Teaching a 3-year-old to Read in Two Weeks

-- from a post on MTDaily on May 31, 1998 by Mary M


All you really need is to sit in the dirt and draw with your finger, but 3 x 5 cards will do, or fancy kinetic ones with sandpaper if you wish. Just nothing on them but lower case 26 letters (26 cards).

The three steps for teaching skills:

  1. Show and tell, "This says ahhhh" and show the 'o' and trace it with two fingers. Have them say it and trace it, then present two more the same way, I usually use 's' and 'c' next. 'S' does not say eeessss, but only the ssss hiss sounds, and 'c' does not say cuhhhh, it says kkkkkk without any vowel.
  1. Matching game: "Close your eyes" (they love this part) -- Mix the three up and place them in front of them. Have them open their eyes. "Give me the one that says ssss" or whatever, and if they hesitate too long, point to it and say "It's this one" (this is a game, not a test, and we cheat lots). Then do the same for the others. Repeat 4-5 times having them close their eyes.

That's it for the first day, takes 5 minutes. You can do it later in the day if they want, or show another child how to do it and let them watch or do it with them. Only two times a day at most is best.

The next day, start with closing eyes and put the three cards out, do the same thing. If they get them all easily, present 2-3 more, but present 'd' early and save 'p' and 'q' and 'b' for later, about every 5 letters, and expect them to confuse them for a while. 'x' is the kissing sound, 'h' looks like a little chair and when you sit down and you are tired you say hhhhhh (not huh) and you can do other associations just for the sound itself, but do not mention any words it starts with or confuse them with apples and other objects. These are just sounds with a symbol to tell us to say them. Limit the number you set out for a matching game to at most 6-8, and put in some of the recall ones for review too.

  1. Recall: If they pick it up fast the first two days, you can start the third day saying, "Let's start by seeing how many you remember." Present one at a time and ask if they remember what it sounds like. If they say "no" or hesitate, just tell them quickly and set it aside. If they remember two, say, "Great, you remembered two! Now let's play a game with the others." In this manner, each day you set aside the recalled ones and play games with the matching level ones, adding 2-3 per day, or more, depending on their interest.

Once they have learned about 15 letters of the letters at recall level and have the others going pretty well in matching level games, you want to introduce the concept of a word. (This may be about 2 weeks, more or less). Make an extra 'm' card. Put the 'm', 'o', 'm' cards out and just start over at the show-and-tell level, showing them by saying it slowly, mmmm-ahhh-mmmm. Say "what does that sound like?" Say it a few more times, more run together, until you see the light in their eyes! At that moment, they understand what it is to read.

Now you can make an index card with the word 'mom'. I like to do 'hugs' next. Then 'dad'. But focus back on the sounds and just do show-and-tell level for the word 'mom' and then 'hugs' and then 'dad' over 2-3 days, and then you can begin the matching level with those three cards, "Give me the one that says 'mom'" etc.

Once they can do those three words at recall, and once they have finished all 26 letters, not perfect but at least all but pbqd, begin teaching them 1-3 words per day, always 3-letter phonetic words: fox, sit, hit, run, box, mop, sad, leg, rat, cut, etc.

You can set aside the sounds (except to show dad or teach a friend) for now and just play the word game. Expect 50 words in a few weeks.

Then you present the concept of sentences if they haven't already gotten it. You'll need strips of paper, not too long. "mom hugs dad" is first, of course ... then simple 3-word sentences, and repeat the very same steps, show-and-tell, matching, recall. Avoid testing but share the enthusiasm. Keep the cards up high out of reach between game times. Let older siblings play the game with them. Teach your kids to teach anyone how to read. Everyone ought to know how to teach another person to read. :)

At this point, after about 20 or so sentences, you will want to get Bob books or something like that, but go slow for the transition to books. Play games like taping words all over the house, etc.

More important than the books at this point is the phonemes ... make cards with ee, oo, th, ch, sh, ph, ie, ea, ou and a few more I can't remember. Repeat the same steps. Then make words using these phonemes and go through the same steps. Then make sentences using these words.

Of course, when you start sentences you'll need to explain that sometimes these sounds don't obey, they want to say something else! Like "the" where the 'e' doesn't say ehhh, but uhhh (the dumb sound!). But make light of it, they just have to learn these by sight.

And from here the books will help, but don't jump into hard books. At 3 or 4, you need to stay in the very, very simple books with 6-10 sentences for a longer time.

With a 2-1/2 year old, this might take a little longer. One of my grand-daughters begged and began at 18 months. But at 5, it might take them just as much time because it's boring by then. 2-1/2 to 3-1/2 is the ideal age for this learning, by Montessori's studies of children's sensitive periods. Don't miss them because it can be harder later.

You can play sound games in the car, "What does this say, "mmmm ahhhh pppp?" Say a little faster and run together 3-4 times until they say "mop" etc...etc... Ear training ...

With my fourth child who was not easily excited about anything, I used M&Ms to reward him ... the summer he was four, I gave him an M&M after each page in the book as he read! :) He graduated from Annapolis 2 years ago. :)

The joy of seeing your child discover reading is something I think belongs to every mother! Just avoid having them perform ... coach them, don't test them.


Return to CCFDCA Home Page