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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!

Neural_signaling-human_brain

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.

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)

Phonics is knowing that letters make sounds and then blending those sounds together to form words. When we think of phonics, often times we think of SPELLING, but really the initial focus should be on sounding out words, not spelling. In the English language, there are sooooooo many variations of spelling and phonics programs will often go over ALL of the ways to spell words.

Kids typically aren’t introduced to phonics until they are in school, but I believe this learning should occur much much sooner. What I have found is that by keeping it simple and teaching my children three letter word families featuring ONLY short vowels using muffin tins and magnet letters in addition to coloring over my written words together, that reading started to take off as if by magic from a very young age.

Building Words with Muffin Tins and Magnet Letters

Building Words with Muffin Tins and Magnet Letters

Age to Start

After children have a solid understanding of letter names and letter sounds and know that words are made up of letters that carry meaning, it’s a good time to start teaching them how to sound out three letter words using word families. I like to start teaching this concept when my children are about 2-3 years old. Making children wait until they are in kindergarten to learn this skill is completely unnecessary.

How to Teach

To teach three letter words, it’s very important for children to see the difference between the NAMES of the letters and the SOUNDS of the letters. As children start to sound out words, it’s important to have the focus be on the SOUNDS that the letters are making. When I was a teacher, there was an amazing reading program called Fundations that would have children tap out each sound using their fingers. So, for example with the word cat, you would tap your thumb to your index finger saying the c sound, then tap your thumb to your middle finger saying the a sound, and finally your thumb to your ring finger saying the t sound. Then you slide your thumb across your three fingers and say the whole word. (See a video demonstration of tapping out sounds here.)

When my daughter Ophelia was 2, I had a little magnet letter station set up and together we discovered that if you flip a 6 cup muffin tin over, it makes a great platform for teaching three letter words. I would set some letters aside, and we would build words together. At first, I built the words ahead of time and then tapped out each sound as I read the word to her. Once she had seen me do it over and over again, she started to say the letter sounds with me, and eventually she said them on her own. After that, we would build words together.

If we were going to build the word dog, I would say something like this, “Let’s spell the word dog. Do you know what letter the word dog starts with? That’s right! It starts with the letter d. Now, what vowel makes the short o sound? That’s right, o! Now, what letter makes the g sound? That’s right, g! We spelled dog!” She loved doing this magnet letter muffin tin activity, and we did it often.

After she mastered three letter words, we found an eight cup muffin tin and spelled four letter words. This was a great time to bring up words with digraphs like shop and chip. We also started talking about long vowel words in addition to some of the trickier sounds like the long and short oo, r controlled vowels, and diphthongs from my phonemic awareness resources. We also enjoyed spelling favorite words like her full name, the names of family members, and so on.

My son Julian (2.5), on the other hand, hasn’t enjoyed the muffin tins and magnet letters as much as he has coloring over my words, or erasing my words, and this has really helped him to learn about sounding out words while he memorizes them. We also enjoy using Starfall’s word machine.

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.

To Make the Flashcards

  1. Print – Print on card stock.
  2. Cut – Use a paper cutter to cut the words apart.
  3. Laminate – Arrange the cut pieces onto the laminating pouch. Make sure there is space between the cards on all sides, otherwise the laminate will peel off.
  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 the word families together or you make make bigger groups with words that have the same vowel sound.
  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. If you want to attach all of the little rings together, you can get a bigger ring like this.
  8. *Staple – If you’d rather avoid laminating and the rings, you can just staple the word family cards together. Put two staples on the left side of the cards.

To Make the Posters

  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.

Word Families Flashcards

These word family cards will be a guide as you do activities like muffins tins and magnet letters or coloring over words. I recommend starting with one word family at a time and stay with the same vowel sound for at least two sets. Once your child is familiar with the words in one family, you can introduce another. Once your child is familiar with all of the word families, you might want to mix things up by taking the family name covers off and mixing all of the words together.

Word Families Flashcards

Word Families Flashcards

Word Families Posters

If you have a learning station for your child, it would be a really good idea to print out these word families posters so that your child can see all of the words at once.

Word Families Page 1

Word Families Page 1

Word Families Page 2

Word Families Page 2

Word Families Page 3

Word Families Page 3

Get a PDF of all of the cards here: Word Families Cards

Additional Resources

Using my word cards and the following resources will make learning how to read three letter words easy and fun! (*Note: Some of 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.)

  • Magnet Letters and Muffin Tin – Using these two resources together will make learning three letter words fun and easy. Using my flashcards as a guide, have your child build three letter words on the bottoms of the muffin tins.
  • White Board and Dry Erase Markers – I recommend attaching this white board to the wall and using dry erase markers to write three letter words for your little one to erase. The board I have recommended is magnetic, so you can put the magnet letters on it too. With these resources, you can write three letter words on the white board and have your child erase them while reading them.
  • Sidewalk Chalk – Write three letter words on your sidewalk in a hopscotch pattern, and have your little one hop on them and read them.
  • Change-A-Sound Flip Books – I LOVED using these flip books to teach my children how to sound out words. I like how they have sections where the beginning, middle, and ending sound change in the word. The pictures are also great for building vocabulary.
  • Phonics Flip Books – These 34 flip books focus on patterns such as long and short vowels, digraphs, and blends.
  • Starfall Three Letter WordsStarfall is an AMAZING resource for teaching your little one the ABCs, basic math, and how to read. They have an amazing three letter word interactive game that is so fun for kids. The membership is $35/year and WELL WORTH every penny.
  • Montessori Crosswords – Fun Phonics Game for Kids – This app is great for teaching three letter words using pictures and boxes for the letters. I like how you can choose between upper and lowercase as well as cursive.

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.

  • Phonics Readers (20 Book Collection) – These phonics books blow anything I have ever seen out of this world! In some phonics readers, they focus so heavily on one certain sound that it overpowers the text. Not so with these! If you flip to the end of the book, there’s a section for parents that explains what the focus is and how to use the books which is great! Every book in this series is so well done. I mean, this is quality literature for sure that your little readers will learn how to decode with repeated reading. The rhyming text makes figuring out the last word very predictable. I like pausing to give my little ones a chance to say the last word as they are learning how to read. The series includesBug in a Rug, Goat in a Boat, Llamas in Pajamas, Raccoon on the Moon, Cow Takes a Bow, Snail Brings the Mail, Bee Makes Tea, Underpants for Ants, Crock Gets a Shock, Crow in the Snow, Fox on a Box, Ted in a Red Bed, Ted’s Shed, Hen’s Pens, Fat Cat on a Mat, Goose on the Loose, Frog on a Log, Toad Makes a Road, Mouse Moves House, and Big Pig on a Dig
  • My First Reading Library (50 Book Collection) – This is the best set of books you could ever buy! I have totally used all of these books to teach my children how to read from a young age. I love how each book has two levels of text. One page has minimal text for the child to read, often in the form of a word bubble, and the other page has more text for the parent to read. When your child is ready, he or she can read both pages!
Scott Reading Julian His Favorite Usborne Phonics Book

Scott Reading Julian His Favorite Usborne Phonics Book

In Conclusion

Teaching children to sound out three letter words is the beginning of their independent reading journey. With each of my children, once they get to this part after building a strong foundation with letter names and letter sounds, understanding that words have meaning, building vocabulary, and building phonemic awareness, reading seems to take off as if by MAGIC. It’s like they have broken the code and are in the same fervor as Helen Keller’s water scene where she finally understands that the letters Anne Sullivan is putting together in her hand are words that represent things in her world. Teaching phonics doesn’t need to wait until children are in school, it doesn’t need to happen with piles of worksheets, and it doesn’t have to be more complicated than sounding out three letter words. So teach your child young and teach him or her often, and you will be amazed at what your child can do!

Check out the next blog in my Teach Your Child to Read series: Encouraging Children to Read Independently