how to teach a 3 year old to read?

How to Teach a 3 Year Old to Read? Is it Too Early?

Welcome back to Best Case Parenting and another article around the article of reading. I have already done articles that talk about the best and worst ways to teach a child reading, but I have heard a lot of people online asking this specific question “How can I teach my 3-year-old to read?”.

Today, I want to give you my view as a teacher of young children for over a decade. When you start teaching your child to read? How to teach a 3 year old to read? These are all questions I would like to answer below. If you have ever thought about these questions, please read on 🙂

When Should I Teach my 3-Year-Old to Read?

Firstly, I would like to start by putting your mind at ease. You really don’t have to worry if your child is not reading yet, at 3 years old they are still very young. The problem many parents have is they hear about other people’s children starting to read and think that their child is behind! I always like to say to my parents that education is a marathon, not a sprint!

Most people hope their children will go to university, meaning their children will be in education for at least 20 years! This is a long time! In the grand schemes of things, it isn’t the be all and end all if your child is not reading at 3 years old.

If your child takes a natural interest in reading, then go right ahead and start helping them learn. Otherwise, there really is no rush.

Think of education for your child as giving them skills that will last them a lifetime, not just filling up their head with information. At 3 years old, things such as learning to get on with our peers and solving simple problems independently are of equal importance as learning to read. In fact, I would consider them more important! If you can’t get on with people in life, you won’t get far even if you can read flawlessly 🙂

The approach I like to take is to first build up a love of books in a child before even trying to teach them to read. Very often a child’s love of books will give them a natural curiosity and interest to learn what is written on the pages of their favourite books.

So go to the library with your child often! Buy them some quality children’s books. Make sure to read to them regularly. All these things will get the ball rolling and help your child grow a real interest in books. You could go even further by taking them to see performances of their favourite books, whatever will help fan the flames of their interest. found (for example) the exact same thing through their research. That reading to a child from a very young age helps them to have a positive outlook on books and reading throughout their early life.

How to Teach My 3-Year-Old to Read?

OK, so you have decided to teach your 3-year-old to read, but you have no idea where to start. Hopefully, I can at least give you a good place to begin 🙂

There are many ways people teach children to read. Today I will show you my favourite one.

I use a phonic curriculum from the UK called ‘Letters and Sounds’. This is a program that I use on a daily basis as a teacher of young children, but it can also be used by parents with a little background reading.

Why do I like Letters and Sounds? There are two main factors I see as crucial to teaching a child to read. One is to make it fun, so that the child is learning without even realising. The second is to make sure that you are teaching a child in the correct order. Reading is a process that a child needs to learn step by step, if you jump around too much they may get confused and disheartened.

Letters and sounds hits a home run in both of these factors. It comes with fun games you can play a long the way, along with providing a set of phases that a child can work through.

To get more details on the Letters and Sounds program, you can download a teacher’s guide HERE.

The Stages of Reading that a 3-Year-Old Needs to Go Through

Learning to read is a process that needs to be learned step by step. If you take your time to go through each step, you will be giving your child the best possible chance to succeed in reading.

1. Sound Recognition and Differentiation

This is a stage that a lot of parents (and even teachers) miss out, but it covered in depth during the first phases of the Letters and Sounds program.

Before you dive right into teaching a child phonics, they need to tune in to the different sounds around them first. This can be as simple as taking a walk in the park with your child and talking about and distinguishing between the different sounds you can hear. You could then move on to a game where you play several sounds to your child and they guess what each one is. I won’t go into the full detail here, but you can read the Letters and Sounds guide above to get the full picture.

2. Rhyming and Alliteration

Again, a lot of people miss out this important pre-phonic stage and then wonder why their child is struggling.

What is rhyming? Wikipedia elegantly puts it like this……

rhyme is a repetition of similar sounds (usually, exactly the same sound) in the final stressed syllables and any following syllables of two or more words. Most often, this kind of perfect rhyming is consciously used for effect in the final positions of lines of poems and songs. Source: Wikipedia

What is alliteration? Again, Wikipedia puts it like this….

In literaturealliteration is the conspicuous repetition of identical initial consonant sounds in successive or closely associated syllables within a group of words, even those spelled differently. As a method of linking words for effect, alliteration is also called head rhyme or initial rhyme. For example, “humble house,” or “potential power play.” A familiar example is Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers”. Source: Wikipedia

These first stages are essential before you even attempt to start teaching phonic sounds to your children. Think of it as the groundwork necessary to make learning phonics as straightforward as possible.

The Letters and Sounds program contains a lot of games and activities to do this, but the easiest way is to read a lot of story books to your children that include rhyming and alliteration.

My personal favourite is Julia Donaldson, whose books feature this in abundance! After a while, encourage your child to start guessing the rhyming words at the end of each sentence.

Below is a video of one of Julia Donaldson’s most popular stories “The Gruffalo”.

3. Voice Sounds

Now that your child can distinguish different sounds in the world around them, now they can start trying to make different sounds themselves. Making different sounds will get a child’s mouth ready for the different sounds they need to say whilst learning phonics.

Whether it be imitating different sounds from the world around them or using sounds to accompany their play, this type of practice will help a lot when it comes to saying phonic sounds later on.

4. Recognising the Patterns and Syllables in Words.

If your child can realise that words are broken up into different sounds and syllables, this will help a lot when you ask them to start sounding out real words.

Playing a simple clapping game is one way to do this, as you speak you can clap along with the syllables in the words you are saying. Encourage your child to do the same back to you.

5. Start Teaching Phonic Sounds and Trying to Make Simple Words.

With all the ground work done, it is now time to start teaching your child the different phonic sounds. Letters and Sounds breaks the phonic sounds into a specific order. They do this to give your child the opportunity to play around with sounding out real CVC (3 letter words) straight away.

For example, the first week would see your child learn the sounds:


Already your child can play around with making words such as:





I say play around, as it will take time for your child to learn this skill of sounding out words. Don’t make them feel under pressure to pick this up quickly, make sure to be positive and encouraging. Give your child as much time as they need to learn this important skill.

Below you can see the full set of Phase 2 phonic sounds within the Letters and Sounds program:

How to Teach a 3 Year Old to Read? Is it Too Early? 1

Whilst teaching the individual phonic sounds, I like to play fun games to do this. It can be as simple as a matching game, where you lay out phonic flashcards in pairs face down for your child to find matching pairs. You could hide phonic cards around your house and ask your child to sound out each sound as they find them. I am sounding like a broken record, but the Letters and Sounds guide linked above has a plethora of game ideas.

When it comes to practising sounding out simple CVC words, I like to play a simple real or funny word game. Get phonic cards of the sounds your child has learned and put them into two piles of vowels and consonants. Then draw three cards (making sure the vowel is in the middle) and sound the word out with your child. Then decide together whether this is a real or funny word.

6. Tricky Words

It would be awesome if English was a perfect system, but unfortunately it isn’t 🙂 So you will note that from Phase 2 onwords, Letters and Sounds starts to include tricky words. These are words that can’t be decoded in the normal way, and therefore need to be learned by sight. You can use similar activities for learning these that you would use to learn single phonic sounds.

7. Digraphs and Trigraphs

The final step is to learn digraphs and trigraphs. A digraph is a sound made up from two phonic sounds, such as ‘Th’ and ‘Sh’, whereas a trigraph has these sounds ‘igh’ and ‘ear’.

By following the phased of Letters and Sounds all of these different elements with be introduced in a step by step process.

Anything Else to Consider?

When teaching your child to read, make it as fun as possible. If you are struggling for game ideas and don’t like the Letters and Sounds ones, the internet is literally full of other games you could play with your child.

Also, try to keep your phonic sessions short and sweet. For a 3-year-old child, you can do one or two five-minute sessions a day. Quick fire games will be much easier for your child to digest at such a young age. Of course, every child is different, and if your child is still actively engaged in a game, feel free to continue.

If it is clear that your child has lost interest, simply end the session and try again another time. Trying to force a young child to learn to read will only end in frustration for everyone involved 🙂

A common mistake that some parents make is to say the phonic sounds incorrectly when teaching their child. It is vital you know exactly how each phonic sound should be said to help your child when it comes to sounding out and blending words. The video below from Oxford Owl will help with this.

Any Other Options?

If you have read through my article and still feel lost, don’t worry. Long time readers of my blog will know that there is a reading program that I have reviewed on here and absolutely love. That program is called Children Learning Reading. Why do I love it? Put simply, it is designed for parents and literally walks you through every aspect of teaching a young child to read. Even including the lessons and resources you will need.

So, if you don’t have a lot of time and just want to teach your child to read, you can read my Children Learning Reading review over HERE. Alternatively, you go have a look at their official website HERE.

Happy Reading

Thank you for reading my article, if you have any further questions, feel free to leave them in the comments section below. Also, if you have your own experiences of teaching a 3-year-old to read, leave a comment in the comments section below for that too 🙂 I love to hear from the parenting community.

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