Teach Your Child to Read by Age 3: A Free Reading Program

Teach Your Child to Read: A Free Reading Program

How DO children learn to read? Is anyone even asking that question anymore? Our government isn’t. The National Reading Panel submitted its findings about how children learn to read in 2000 and has not reconvened since, even though only 36% of 4th graders and 34% of 8th graders are reading proficiently or above in the United States of America (according to 2015 National Assessment of Education Progress reports).

Well I am asking that question. I want to know how children learn to read. And you know what? I figured it out. I cracked the code. I learned…no, I discovered, that children can learn how to read EASILY by the age of 3. By applying what I learned while being a teacher for 7 years and getting my Master’s degree with an emphasis on Language Acquisition to teaching my own five children, I learned what they are truly capable of.

I created this reading program to give parents the tools to teach their children how to read by the age of 3. By starting this program when children are between 6-8 months of age, the learning can happen a little bit over a long period of time during a crucial time of brain development that will make learning how to read easy and fun. (Children can start this program at any age and still follow the same 8 steps, it may just require more repetition and time.)

This blog is a portal to a series of 8 blogs I have written that explain in full detail how to teach your child how to read. I have spent the last two years creating my own font, hand drawing and digitizing flashcards, creating videos, apps, and more because there is nothing out there that meets the needs of teaching children how to read from a young age. So, please, enjoy this free reading program and enjoy teaching your child how to read!

Teach Your Child to Read: A Free Reading Program

  1. How to Introduce Your Child to Reading
  2. Learning the Alphabet Lays the Foundation for Reading
  3.  Memorizing Words is What Good Readers Do
  4.  Building Vocabulary with Colors, Numbers, and Shapes
  5. Phonemic Awareness Leads to Reading Success
  6.  Teaching Phonics with Three Letter Words
  7. Encouraging Children to Read Independently
  8. Reinforcing Reading with Writing
Reading with 3 Month Old Jack

Reading with 3 Month Old Jack

My Journey of Discovery

When my daughter Ruby was 6 months old (She’s now 7 and the oldest of my 5 children.), I started watching word videos with her and teaching her the ABCs. There was a silent period as she was soaking everything in, but then at 15 months, she had a language EXPLOSION! Not only did she know her letter names and sounds, but she was able to read the words we had been working on. People would say,

“Yeah, but she just memorized those words”, and I would say, “Yes!!! Memorizing words is a part of reading!”

I continued to work with her and read with her, and by the time she was 3, she was reading books. I worked with my remaining four children in the same manner, and I have seen that this is not a fluke, but a pattern with every child. An interesting thing to note is that due to a big move and some life changes, we did not start these pre-reading activities with our second child, Elliot, when he was a baby. Instead, we followed the same steps as with our other children but at a later age, and he learned how to read when he was 5. I really started working on creating my reading program with our third child, Ophelia, and she was reading fluently by the time she was 2.5. I worked with our fourth child, Julian, in the same manner. He is 2 now, and not only reads many words but has an extensive vocabulary as well. Our fifth child, Jack, is 3 months old, and I’m just starting to read with him now!

Scott Reading with Ophelia

Scott Reading with Ophelia

Brain Development

But don’t just take my word for it, take a look at the fascinating way in which children’s brains develop. From 0-3 months of age, the 4th trimester if you will, there is not a lot of brain activity, then at 6 months of age, there is an EXPLOSION of synapses (where two neurons connect). This happens because of EXPERIENCES and INTERACTIONS.  (Check out this AMAZING visual here.)

Whatever babies experience and whatever they interact with lays the framework for ALL brain development. This explosion continues until the age of 2 when synaptic pruning occurs and the brain starts to take a “use it or lose it” approach. (Read more about how children’s brains are wired for learning here.) If you lay the foundation for reading WHILE there is a synaptic explosion and BEFORE synaptic pruning occurs, it will make learning to read so easy!


How the Brain Transmits Signals – Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons (2013) Gif created from Inside the Brain: Unraveling the Mystery of Alzheimer’s Disease

You Can Do It!!!

You don’t need to be a teacher, and you don’t need to know what you’re doing AT ALL in order to teach your child to read by the age of 3. If you go through my 8 steps and use the resources I’ve provided, you will be learning alongside your child in a fun and easy way. It makes me sad to know that only 36% of 4th graders and 34% of 8th graders are proficient or above at reading in this great nation of ours, but it also makes me hopeful because I know that if as parents, we take on the task of teaching our children how to read from a young age, those numbers would turn around fast. But it’s not just about the numbers, I don’t teach my children how to read at a young age so they can be good at tests, I teach them so that they will have a LOVE of reading and use that to unlock the mysteries of the world for THEMSELVES.

1. Introduce Reading

When newborns arrive into the world, everything is new, and they need to be protected and sheltered as if they were in the womb. But then, starting at about 6-8 weeks when their brains have adjusted to this new outside world, they start to become responsive and crave human eye contact and interaction. This is where language begins. (See Jack and I having baby conversations here.) By the time babies are 3-4 months, they can hold their heads up, grab things, follow a moving object, and are more interested in shapes and patterns. This is the perfect time to start reading to your baby. Read my blog: How to Introduce Reading to Your Baby to see my tips for introducing reading to your baby as well as my favorite first books to read with babies.

How to Introduce Your Child to Reading (Part 1 in a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

How to Introduce Your Child to Reading (Part 1 in a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

2. The Alphabet

Everyone knows that learning the ABCs is a crucial part of learning how to read, but did you know that children are totally capable of learning letter names and sounds by the time they are 15 months old? Why are we forcing children to wait until they are school aged when they WANT to learn earlier? The alphabet contains the building blocks of language, and when you teach babies starting at 6-8 months of age what this code means, their brains will weave this knowledge into its frameworks instead of trying to find a place to force it in later.

I have spent the last two years hand drawing my own font and creating flashcards, posters, a video, and an app (well, my husband made that) that will teach children the alphabet completely and thoroughly. Trust me, there is nothing else out in the market like this, and this is the reason why I was compelled to made it. So, check out my blog: Learning the Alphabet Lays the Foundation for Reading and you can have free access to all of my resources, plus tips on teaching the alphabet, and additional resources that will make it SO EASY to teach your baby (or child of any age) the ABCs.

Learning the Alphabet is the Foundation of Reading (Part 2 of a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

Learning the Alphabet is the Foundation of Reading (Part 2 of a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

3. Memorizing Words

People are always blown away when my little ones can read words while they are learning how to speak them. Teaching children how to memorize words (starting at 6-8 months to be proficient by 12-15 months) as their oral language is developing is a perfect fit. This is a VERY important step in teaching children how to read and is missing from every existing reading program out there. Some programs teach children sight words, but I am not talking about sight words here. I am talking about teaching children that letters are used to form written words, that these written words have meaning, and that they can communicate with these written words.

I have carefully selected the words that I use in my flashcards, posters, video, and app to be meaningful to children. Check out my blog: Memorizing Words is What Good Readers Do to learn more about the reasons why memorizing words is such a crucial part of learning how to read and to get teaching tips, all of my resources for free, and recommendations for additional resources that will help you to easily teach your child to memorize words.

Memorizing Words is What Good Readers Do (Part 3 of a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

Memorizing Words is What Good Readers Do (Part 3 of a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

4. Building Vocabulary

Children are naturally curious about the world around them. They want to explore, make a mess, figure out what everything is, see how things work, and learn what everything is called. As parents, we are their guides to this world, and the best way to teach them about it is to follow their lead and explain whatever they are holding and whatever they are interested in. In doing so, we are building their background knowledge which will aid tremendously in their reading comprehension abilities.

In these vocabulary resources, I have focused on creating materials that will help children learn colors, numbers, and shapes because these are as fundamental and foundational as learning the ABCs. Everything children learn is in layers, and if they can start at the bottom and work their way up in complexity, everything will stay in their zone of proximal development and be retained. Read my blog: Building Vocabulary with Colors, Numbers, and Shapes to get access to my flashcards, books, links to additional resources, and tips for helping children develop background knowledge.

Building Vocabulary with Colors, Numbers, and Shapes (Part 4 in a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

Building Vocabulary with Colors, Numbers, and Shapes (Part 4 in a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

5. Phonemic Awareness

Studies show that, “The two best predictors of early reading success are alphabet recognition and phonemic awareness“. But what is phonemic awareness?  Rooted in oral language, phonemic awareness is the ability to hear, identify, and manipulate all of the sounds that the letters make. (There are 44 sounds in the English language; each sound is called a phoneme.) The first 26 sounds are fairly easy because they are directly correlated with the alphabet. (When first teaching the ABCs, I recommend starting with the short vowel sounds.) The next 18 are a bit tricky.

In my blog: Phonemic Awareness Leads to Reading Success, I share resources that I have made to teach children (and adults) about the common spelling patterns used to make long vowels, other vowel sounds such as the long and short oo, r controlled vowels, and diphthongs, as well as digraphs.

Phonemic Awareness Leads to Reading Success (Part 5 in a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

Phonemic Awareness Leads to Reading Success (Part 5 in a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

6. Phonics with Three Letter Words

Each letter has a name, each letter makes a sound, and when we put those sounds together we make words. This is phonics. After children are familiar with letter names, letter sounds, memorizing words, vocabulary, and phonemic awareness, they are ready to start building words. In most cases, children don’t start to learn about phonics until they are in school, and then they spend a LOT of time going over every possible way to spell words with a plethora of worksheets.

What I have found, is that by keeping the focus extremely basic (by just teaching three letter word families with short vowel sounds) that children will get the basic concept and be able to apply it to new words on their own. This is the Helen Keller water scene moment for children where they finally see how all of the pieces are connected and reading begins to occur “as if by magic”. Check out my blog: Teaching Phonics with Three Letter Words to have access to all of my resources and recommendations for teaching phonics.

Teaching Phonics with Three Letter Words (Part 6 in a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

Teaching Phonics with Three Letter Words (Part 6 in a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

7. Independent Readers

Reading is awesome. I love reading, and I love sharing my love of reading with my children. These days, I’m primarily into reading nonfiction research pertaining to blog topics that I want to write about. When my kids see me reading, I tell them what I’m reading and what I’m learning. My husband does the same thing. He’s very techy and is currently learning about programming. Not only does he share this knowledge with them, but he’s teaching them about programming as well. He also really loves fiction and reads his favorite Illustrated Classics with the older kids before bed every night.

I want our children to see our passions, to see how we learn, and to see our reasoning and thought processes for choosing what we do, not so that they can learn about the same things, but so they can follow their OWN passions. In my blog: Encouraging Children to Read Independently, I share my tips for creating a reading environment, tips on encouraging children to read independently, and my favorite reading resources for children of all ages.

Encouraging Children to Read Independently (Part 7 in a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

Encouraging Children to Read Independently (Part 7 in a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

8. Enforcing Reading with Writing

When children are in kindergarten and preschool, they are taught to write letters WHILE they are learning how to read them. That is a LOT to do at once. Not only that, but the pace moves quickly and sequentially. If children learn letter names and letter sounds BEFORE they are introduced to writing, then they can just focus on writing and use it as a vehicle to reinforce what they learned about reading. Writing takes a lot of dexterity and fine motor control, and it’s not feasible to teach children how to write when they are babies like it is to teach them how to read.

That being said, there are things that you can do with children at a young age to prepare them for writing when they are ready. In my blog, Reinforcing Reading with Writing, I share my resources that will help prepare children for writing in addition to my favorite writing resources that will make learning how to write easy and fun.

Reinforcing Reading With Writing (Part 8 in a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

Reinforcing Reading With Writing (Part 8 in a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

In Conclusion

There is a magic window to teach your child how to read between the ages of 6 months and 2 years of age. During this time, the brain is laying its foundation based on experiences and interactions. If we take advantage of this window and teach children the letter names and sounds, how to memorize words, vocabulary, phonemic awareness, how to sound out three letter words and do so through quality literature, then learning how to read will come easily and occur naturally “as if by magic”. When we start pre-reading activities with our children when they are very young, the lessons can be simple, sparse, and short. Spreading a little out over a long period of time is a much easier approach than waiting for a ridiculously long time and then cramming in a lot over a short period of time.

But even if you haven’t started with your child at a young age, it’s not too late. You may have to work a little harder to make these steps exciting and engaging for an older child, but rest assured that if you follow this process, your child will learn how to read. By presenting children with the gift of reading, not only will they have complete access to the world around them, but they will be able to follow their own passions, read about their own interests, and go farther than you could have ever possibly imagined.

Memorizing Words is What Good Readers Do (Part 3 of a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

Memorizing Words is What Good Readers Do (Part 3 of a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

As children are learning about letter names and letter sounds, it’s important for them to simultaneously learn that letters are used to form words and that words carry meaning. Memorizing words is a MUCH bigger part of reading than people realize. Once a word is memorized, it doesn’t need to be sounded out. (I’ll talk about sounding out words in part 5.)

When creating my resources, I chose common words that children would hear often and that would be useful to know. Many times, people have children memorize “sight words” like the, from, and said, but these words don’t have an easily discernable meaning like the ones I have chosen here. My feelings about “sight words” or “frequently used words” is that since they are so frequently used, it seems redundant to memorize them in isolation when children will encounter them repeatedly while engaged with quality literature. But I digress…

I don’t include any pictures with these words resources because I want children to memorize the shape of the word as if it were a picture. I want them to understand the entire meaning of the word. I also chose many words that require actions. As children learn these words, I recommend bringing them to life and using the flashcards in conjunction with my Words Video as well as your own motions.

Age to Start

The ideal time to start teaching children to memorize words is between 6-8 months of age. This is when the neurons in their brain are exploding with growth! I recommend starting with the ABCs FIRST, but then introducing these words shortly thereafter. The ABCs are the smallest snippets of written language, more easily identifiable, and easier to memorize as a set, but children need to see pretty quickly what these letters are being used for.

How I Discovered the Importance of Memorizing Words

When my daughter Ruby (my first of five) was 6 months old, I started showing her the Your Baby Can Read videos (now called Your Baby Can Learn…people got mad about the claims that babies could read and so they have had to rebrand themselves). They were simple, engaging, and effective. While watching the videos together, she was always engaged, but she never vocalized anything until after about 10 months. (This is the silent period of language acquisition where children are little sponges taking everything in, but not yet speaking.)

Then at about 12-14 months old, she expressed an explosion of language! She started out by saying the beginning sounds of the words and eventually words by the dozen. By the time she was 15 months old, I would write down words from the video and she would read them! Then I started adding more words pertaining to things she liked: cat, walk, moon, mom, dad, Ruby, etc. and after repeated exposure, she would read those too.

People who saw her do this would be blown away, but they would say, “She’s not reading those words, she just memorized them.” And I would say,


We are so trained to think that words need to be sounded out, and yes, that is a part of reading too, but once a word has been sounded out over and over again, it becomes MEMORIZED.

How to Teach

At birth, a newborn’s brain contains 100 billion neurons, but it’s not the neurons that are so fascinating as is the connections between them. When two neurons connect, the path between them is covered in a fatty myelin sheath. The more something is done or used, the thicker the myelin sheath gets and the faster the connection becomes. When children learn the same thing (like memorizing words) over and over and over again, the speed of recognition increases until it is automatic and instantaneous.

A synapse is basically the space where two neurons connect, and when children are 6 months old, there is an EXPLOSION of synapse formations, this continues until the age of 2 when synaptic pruning begins to occur. So basically, whatever isn’t used goes away to strengthen what is being utilized in the child’s environment. (Check out this AMAZING visual here.) That is why it is CRUCIAL to lay the foundation for brain development with the right things, and why it is imperative to start at a young age. Memorizing words is a HUGE part of learning how to read, and if it can be introduced before the age of two it will be part of the brain’s framework.

I highly recommend using the Words Flashcards with my Words Video because these words need to be brought to life! I also recommend finding at least 5 minutes three times per week to teach these words. As you read through these words with your child, remember them so that when you’re going about your day you can talk about their meaning and point them out. I really like writing words down in a little book, on a white board, or on a piece of paper for us to color over as well.

Reading with Julian

Reading with Julian

My Resources

I have hand drawn and digitized each of these resources to specifically fit the needs of my own children. Someday, I would like to create a “Teach Your Child to Read Kit” that will bundle everything together in one package, but for now, I want to get this information and these resources out there. Please feel free to print as many copies as you would like for your own personal use.

If you are going to be making these, I highly recommend getting the following supplies:

  • Printer – A good basic printer like this will do the job, but if you’re going to be doing a lot of printing, I would recommend something like this.
  • Card Stock – I like to make sure I always have plenty of this around for all of my flashcards, posters, and other needs.
  • Laminator – I have a basic laminator like this, and it works great for all types of paper and projects.
  • Laminating Sheets – I like buying this big pack because it’s good to have plenty of laminating sheets for flashcards, posters, art projects, and more.
  • Three Hole Punch – This hole punch is really sturdy and can handle a whole stack of paper.
  • 1/4 Inch Rings – When making flashcards, I have found it’s best to use two rings on top to keep everything organized and easy to flip through, and this size is best.
  • Long Arm Stapler – This is for making the books. You will love having a long arm stapler for a variety of reasons.
  • Premium Paper – I recommend using this paper for making the books. The paper is a little thicker and smoother.

To Make the Flashcards

  1. Print – Select “Print on Both Sides” and “Flip sheets on short edge” to print. Print on card stock.
  2. Cut – Use a paper cutter to cut in half horizontally and vertically.
  3. Laminate – Arrange four cut out pieces into the laminate pouch. Make sure there is a bigger space between the cards in the middle since it will need to be cut horizontally and vertically again. (If you don’t leave extra laminate around all sides, it will peel.)
  4. Cut Again – If you stayed pretty consistent with the positions of the cards in the laminate, you should be able to cut a big stack of them at once.
  5. Assemble – Put them together in order.
  6. Hole Punch – I like to angle each corner into the three hole punch and can do several cards at once with a heavy duty hole puncher. Put two holes on top in the corners.
  7. Rings – I like using the 1/4″ rings.

To Make the Book

  1. Print – Select “Print on Both Sides” and “Flip sheets on short edge” to print. Print on premium paper.
  2. Cut – Cut in half horizontally on the dotted line.
  3. Assemble – Put the top half that you cut on top of the bottom half.
  4. Staple – Use a long arm stapler to staple three times on top of the dark dashes.
  5. Fold – I find it’s best to fold and crease each page open so that it will stay open when you lay it flat.

To Make the Poster

  1. Print – Print on card stock. *You can also bring a digital version into a print store like Kinkos and they can enlarge it to a poster size. 
  2. Laminate – Laminating this will ensure that it will last for a long time, but you don’t have to.

1. Words Flashcards

I carefully chose this selection of words based on the words my own children have been most interested in and the words that I felt would have the greatest chance of being used in their environment. I have also included words with suffixes (word endings). I have some verbs with an -ing ending (present progressive…meaning that it is happening right now or will happen) and many plural suffixes (meaning more than one). It is not important for children to know what a suffix is, but it is important for them to notice the root word (like clap in clapping) to see that it can look differently.

Words Flashcards

Words Flashcards

Words Flashcards, Yes

Words Flashcards, Yes

Get a PDF of the flashcards here: Words Flashcards Single Set

2. Words Video

This Words Video is designed to bring my flashcards to life! After a brief intro, this 31 minute video shows the flashcards followed by images and videos of my children that will give each word meaning. Not only will children be engaged while learning these words, but they will be building vocabulary and memorizing words as well.

Don’t just stick your child in front of this video and walk away! Watch it WITH your child. Say the words along with the video, and praise your child when they get a word right. Eventually, your child will become extremely familiar with the video, and then you can use it as a babysitter from time to time, just don’t do so initially.

3. Words Book

This book has the same words as the flashcards, but in a different format. I like this book format because it’s a little easier to assemble than the flashcards and introduces children to the principles of reading a book.

Words Book

Words Book

Inside View of the Words Book

Inside View of the Words Book

Get a PDF of the book here: Words Printable Book

4. Words Posters

These Words and Words with Suffixes Posters combine all of the words I have used in the flashcards and video in one easy to see resource. I like putting these on the wall in multiple locations, using them as placements, bringing them with us in the car, and really anything that will encourage repeated exposure.

Words Poster

Words Poster

Get a PDF of the Words poster here: Words Poster

Words with Suffixes Poster

Words with Suffixes Poster

Get a PDF of the Words with Suffixes poster here: Words with Suffixes Poster

5. Android Words Explorer App

My husband brought my Words Video to life in a new format. Children can click on a menu featuring each word to the the corresponding video. This is for Android devices only.

Words App

Words App

Get the Words Explorer App here.

Additional Resources

Children will memorize words that they see over and over and over again. This is best done through repeated reading. Here are some of the books I have enjoyed reading repeatedly with my little ones. I like making reading part of my routines like going to bed, morning reading, and reading before rest time. (*Note: These are affiliate links, which means that I will make a commission if you purchase them from these links. Your price, however, will stay the same.)

Words Books

  • Baby’s First Words – I LOVE how this book is thick, has a sturdy puffy cover, and has simple images surrounded by white with one word below to describe it. This is great for building vocabulary and teaching children new words. The Hinkler company is amazing and everything they make is great.
  • First 100 Words – This book has an array of boxes on a page with many pictures with a word underneath falling into a variety of different categories. It’s a great tool for teaching the names of things.
  • Let’s Talk – Children will love pressing the buttons that make sounds for the corresponding pictures. It’s a great way to bring these basic words to life.
  • Tails – This is one of my favorite books of all time. It is SUPER sturdy and every page is brightly colored, flashy, and has some sort of movement you can facilitate. What a great way to teach words! There’s also a similar book called Heads that is equally amazing.
  • Bard’s Rhyme Time – Finding books with a rhyming pattern makes figuring out the last word super easy. I love the flaps in this book and pausing before the last word to give my little one a chance to say it.

Bedtime/Morningtime Books

  • Pajama Time – Anything by Sandra Boynton is great for babies. I love turning this book into a little song. All of our kids have LOVED this as part of their bedtime routine.
  • The Going to Bed Book – This is another Boynton book and another family favorite.
  • Maisy Goes to Bed – This book is interactive and very cute. There is also a Maisy cartoon show which helps little ones to become even more familiar with the books.
  • Bedtime Peekaboo! – This board book is very short and simple with pages that fold out. I love reading it at night with my little ones.
  • 10 Minutes till Bedtime – This is another all time favorite book. There is minimal text, but so many details to point out in the pictures that make it a different experience every time we read it.
  • Hey! Wake Up! – This Sandra Boynton book makes a great morning routine with it’s cute characters and rhyming text.

Sight Word Videos

Even though I’m not a big fan of teaching sight words, I love how these videos personify each word by making it come to life and act out the meaning of the word, which is the most important part.

Usborne books

I am an Usborne book consultant because I LOVE their books! The pages are super durable, the stories are interesting, the vocabulary development is phenomenal, and the people and Usborne GET reading. They know that children should start young…I’m talking babies…and provide PLENTY of resources to get your little ones interested in reading. If you purchase books through these links (which will lead you to my own Usborne website), I will make a commission, so I thank you kindly.

  • My First Word Books – In this collection, there are books about words, farms, food, about me, and things that go. Each book features 270 words with simple and engaging pictures.
  • Learn Words with Little Red Penguin – Little ones will love this cute board book while they lift the flaps to learn about first words.
  • Lift the Flap Words – This bright lift the flap book gives children lots of practice naming basic words in a fun and engaging way.
  • Very First Books of Things to Spot – There are three books in this series. The first one is in general, the next is at home, and the last is out and about. There are no words, only pictures, but it’s great for oral language development.
  • Lift and Look Board Books – This series features books about constructions sites, dinosaurs, planes, tractors, trains, and under the sea. Children will love lifting the flaps in these sturdy books.

In Conclusion

Memorizing words is a very important part in the first stages of reading because children need to see that letters are used to make words and that words convey meaning. In addition, memorizing words is a much bigger part of reading than people think. Once children memorize the first set of words from my flashcards and video, they will be ready to memorize words in the context of quality literature. If you read rhyming text, do repeated reading with the same books over and over, point to words occasionally as you’re reading with your child, pause to let them fill in the words they know while pointing to them, and make reading fun and part of your daily routines – your child will memorize words and be on their way to independent reading!

Check out the next blog in my teach your child to read series: Building Vocabulary with Colors, Numbers, and Shapes