Literacy Helping Your Three-Year-Old Become a Reader

Young children are all "pre-readers" who pick up clues about reading from their environment. This is great news for parents — you already have everything you need to help your child succeed. Three-year-olds have an exploding vocabulary and are eager to explore their world with you. Every time to you read to and talk with your three-year-old, you build key early reading skills. As children's author Emilie Buchwald wrote, "Children are made readers on the laps of their parents."

Simple ways to help your child build reading skills:

Finish That Rhyme

Nursery rhymes aren't just catchy — they are amazing tools for helping kids recognize rhyme

and "end sounds." Here are a few rhymes to teach your child:

  • The Itsy Bitsy Spider 
  • Hickory, Dickory Dock
  • Mary Had a Little Lamb
  • Baa, Baa Black Sheep
  • Humpty Dumpty
  • Hey Diddle Diddle
  • Jack and Jill

After your child
is familiar with a few rhymes, pause when you get to the final word in a line and let your child finish it. For example: "Hickory, dickory _____; The mouse ran up the _______." Point out that "dock" sounds like "clock" and see if your child can come up with other words that rhyme.

Grover's Rhyme Time

Grover is driving a train of rhyming words. Your child can help Grover drive the train and collect the items he needs to fill the rhyming train cars.

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Find Funny Books

Kids like to read funny books! A whopping 70 percent of kids say they want books that make them laugh, according to Scholastic's Kids and Family Reading Report. Check out this list of fifteen books to get the whole family giggling.

Super Why! Saves the Day

Super Why needs the help of your super reader to fix silly stories with new words that your child reads and spells.

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Read to Your Child

Reading aloud to kids is "the single most important activity for building knowledge for their eventual success in reading," according to a landmark study. When kids sit next to a caring adult and hear engaging stories, they develop positive associations with books and build their vocabulary and comprehension skills. For helpful hints about how to make the most out of read-aloud time, click here.

Storybook Creator

Super Why is reading his favorite stories, but he's zapping and switching out words to change them! Your child can follow along as a story is read, or read the story on his or her own.

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Be a Role Model

Finally, don't forget to be a reader and writer yourself. One of the most effective ways to help children become readers and writers is to show them through your own example that you value literacy — and that reading and writing have useful purposes. Keep books and writing materials in the home, and talk to your child about what you are doing when you read and write.

Going on an O Hunt

Oh what fun the alphabet can be. Your child can learn about things that start with the letter O and things that look like the letter O by going in search of O objects in your home and neighborhood.

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Fill Your Home with Letters

To help young children become comfortable with letters, keep a few alphabet sets around the house that your child can touch and manipulate, such as alphabet blocks, foam letters for the bathtub, ABC puzzles, magnetic refrigerator letters, alphabet board books or letter stamps.

Create Your Own Letter Museum at Home

Creating your own letter museum at home can help your child focus on a favorite letter and its sound(s).

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Keep Books in Easy Reach

Make it easy for your child to explore books. Keep a basket of books at kid level or in a "book bag" in the car for kids to flip through on rides. Place a couple of books at the foot of the bed for your child to look at first thing in the morning. Make a small reading corner or nook for your child — something as simple as a few pillows, soft blanket and a stack of library books. In other words, make books an ordinary and essential fixture in your home.

Daniel's Babysitter

Your child can read and play with Daniel Tiger in this interactive story about a time when Prince Tuesday babysits and Daniel keeps in mind that 'grown ups come back.'

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"What Else and "I Spy?"

Before kids recognize letters, they can recognize sounds. Play simple games to help children hear how the beginning and end of a word sounds. This can be as simple as saying, "I like ba-ba-ba-bananas and ba-ba-ba-baseball. What do you like that begins with ba-ba-ba?" You can also give the traditional "I Spy" game a phonics twist. For example, "I spy with my little eye something that begins with the sound 'mmm.'" Then provide hints as necessary ("It starts with 'mmm' and you can drink it").


Bear has a room full of words! Help your child find hidden words in the room and spell them together with Bear.

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Talk About What They Are Watching

Television shows and movies tell stories, and understanding the structure of stories builds reading comprehension. So talk to your kids about what they are watching. Who is their favorite character? Was any part scary or surprising? What happened at the beginning, middle and end? For example, if you are watching Curious George together, you may say, "There's that monkey again. I wonder what he is going to be curious about today?" After the show, talk about favorite moments: "Remember how the monkey dug a hole and then the hat fell in? That was funny!"

Dinosaur Train A to Z

All Aboard! This exciting app from Dinosaur Train helps build reading skills and encourages the exploration of life science and natural history through discovery, play and reading.

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Raise a Reader with Sesame Street

On this very special street, children learn early language and literacy skills such as letter knowledge, vocabulary, and reading and writing fundamentals.

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Activity Finder: Learn With Your Three-Year-Old

Explore our Age-by-Age Guide: