Like most dads, Spencer Russell’s life changed when he became a parent. But what’s less typical is that the Houston, Texas-based elementary school teacher switched careers so he could spend more time at home with his young son (now 5). Always passionate about reading, a light bulb went off when Spencer’s son was a toddler and he ultimately pivoted to what is now Toddlers Can Read.
These days, Spencer encourages parents to use simple tools, like a white board and marker, to kick off the reading process.
He spoke with The Local Moms Network about what binds us as parents: re-evaluating life with parenthood, wanting the best for our kids, and using small moments of connection to build big results.
Can you please tell us more about your background and launching Toddlers Can Read?
Prior to launching Toddlers Can Read, I was a kindergarten and first grade teacher here in Houston for 6 years. I loved my students and their families dearly and had committed to being a teacher for the rest of my life. But, when my partner and I found out we were having our son, everything changed and I knew I couldn’t be the kind of teacher and daddy I wanted to be.
So, I left teaching and worked as the Director of Learning and Development at an educational nonprofit specializing in curriculum-specific professional development for teachers. This role allowed me to spend more time with my son since I was working from home. And part of that time—starting around 18 months but picking up in earnest at 2 years old—was spent teaching him how to read.
And here’s the thing: I didn’t teach him how to read for social media; I didn’t have social media. And I didn’t do it to compete against other kids or other parents; I wanted everyone’s kids to succeed. I taught him to read as a toddler because I knew firsthand as a teacher (and a student) the difference it makes in a child’s life when they enter school knowing how to read vs. when they don’t. And fortunately, it worked! He read his first word at 25 months and was READING reading by 2.5 years old.
After talking with friends, meditating alone, and racking my brain to figure out what I wanted to do for the rest of my life that would be genuinely meaningful to me and to the world, it came to me. Almost all at once. And I knew I was going to help other parents experience the same joy and the same success that I experienced while teaching my son to read. That night, I bought the domain toddlersread.com and have been working on Toddlers Can Read ever since.
What does reading open up for children?
Reading means different things for different people and everyone has a different, yet valid reason for teaching their own children how to read. Here are some of the reasons I hear the most often:
- Parents who love reading and want their kids to love it too
- Parents who struggled learning how to read and want to do better for their kids
- Parents who want their kids to be able to learn about the world around them
- Parents who want to increase their child’s confidence and self esteem
- Parents whose kids are naturally interested in letters and books
- Parents whose kids might need additional academic support
More than anything, reading opens up opportunities. And for many of our kids, that really matters.
For parents dipping their toe into the idea of toddler reading, what is the advice you would share about whether to start the process?
If you’re on the fence as to whether or not to teach your child to read, I recommend just giving it a shot. You’re not committing to anything other than trying! So try this:
- Show your child 2 or 3 letters at a time and tell them the sound that each letter makes.
- Play games with those letters to get them to stomp on, hit, or throw the letters when you make the sound.
- Add new sounds to the mix once they have them down.
- Review the sounds they’ve learned daily so they don’t forget!
And just like that, your child will be on their way to learning all 26 letter sounds which is one of the biggest milestones in learning how to read!
Is there anything else you want us to know?
Here are my top 3 resources to support you on this reading journey : )
- Paid Courses: I have 3 full courses designed to help you teach your child to read, step by step, from start to finish!
- Free Workshop: I have a 30 minute on-demand free workshop where you can learn how to teach your child to read and chat with me live if you have questions or need support!
- Free Quizzes: I also have two free quizzes- one for younger readers and one for older readers- to help you figure out where your child is now in their reading journey and what to work on next!