Raise a Reader: A Parent Guide to Reading for Ages 3-5

Keep your kids reading with our guide to great book lists, book-related articles, and activities for children aged 3-5.



Raise a Reader: A Parent Guide to Reading for Ages 3-5

Your Preschooler Discovers Letters and Numbers 

Literacy doesn’t start only when your child starts school. From birth, babies and children are gathering skills they’ll use in reading. The years between ages 3 and 5 are critical to reading growth, and some 5-year-olds are already in kindergarten.

The best way to instill a love for and interest in reading is to simply read to your child.And yet, many parents don’t. Reading gives you the opportunity for close bonding with your child, and it also provides a window into a world of literacy that your child is about to enter.

As your child goes from saying her first sentences to speaking in paragraphs, you will start to see exciting milestones develop with reading. Your child will begin to recognize print on the street, stop signs, familiar store signs, and the address posted on your home.

  • Most Preschoolers Will: Know the names of their favorite books; hold a book correctly and turn pages; recall familiar words and phrases in favorite books, pretend to read books; know the difference between a random squiggle and a letter or number.
  • Some Preschoolers Will: Recognize and write some letters and numbers; name letters that begin certain words, make up rhymes or silly phrases.
  • Some Preschoolers Might Even: Predict what might happen next in a story, read and write their names and some familiar words, retell stories that they know.

Talk About Text

A text-rich environment for preschoolers lays the groundwork for reading success. It’s not just about having books in the home, although that’s a great start. You can also start talking about letters, numbers, and words on packages and signs.

Help your child see how text is already a part of his daily life. Point out the name of his favorite cereal. Show him the labels on clothing. Show him the different parts of a birthday card or invitation.

When you are out and about, play games involving letter and number recognition. Can your child tell you any of the letters in the supermarket sign? Can she read the serving amount on a packaged snack? She will be delighted to understand more about her world — but don’t push her delight. Developing text awareness should never be a chore.

Be Aware of Problems

Are you concerned that your child might have a learning disability? As with almost any disability, early intervention can prevent problems in the future. In the preschool years, speech delays are much more noticeable than the learning disabilities that may affect a child’s efforts to read. Ask your pediatrician for advice if you are concerned that your child is speech delayed.

Most school districts will not diagnose reading disabilities until first grade. However, there are signs that you can look for earlier. If your 5-year-old can’t “hear” the rhyme in two simple words, or cannot differentiate between a letter and a random squiggle, this may be an area of development you’ll want to keep an eye on.

Reading Activities for Ages 3-5

1. Fun With Letters

Children enjoy copying words out onto paper. Write your child’s name and have him copy it himself with alphabet stamps, stickers, or magnets. Encourage him to “write” his own words using the letters. Your child will write letters backwards, spell seemingly randomly, and may hold his marker strangely — it’s “all good” at this age when a child wants to communicate in writing of any kind.

2. What Word Starts With…

The letter-sound connection is one of the first steps to reading. Play a guessing game about your child’s favorite words. What letter does “p-p-p-pirate” start with? How about “M-m-mommy”? Once your child guesses one correctly, see how many words you can come up with together that start with the same letter.

3. Your Child the Author

Three-year-olds can be chatty, and by age 4, it can be hard to get a word in edgewise. Take advantage of your child’s interest in talking by writing a book together. Start out with something simple, like describing a fun day at a park or visiting friends. Staple a few pieces of paper together, and write out one or two of your child’s sentences on each page. Then, read the story to her and let her illustrate it.

4. A Different Way to Read

Reading to your child is great — but what’s even better is something called “dialogic” reading. That’s when you ask your child to participate in the story. Before turning the page, ask your child what he thinks will happen next. You can also ask your child what other way the book could have ended. For example, with the classic book Corduroy, what would have happened if the little girl hadn’t come back to take Corduroy home from the toy store?

5. Take Letters Outside

Kids are tactile and enjoy few activities more than poking things with a stick. Many preschools encourage kids to make letters out of Play Doh or draw them into sand or clay. The next time you are out in the park, or at the beach, or in the snow, use your surroundings to play with letters. Take turns writing letters in the snow, dirt, or sand.

6. Just the Facts

Try getting your child interested in nonfiction books. At the library or bookstore, find books on your child’s favorite topics. Cars, dinosaurs, dogs, and other topics are covered in on-level books with plenty of pictures, designed especially for kids this age.

Online Literacy for Ages 3-5

Using your computer, smart phone, or tablet computer is a special treat for your child. Try some of these literacy-building activities to turn your child’s fun time into an educational opportunity.

Reading on Your Phone or Tablet
There are many classic books that your child can either read or have read to him as apps on your phone. Look for these popular titles:

  • The Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone (iPhone and iPad)
  • The Going to Bed Book by Sandra Boynton (iPhone and iPad)
  • Little Critter: Just Big Enough (Android, iPhone, and iPad)

Plus, you might want to look into “Tales to Go,” a subscription-based app that streams over 900 stories for kids ages 3-11 with constant updates (iPhone and iPad).

Word and Letter Games on Your Phone or Tablet
To build the sound-letter connection and practice sight words and spelling, try these apps:

  • Scholastic's Books and Games Apps are based on popular characters and series that kids love. Your preschooler might especially like Go, Clifford, Go
  • Scribble Press (and the Scribble Press app on iTunes) is a multimedia creativity platform for creating, sharing and publishing stories.
  • “Build a Word” by WordWorld: Based on the PBS Kids television show, users can select letters to build words to identify images of ducks, sheep, pigs, and more. (iPad, iPod Touch, and iPhone). 
  • FirstWords: Animals: You can use phonics rather than letter names to spell animal names, plus choose upper- or lower-case letters. (iPad, iPod Touch, and iPhone).
  • Interactive Alphabet—ABC Flashcards :An interactive image brings each letter to life. For example, with X, your child can “play” a screen image of a xylophone. (iPad, iPod Touch, and iPhone)

Children’s Learning and Gaming Systems
The two big names in children’s computer games are Leapfrog and VTech. Each offers a variety of options depending on the interests of your child.

From Leapfrog, you can get spelling, letter and word identification, vowel and consonant practice, and spelling games. The games are themed to feature Disney characters, Sesame Street characters, Dora, Thomas the Tank Engine, and more. Their popular products include LeapPad, Leapster, Tag, and Tag Junior.

VTech also offers similar games and products. Their platforms include “laptop” computers and the MobiGo products, which are handheld options.

Recommended Books for Ages 3-5

Looking for more titles to share with your preschooler? Try these books featuring wordplay or these titles, which are perfect for cuddle-time

Guides to Reading
Age 5
Age 4
Age 3