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5 Creative Ways to Teach Your Deaf or Hard of Hearing Child to Read

Growing up hard of hearing, I often immersed myself in reading for hours and hours. For me, the written word was the key to the universe because the audio world simply wasn’t accessible.

When I became a mom of three deaf and hard of hearing kids (who are now young adults) I was determined to give them the same keys to the universe. My children were all born with normal hearing and became deaf/hard of hearing at two, four, and two years of age. When they were born, I introduced them to board books before they could even sit up.  Today, all three of them enjoy reading.

Here are some creative ways I’ve used to teach my children to read:

Make it fun 

The key to teaching reading to any child is to make it FUN! Learning to read doesn’t have to be a dreaded process for you or your child. Start early. Your infant can begin to enjoy picture books as early as six weeks–which is about when their vision sharpens. Keep in mind, books need to be held no more than 10 inches away during the first three months.

As soon as each of my babies were a few weeks old, I brought out picture books with simple objects and just one to a page. Before my kids could even sit up, they would become excited at seeing the same books over and over. Often, my husband and I would team up to read, with one of us holding the kid and the other reading and signing. When our kids were a bit older, one of us would read out loud while the other held the book and followed along pointing at each word. We often alternated our methods in a variety of ways depending on each child’s development and skill.

Not only did we strive to develop their language skills, we worked on auditory skills with whatever auditory ability they had. Even kids with profound losses can appreciate books that focus on sound–using drums, vibrations, visual lights flashing, etc. Be as creative as you can in showing your child the visual and auditory world around you. 

In the Tub

One of the best places to teach reading is in the tub. This is the perfect place to keep your child in one place for a while and have some fun learning to read.  Occasionally I would also bring in treats like ice cream bars or popsicles (you can make healthy ones!) 

The best reading tool is a set of foam letters. Yes, that’s right. A cheap set of foam letters. I taught all three of my kids to read during bath time. Start by teaching them to recognize each letter. Once they know the alphabet, play “Hunt for the Letter” by tossing all of them into the tub at once. “Where’s the A?” “Where’s the P?” You can use cueing, fingerspelling, or flashcards to show the letters you’re looking for. Have your child put each letter up on the bathroom wall as they find them.

The next step is to start spelling out short words. Cat. Dog. Mom. Dad. Pig. And so on. I had a whole collection of plastic animals that we used in the tub. 

Here’s a way to vary the activity and encourage kids to think. Put up the word “Cat.” Then hold up an “M” and a “H.” Now ask your child, “Which letter would turn this word into “Hat?” If your child has some difficulty, then use visual cues, props, flashcards, cueing, or fingerspelling. Do this with a variety of easy words.

Around the House

Grab a 100-pack of index cards and a marker. Label things around the house. Once your child has mastered the words, substitute the cards with more complex words or similar words. This works great for families with multiple languages. Yes, deaf and hard of hearing kids can learn more than one language. The key is to provide access in a way that the child can comprehend, process, and understand language. 

Use Books with Pictures for Wordstips to teach your deaf child to read

One of my kids’ favorite books was “Picky Nicky.” This book was a bit more advanced for the beginner reader, but the beauty of this book was each sentence had one or two pictures in place of words.  I would read the words and pause at the pictures. This gave my child the opportunity to fill in the word by looking at the picture. It was a great way to involve them in reading longer books and allowing them to participate in the reading.

Read more: Tips for establishing a bedtime routine for deaf children

Cooking + Readingtips to teach your deaf child to read

If you have a kid who won’t sit still long enough to get through a book, another way to teach reading is through cooking. Yup, that’s right, cooking! Use the back of a brownie or cake mix to teach reading. Most box mixes have pictures as well–showing eggs, a measuring cup, etc. Ask questions like, “Can you find the word, ‘Pan?’” “What temperature should I turn the oven on?” “How many minutes do we need to bake the muffins?” Let your child scan the box to find the answers.

On the Road tips to teach your deaf child to read

One of the first signs my kids learned to read was the “stop” sign. “Oh look, there’s the stop sign,” you say as you come to a stop. “S. T. O. P. Yup, that means stop. So I’ll need to stop here.” Yes, that sounds cheesy when you say it, but hey, you’re teaching your kid to read everything, everywhere you go. As they get older, you ask for help in finding certain exits. “I need to watch for the exit for Lawrence,” you say. “Can you help me find the exit that begins with the letter, L?” Do this within a mile or two at first. For more fun, start out on a trip with a list of words to find and cross them off as you pass them by.

Other Reading Tips:tips to teach your deaf child to read

When your child begins to learn to read and knows a few words from a favorite book, read along by pointing to each word and then stopping in puzzlement at a word that your child knows. Give them a chance to recognize and read the word–kids love to help adults and share what they know! When your child has a comprehensive understanding of a book, you can also have some fun by misreading a word and waiting to see if your child catches your mistake. This is also a way to test your child’s understanding. 

Another fun reading activity: alternate sentences when reading familiar books. You read one, your kid reads the next one.

Pick books that fit your child’s language development at the time. If you notice your child has a passion for a certain sport or activity, select books around those topics. Don’t be afraid to read books that are above your child’s reading level. The more words you expose your child to, the better!

Do you have any other reading tips or experiences teaching a deaf child to read? Let us know in the comments!

Karen Putz
Karen was born with normal hearing and became hard of hearing after a bout of illness in elementary school. At the age of 19, she tripped over a wake while barefoot water skiing and cartwheeled into the water. She thought she merely had water in her ears, but being deaf was here to stay, thanks to a wacky gene in her family. Becoming deaf turned out to be a blessing; after she dried the tears, Karen decided to embrace life and a whole new world opened up.

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