Nurture your 3-year-old's literacy skills by providing books, art supplies, story time and the opportunity to experiment with writing.

Literacy Skills for a 3 Year Old

by Kelly O'Brien Ritchie

Whether your 3-year-old is home or attending preschool, you have likely contemplated his readiness for kindergarten. Developing literacy skills early on can give your child a head start toward academic success, but so what if little Tommy next door can read? That doesn't mean your child is behind. According to Scholastic Parents Panel of Experts, reaching preschool reading and language milestones doesn't follow a linear path. Three-year-olds will likely meet milestones at different times.


Three-year-old toddlers have a keen ear for letters, words and phrases that sound alike. They begin to recognize the syllables in words that they hear spoken and are able to clap the segments in familiar words such as the child’s name. It is common for toddlers this age to talk about the similarities between beginning sounds and rhyming words they hear as stories, poems and nursery rhymes are read aloud to them. They become aware of words that begin with the same sound. As toddlers near the age of 4, they will be able to tell the difference between words that do and do not rhyme. You can help your 3-year-old progress through reading stories and poems that rhyme, singing songs with repetition and similar sounds and reciting nursery rhymes.


Although 3-year-olds do not commonly read independently, they enjoy hearing stories read to them, and it's often the same book over and over again. They know the pictures carry meaning and will pick out books by how interesting the illustration on the cover is. Your toddler's ability to pay attention to the stories you read will improve, especially if he can relate to the characters or events that take place. He might memorize simple books and be able to recite them using the pictures as a timeline. Three-year-olds begin to differentiate between reality and fantasy. They often draw pictures about the stories read and enjoy acting them out in plays.


At 3 years of age, children become more aware of print in various forms. They will often ask what the text reads. Most children this age would rather look at the pictures in a book than show interest in the text. It is still a good idea to draw their attention to the words you read by pointing at them as you read the story. This will help children recognize how the letters and words they hear look building upon their pre-reading skills. By the end of the third year, children usually know that the print found in books shows the reader what to say.


Toddlers this age will try to write by scribbling, but the letters likely won't be legible. They will, however, eagerly explain what they tried to write. At 3 years of age, a child will begin to print the letters in his name, but some letters may be a challenge. Fine motor skills are required to print letters and need to be practiced for a child to be able to write. Three-year-olds understand that writing has different purposes such as signs, letters and notes. Encourage your toddler's writing skills by letting him watch you write, talking about his artwork, and giving him plenty of opportunities to practice with supplies.

About the Author

Kelly O'Brien Ritchie has been a writer since 1998. She has contributed to the Lawrence House Centre for the Arts, Sarnia Historical Society and community newspapers. Ritchie managed her own business for eight years and studied corporate communications at Centennial College.

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