How I’ve Taught My 3-Year-Olds to Read

My two older boys have learned to start reading at age 3 and were fluent readers who had mastered all basic phonics sounds by age 4.

BUT, every child learns differently, it’s more important to teach your child to love reading than it is to have them reading on their own by age 4!  Go at your child’s pace but constantly challenge them to the next level.  I’ve met wonderful homeschool mom’s who have children that struggle until age 10 to read, that’s OKAY, hang in there!

I think many books and curricula over-complicate things and make it so frustrating for child AND parent.  I’m all about keeping it simple, frugal, and stress-free!  Here’s how WE did it (but go with the method that helps your child best!)…

My biggest secret has been flashcards.  Repetition with flashcards, games with flashcards, hanging flash cards on the wall, and… some more flashcards!  That visual aid that you can repeat many times a day.  Seeing the words, repeating the words, continually adding new words.  They can do flashcards while they jump, while they play with toys, while they drop marbles into a jar, etc, etc!
Step One: (Capital Letters)
From as young as they can start to comprehend, 18-24 months if possible!, start teaching them their capital letters.  Hang one letter at a time on your wall and point to it many, many times a day.  Keep reviewing previously learned letters by leaving them on the wall also.  You could also make a matching game (or an endless amount of other homemade learning games).  For matching, make two index cards both have the same capital letter, mix them all up, and ask them to find the two matching ones (two matching A’s, for example).

Step Two: (Sounds of Letters)
Once they can  ID all 26 capital letters, or even before, you can teach them that each letter makes a sound, and that each capital has a lowercase.  Teach them the one most basic sound for each letter of the alphabet (don’t worry about explaining to them that the A can make a few different sounds, etc).

“The A says “a” as in hat, bat, cat.  The E says “e” as in bed, pet, led.  The I says “i” as in pig, sin, hit.  The O says “o” as in hot, mop, doll.  The U says “u” as in up, rug, cup.”

Step Three:  (Sounding Out Simple Words)
After they know each capital letter and its most basic sound, they can start combining letters to read simple words!  Make flashcards for one vowel sound at a time.  I make a flashcard for every word I can think of that makes that sound.  This gives them a wider knowledge of words.  For example, bat, hat, cat, mat, rat, sat, pat, at, etc.

At first, sound out the word for them to show them how its done.  Next, have them sound it out by themselves.  Then graduate to slightly harder words for that sound, like… clap, flap, slab, stab, flat, snap, grab, trap, black, track, snack, stack, crack, staff, strap, etc.  Once they’ve mastered the “A,” go on to the next vowel, but keep continually reviewing those “A” words.

Step Four: (Lowercase Letters)
At any point after learning their capitals, you can have them start learning the lowercase letters also.  Start with the easy ones first, the lowercase letters that match their uppercase ones… c, f, j, k, l, m, o, p, s, t, u, v, w, x, y, z.  Again, any sort of matching games work great for this (have your child match the capitals to their lowercase).  Once they master the easy ones, start adding in the harder ones like a, b, d, e, etc.

Step Five:(Phonics Sounds List)
Okay, so your child can ID all 26 letters of the alphabet in capital and lowercase!  They know the most basic sound that each letter makes.  They can even read simple words like hat, cat, bat!  Now what?

A simple phonics-sound list to go by is all you need as a parent.  Start teaching your child one phonics sound at a time.  For example, show your child how the CH says “ch.”  Make flashcards for every “ch” word you can think of and help them master them!  “Chin, chop, chat, check,” etc.  When they master the first phonics sound, go on to the next one.  Keep reviewing the ones they’ve previously learned.  Never stop reviewing!  Make as many flashcards as you can to increase their repetition and number of words that they know.

Step Six: (Sight Words)
Anywhere in the above process, and as soon as they are ready, you can also have them start to memorize a few sight words, using flashcards of course!  “And, the, so, me, I, do, we,” etc.  Continually add new sight words each week to increase the number of words your child can read!

Don’t forget to let them read BOOKS too!
After my children start their first phonics sounds, I attempt to start very easy little books with them.  Actually, my homemade ones have been our favorites.  You can make your child a book, putting together all the words that they know.
DSCN9104 DSCN9105If you read books with them that contain words they do not know, show them those words so they can start to learn them!

When my children start to read words I’ve never taught them I feel like a miracle has taken place!  It is such a JOY to watch this happen before your very Mama eyes!  By the time you get close to the end of your phonics list, your child will most likely already know those last few sounds without you ever having even taught them!  It’s a miracle!  🙂


I had gotten my phonics list from a little book that was given to me, “Happy Phonics.”  I didn’t follow all their ideas, games, or ways of teaching.  I basically just used their phonics list in the back of the book and started working my way through them with my child.  I’m a rebel like that!  🙂

Phonics Groups/ Sounds From “Happy Phonics:”
th- thin, that, with, bath, etc
ch- chin, chop, chip, much, etc
sh- wish, ship, cash, shed, etc
wh- whip, which, when, etc

a3- ball, car, art, star, park, fall, wash, etc

ee- see, tree, seed, sweet, three, etc
ea- eat, treat, beach, wheat, dream, etc

er- her, fern, sister, herd, etc
ir- first, thirst, sir, bird, birth, etc
ur- fur, burn, hurt, turn, etc
wor- work, word, worm, worth, etc
ear- earth, earn, learn, search, etc

_y – my, by, shy, why, try, etc
___y – windy, silly, happy, puppy, etc

ai- rain, train, maid, mail, trail, drain, etc
ay- say, pray, day, clay, spray, etc

oi- oil, boil, coin, point, moist, etc
oy- toy, boy, joy, etc

au- haul, fault, launch, etc
aw- saw, jaw, straw, yawn, etc

sion- vision, session, mission, etc
tion- action, nation, station, fraction, etc

ch (2)- echo, chord, Christ, etc

ea (2)- bread, pear, head, sweat, leather, etc

c (2)- cent, city, circus, center, prince, etc

g (2)- gem, page, giraffe, gel, etc

ou- loud, out, mouth, pound, etc
ow- cow, brown, down, crowd, etc

oa- boat, goat, soak, toast, foam, loaf, etc

ow (2)- snow, show, throw, blow, etc

oo- too, food, moon, broom, zoo, etc
ew- new, blew, chew, threw, screw, etc
u_e- cute, blue, glue, tube, rude, etc
ui- fruit, suit, cruise, etc

gn- sign, gnat, gnaw, etc
kn- knot, knew, knee, knit, etc
wr- write, wrap, wring, etc
__b- lamb, thumb, plumber, etc

-ould- should, would, could

ph- graph, phonics, physical, orphan, elephant, etc

ou (2)- four, pour, your, etc

oo (2)- book, good, foot, shook, etc

igh- high, sigh, night, fight, bright, etc

eigh- eight, sleigh, neighbor, weigh, freight, etc

_y_ – hymn, myth, system, etc

ou (3)- you, soup, group, youth, etc

augh- taught, caught, daughter, etc
ough- brought, sought, thought, etc

ie- chief, grief, priest, piece, cookie, etc
ei- (i before e, except after c)- receive, conceive, deceive, etc
ey- key, honey, turkey, monkey, etc

ey (2)- they, obey, prey, etc

One thing that this list didn’t teach was that the vowel says its name when there’s a silent e on the end.  So you could make flashcards for…
A- rake, made, lake, gate, etc
E- theme, scene, etc
I- bike, ride, file, side, etc
O- nose, tote, mode, sole, etc
U- (is included in above list)- tube, cute, flute, glue, etc

I’m sure you’re done reading this post by now, but one more thing!… After my child has mastered this list, I jot down troublesome words that they come across in a book and make a flashcard out of it.  We practice it until they know the word well.

Hope you enjoy the “miracle” of teaching your child to read!!

My son who is 4 years, 4 months reads at this level right now, you can do it too!…
06-08-2014 102 DSCN9106


3 thoughts on “How I’ve Taught My 3-Year-Olds to Read

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