After teaching letter names and letter sounds really really well in addition to memorizing key vocabulary of first words, colors, shapes, and numbers, children will be ready to learn the final stages of learning how to read which is learning about three letter word families. By tapping out the sounds of three letter words, children will learn the very important skill of sounding out new words. After exposure to sounding out three letter words, children will be ready to learn about advanced phonemic awareness (long vowels, digraphs, long and short /oo/, r controlled vowels, dipthongs, complex consonants, and blends) which will help them progress from good readers to great readers.
With seven years of teaching experience and a Master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction with a Language Acquisition emphasis, I raised my own five children with a curiosity and passion for learning how to teach them how to read. I was amazed when after 6-8 months of working on ABC and vocabulary flashcards and videos with my firstborn that at 15 months she was saying letter names and sounds and recognizing many vocabulary words. After tapping out word families and pointing out advanced phonemic awareness rules in quality literature, she was reading picture books at the age of three. When my third child was born, I started creating my own resources and was blown away when she started reading at 2.5 years of age. Not only did all of my children learn how to read at young ages, but they love reading, they are curious and love learning, and they are the top of their classes (currently K, 2nd, 5th, 6th, and 8th).
Once children master the skill of learning how to read, they’ll begin reading to learn, and I can’t tell you how fun that is! I’m always busying myself trying to stay one step ahead of their reading interests, and we spend a lot of time checking out mountains of books at our local library and enjoy many hours cuddled up reading around the house.
ABCs and Vocabulary for Toddlers
If your toddler hasn’t fully mastered learning letter names and sounds as well as key vocabulary, I recommend reading my blog: Teach Your Baby How to Read. The resources will be the same, and many of the methods for teaching these skills may be the same, but if your child is older and not really into sitting on your lap for flashcards and videos, here are some suggestions to make the learning more engaging.
- Play ABC videos in the background. In addition to my video of course, YouTube has many ABC videos geared for older children that feature things like these alphabet transformers and Minecraft characters. Use what your child is interested in to custom make your own ABC playlist. Don’t expect your child to sit and watch the ABC videos with full attention, but if you play them in the background when he or she is quietly playing, you would be surprised how much is absorbed.
- Make it physical and fun! Spread ABC flashcards on the floor, pretend the floor is lava, and then jump from one letter to the next (shout the name or sound of the letter as you step on it) going from one part of the room to the next. Make hopscotch letters with sidewalk chalk outside. Place all flashcards upside down on the floor, flip a card over, keep it in a pile if you know it right away, and get a prize for how many cards piled up (small candies or minutes of choice time). Go to Pinterest, use your imagination, and have fun with it!
- Use technology. Children can be very motivated to play educational games if you limit screen time. There are many great apps and games for older children who are learning the alphabet that you can find by looking in the app store. Starfall has some amazing resources many of which are free. Check out my blog: Best Teaching Apps for Children 0-6 for some more app ideas.
- Read to your child. Many of the simple ABC books will be too babyish for your child, but you can find some great ABC books geared for older children like this Star Wars ABC book and this Superhero ABC book. Also, go to the library often and read piles and piles of books with your child. As you’re reading, you can point out certain words and the letters they start with.
- Teach someone younger. If your child has a younger sibling, friend, pet, or even stuffed animal, have your child be the teacher. He or she can use flashcards, videos, and books to help teach their pupil!
- Make it kinesthetic and tactile. If your child has the dexterity to start writing letters, this can help to reinforce learning the letter names and sounds. Get a large baking sheet and cover it with shaving cream or sand. Then have your child trace the letter with his or her finger.
- Use white boards and dry erase markers. Either write the letters yourself and have your child erase them, or have your child write his or her own letters. You could also do a letter search by writing 5- 10 letters and then have your child try to find the ones you call out. Write-on-wipe-off ABC books are fun too.
- Use sign language. When children are a little bit older, they can start manipulating their fingers to make sign language letters. This will be just challenging enough for them to be exciting. Here’s a great video to use!
- Separate capital and lowercase letters. Focus on using capital letters for letter names and lowercase letters for letter sounds and spend more time working on letter sounds.
- Try to do something every day. Children starting at an older age will need more repetitions and have a shorter amount of time to master letter names and letter sounds before they start to read so try to set aside time as often as you can for learning to occur.
Teaching Three Letter Word Families
When children understand letter names and sounds really really well, which in my experience has been around the age of 2-3, it’s time to start building three letter word families. I love using magnet letters and muffin tins with my three letter word resources to help them tap out each sound of a word and slide it together to bring all of the sounds together to form the word. If you do these things consistently a little bit over a long period of time, you will be amazed to see your little one sounding out words in books, at the grocery store, on billboards, and around the house.
Word families are a great way to learn three letter words because only the beginning sound changes. Words that have the same ending sound are also known as rhyming words. Children will be expected to identify rhyming words in preschool and kindergarten with automaticity. Use my flashcards as a guide for spelling three letter word families on an upside down muffin tin. Say each letter name while building the word. Then, point to each letter and say the individual sound each letter makes. Finish by swiping your finger from the beginning letter to the end as you put all of the letter sounds together to form a word.
Three Letter Word Families Resources
I collected so many word families that I needed to divide them into two sets! Neither one is more complex than the other, and I tried to balance out the vowels evenly between the sets. I had a lot of fun making these videos with my three year old son Julian. We used a variety of interactive and hands on activities that you may also enjoy using with your own child. I was a stay at home mom at the time with a three year old and a baby when I created these resources, and finding fun and creative ways to practice building and reading three letter words kept my brain from atrophying. 🙂
Word Families Resources Set #1
Word Families Resources Set #2
- Word Families Flashcards Set #2
- Word Families Letters Set #2
- Word Families Video Set #2
- Word Families Small Flashcards Set #1 and #2
Additional Resources for Teaching Three Letter Words
To maximize the use of my word families flashcards, I highly recommend you acquire some of the following teaching tools. Based on your child’s age and his or her interests, you will find different resources that will be appealing. Sometimes the best way to figure this out is through trial and error!
- 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 with Built in Erasers – 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.
- 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.
- Starfall Three Letter Words – Starfall 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.
Teaching Advanced Phonemic Awareness
Our English language seems really tricky at first, but when you break down these remaining letter combinations and sounds, it takes a lot of the mystery away. If you only teach your child letter names and sounds, key vocabulary, and how to sound out three letter word families, they will be good readers. But if you intentionally teach them the advanced phonemic awareness rules, they will move from good to great! By introducing the flashcards and videos, and then pointing out these rules while reading your children’s’ favorite books, they will have a broad and deep sense of how to sound out all kinds of words. These are the remaining sounds of our English language:
- Long Vowels – In addition to teaching children about the 5 long vowel sounds, I also want to introduce them to common spelling patterns.
- R Controlled Vowels – When a vowel is followed by an r, it makes a different sound.
- Digraphs – Digraphs are two letters that come together to form one single sound.
- Long and Short /oo/ Vowel Digraphs – Two vowels that come together to make one sound. For example, the /oo/ in moon is long, and the /oo/ in book is short.
- Diphthongs – These gliding vowels start with the sound of the first letter and glide to the next.
- Complex Consonants – Although children may be familiar with the other sounds these letters make, it is a tricky concept that some consonants make more than one sound.
- Blends – Blends aren’t super tricky because even though two consonants are blending together, you can still hear each individual sound. However, I have included them here because it’s great additional practice for tapping out the sounds for longer words.
Digraphs are two letters that come together to form a single sound such as in the word “elephant” where the /ph/ makes the /f/ sound. Digraphs are tricky and by pointing them out intentionally before children encounter them while reading, they will be more prepared.
Long Vowel Resources
Once children know the entire alphabet and understand short vowels, it’s time to dive into long vowels. I don’t expect children at this stage to begin actually spelling these words, but just getting exposed to the fact that each long vowel sound can be represented in such a variety of ways is a very important visual lesson.
Other Vowels Resources
In my other vowels resources I’ve included the other vowels that fit into their own categories. First we have the vowel digraphs such as the long /oo/ as in “moon” and the short /oo/ as in “book”. Then we have diphthongs which are two vowels that glide together such as the /au/ in “laundry” and the /ow/ in “cow”. And finally there are the r controlled vowels. In these resources, I explain how the “bossy r” changes the sound of the vowel.
Complex Consonants Resources
Teaching children about the different sounds some of the consonants make is one of the final pieces of understanding the complexity of our English alphabet.
- Complex Consonants Flashcards
- Complex Consonants Flashcards with Rules
- Complex Consonants Poster
- Complex Consonant Video
Blends aren’t really that tricky because you can still hear each letter sound, they just well, blend together, but I decided to include them here because I think they are a great way for children to revisit the decoding skills they learned with three letter words and to give them more practice sounding out words and building vocabulary.
Watching all five of my children, as well as others who have used my resources, blossom with their reading skills at a young age has been a wonderful gift to see. Children’s brains are wired to love learning at a young age. By building a strong foundation in phonemic awareness (letter names and sounds), teaching key vocabulary, and then adding three letter words to the mix during the toddler years, children will grow up to be good strong readers. By introducing advanced phonemic awareness, you can give your child the skills to progress from a good reader to a great reader! Once children progress from learning to read to reading to learn, the sky is the limit to what they can do. I have been so happy to see each of my five children follow their passions and interests and excel in all that they do.
Read my blog: How Children’s Brains are Wired for Learning for an in depth explanation as to why ages 0-3 are the most crucial time of brain development, and if you’d like more information and resources about teaching the foundation of reading with letter names, letter sounds, first words, and vocabulary, check out my blog Teach Your Baby How to Read. Check out the video below for a video version of that blog.