?  I recently received a video from a parent showing me just that!  I must admit that I was both a little skeptical and a little dumbfounded at first.  How could this be possible?

Rusty Reads About Trucks

But after watching SEVERAL videos of this exceptionally bright little boy reading, I have to agree that yes- he does, in fact, know how to read.  As you might have guessed, his parents contacted me because they were delighted with his progress, and because they wanted to share a really cute little video of him singing and dancing to one of my sight word DVD’s.  So that’s how our conversation on my HeidiSongs Facebook page got started.  But I knew that there had to be more to their story than just the fact that they use my products, so I asked this family to share, and they were kind enough to agree.  Watch the YouTube videos that his dad uploaded for us to show how well Rusty can read.  According to his father, he was beginning to read words before his second birthday.   This kid is just AMAZING- and as cute as a button!


Below is a current video of Rusty, now at the age of four, reading a VERY advanced book, Dinopedia, which is listed on Amazon for ages 7-10.   I know, I know.  The teachers out there are probably thinking, “Can a child that age possibly comprehend such a book?”  Obviously, I have not met him, so I have not asked him to explain to me what he read.  But his intonation tells me that he seems to understand most of it.  Watch him read it yourself and see!


As for whether or not little Rusty is gifted, I don’t believe that he has been tested.  I’m just going out on a limb here and saying that it is obvious to me that he certainly IS gifted!  It also seems equally obvious that his mother and father are mightily gifted as teachers and parents!  I have to admit that I would never have thought of doing many of the things that Rusty’s dad did with him.  (Rusty’s father is his primary caregiver.  Isn’t that neat?  Let’s hear three cheers for an AWESOME DAD!)


I think that it is important to note the things that Rusty’s parents did NOT do:

1.  They did not “drill and kill” him with flash cards.  (How would you even get a toddler to do that, anyway?)

2.  They did not pressure him.  There was no disciplining him or spanking or anything like that if he didn’t learn something.  Educators know that a child that lives in fear does not learn.

3.  They did not get upset if he didn’t learn something.  They kept it light and fun.

4.  They did not try to MAKE him learn; instead, they turned just about everything into a game.

5.  They did not shove learning down his throat; instead, they fostered a love of reading and of books.

6.  They did not try to compartmentalize learning into just one time of the day; instead they made the most of every teachable moment, no matter where they were.

7.  They did not try to push their own style of learning onto Rusty.  Instead, they noticed what Rusty responded to (in this case, music) and just WENT with it.  If it worked, and he liked it, they encouraged him and gave him more.

8.  They did NOT put him in front of a television set or computer and walk away.  They were there with him, talking with him and singing with him, and making it a special time for the family together.

9.  They did not leave teaching and learning to chance.  Their teaching was intentional, as you can see in the fact that they labeled most everything in the house.  They picked a word or number to focus on each day, even when he may have seemed to young to pick it up.  So they had high expectations for their child.

10.  They did not try to make Rusty sit; instead, they kept learning active and age appropriate, as you will notice below when you read about how his dad incorporated exercises into their learning games.  Remember:  “When the bum is numb, the brain is the same!”

And so below, please enjoy this little essay from Rusty’s dad, a former teacher and now Super Dad, at least in my opinion!  His remarks are written in italics.  I have added a few comments of my own in the regular font.  The captions under the photos are also my (Heidi’s) comments, rather than Rusty’s dad’s.

How I Taught My Toddler to Read

As a parent, we list and record all of the special moments when our children do things for the first time. We even try to video them rolling over, sitting up, standing, walking, and even first words. These are all special moments but hearing your child read for the first time, is a feeling like no other.

Rusty Chooses a Book

I taught elementary school for seven years. When my son was born, I resigned to be a stay at home dad. I think one of the most important factors in raising a “book lover” is just having books around and easily accessible. Rusty has always had books around him. He even went through a phase where he slept with and on his favorite books.

Rusty Sleeps with a Book
Isn’t this the sweetest little picture?

It sounds simple, but we even practiced making sure the book was right side up and turning pages from front to back.

Rusty loves books!
Rusty loves books!

At six months, we noticed that Rusty responded to music. We spent an hour each day on YouTube watching alphabet videos and listening to the letter sounds. My mom stumbled across HeidiSongs on YouTube and after one video, he was hooked. It became a daily tradition to watch Heidi’s sight words songs.  (Below is a video of Rusty dancing along with one of Heidi’s Sight Word DVD’s at age 14 months.)


As Rusty got a little older and started to talk, we played word games with him. We used sticky notes and labeled furniture, toys, television, tables, etc. Nearly everything in our house was labeled and we would take the time to “read” the words as we walked by.

Please note: Rusty is NOT for sale! He is priceless. He simply found his word of the day (for) in the store.
Please note: Rusty is NOT for sale! He is priceless. He simply found his word of the day (for) in the store.

I am also a big proponent of life’s little teachable moments. While at the grocery store we would try to find his sight words, colors, and numbers. On our daily walks or car rides, we would quiz each other on letter sounds and practice with street signs.

Rusty finds the number "four" while running errands around town with dad.
Rusty finds the number “four” while running errands around town with dad.  I love the diaper showing out the back of his little britches while he points at the number!

We also created sentence strips that had various commands written on them. We would mix them up, pick one out and read it together. Then we would do what it said, together. For example one might read, ” Jump up and down three times.” We tried very hard to incorporate music and exercise as much as possible.

Rusty's parents CREATED environmental print around the house that would be meaningful for him. Notice, they didn't spend a lot of money on "fancy" flash cards!
Rusty’s parents CREATED environmental print around the house that would be meaningful for him. Notice, they didn’t spend a lot of money on “fancy” flash cards!
Soon Rusty knew his alphabet, his letter sounds and was able to sound out simple words. The day he turned two years old he was reading early readers with minimal help from us. From here we just continued what we were doing and implemented vocabulary cards into his daily routine. We studied one word a day and called that word the “word of the day.” Rusty was encouraged to use the word of the day as often as possible and a big celebration took place each time he used it correctly.

Rusty recently made his own HeidiSongs shirt and then wrote out all of the words from my sight word videos that he could. How cute is that?
Rusty recently made his own HeidiSongs shirt and then wrote out all of the words from my sight word videos that he could. How cute is that?

This is Rusty now, at the age of four, and all of his HeidiSongs words from Sing and Spell Vol. 1.
This is Rusty now, at the age of four, and all of his HeidiSongs words from Sing and Spell Vol. 1.

Here is a close up of Rusty's words.
Here is a close up of Rusty’s words!  It looks like he enjoys writing them- and has VERY nice printing as well!

It appears that Rusty has decide to help me write some spelling songs! I think I see some musical notes down at the bottom. LOL!!!! I love it!
It appears that Rusty has decided to help me write some spelling songs! I think I see some musical notes down at the bottom. LOL!!!! I love it!
My best advice is to take advantage of every moment you get to introduce a new word and to quiz a letter sound. Whether you’re at the grocery, in the car, or waiting for a table at a restaurant embrace the power of words.


Here are some other links to articles on Gifted Preschoolers:

Parenting Gifted Preschoolers:    This link has a chart that shows developmental milestones and ages that children from birth to about age two reach that are considered “normal.”  It also shows what ages a gifted child might reach them.  Very interesting!  It never mentions reading, though!

Gifted Preschool Children:  This article tells how gifted preschool children are different from regularly developing children, the types of preschool programs that are best for them, and what parents can do for them at home.

Characteristics and Traits of the Gifted Preschooler:  This article contains detailed lists of language, psychomotor, and personal-social characteristics of the gifted young child.

Gifted Preschooler:  This site has three links to articles on the identification, facts, and other information on education for gifted preschoolers.

Music Notes

Do you have a story you would like to share?  Let me know!  I would love to hear it!  You can message me on Facebook or email me at info@heidisongs.com.  Thanks for reading!

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Bring Heidi to your school!

Heidi does staff development trainings in school districts, conferences, and other types of events!  Call HeidiSongs at (909) 331-2090 or email us at info@heidisongs.com for more information.  To see a list of her upcoming presentations, please click here.

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Heidi Butkus

About Heidi Butkus

Heidi Butkus has been teaching in California public schools since 1985. She has somehow managed to stay in Kindergarten all of those years, with the exception of five years in first grade, and also taught a parent participation preschool for a short while! Combining a strong knowledge of brain research with practical experience, Heidi has created a wealth of fun and engaging teaching techniques that work well with diverse populations. She has presented at conferences nationwide, and is the owner and founder of HeidiSongs.com. Heidi has also created fourteen original CD's and DVD's for teaching beginning reading and math skills, three musical plays designed especially for young performers, and has written some picture books and many other teaching resources. Heidi's multimedia workshops are filled with fun and motivational educational activities that have been classroom tested and revised for effectiveness with all types of learners.
  1. Hi Heidi,

    This is a wonderful article and Rusty is such a cutie. <3

    A year ago I bought an ebook online and to my surprise, the results were very impressive. My child was able to read within 12 weeks after I had gone through the book and used the simple methods which were mentioned. I hope it will help others as well as it helped me as well.

    Here's the link to get the book: http://www.childreadingsecrets.com/

    Here's a tip which I would like to give: You NEED to give something to your baby in order to make them read. Remember how we all used to tame our parrots? Give it some seeds and let it sit on our finger. Similarly, you have to reward your child as soon as they hold a book. It will be difficult at start but your child will develop a habit — that is for sure.

  2. That was was a heartwarming and informative post! Looks like a lot of dedication and experimentation too~ Will try some of the tips on my son, thanks for sharing.

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