Learning to Read – How we Taught our Three Year Old to Read

When you prepare yourself to begin pulling together a homeschool curriculum, one of the first things you consider is how you’re going to teach your child to read. Well, my son kind of beat me to it. As I shared in my previous post (here) he was showing a multitude of signs that he was ready to read when he was just 3 ½ years old. I didn’t want to start a formal teaching program with him at that age so I just signed him up for a free online game. I figured he could have some fun with that and then, when I was more prepared and he was older and ready for “academic” work, I’d teach him properly. Well, he loved the game and advanced in leaps and bounds. Within two weeks he was reading his first little books. Within 6 months he was starting on his first easy chapter books. He certainly surprised me!

The game is called Teach Your Monster to Read and it was developed by the Usborne Foundation. It is completely FREE on the computer or you can buy the iPad app for a relatively small amount. It has three stages, and each stage has a series of levels within which your child’s monster has to complete a number of challenges to continue the story. It is based on phonics (as opposed to whole words) and includes a number of “trickies” which are common yet irregular words. The challenges include identifying sounds, building and deconstructing words and reading short sentences. The game is fun and comprehensive.

The only “teaching” that I did in addition to this game was to explain further how the a_e, e_e, o_e, i_e and u_e sounds worked as this was not explained in the game. To do this we made a “Magic E Wand” and wrote short sound words on our chalkboard that he then waved his wand at to turn them into long vowel sounds (eg kit > kite). Lots of learning happens in PJs here!

At one point, my son was speeding through the levels faster than he could remember all the content, so I slowed him down and played some simple sound games – kaboom! and snap using some of the vowel blends and trickies that were new to him. There are also a number of “minigames” available on the site which we did at that point too since he was always asking to play the game.

The big thing I did to supplement (or even supersede) the program was to create a “100 Books” star chart. Beginning with his very first Bob Book he received a star on his chart with the name of the book on it. He got a little (and sometimes not so little) treat for every ten books that he read. I have to tell you, that bribing him to learn to read did not sit well with me. I wanted him to simply enjoy reading. But the truth of the matter was, that those first books were really quite boring and although he was excited to be learning to read and he wanted to learn to read, he was three, and learning to read was hard work and he didn’t have the self-discipline yet to achieve it. He loved getting his star in and of itself, but the treat was a nice bonus.

Steadily he read his books. Sometimes it felt like he was hardly improving. He had some big gaps in time where he didn’t want to read or play the game, and we didn’t push him. We did notice, however, that even during those times, he reading still improved, and he would start again even better than before.

We began officially homeschooling 4 months after he started learning and made more of a priority in getting him to read each day (well, most days). He reached his 100 books the week after he turned four in March and at that point was reading at about a first/second grade level. We celebrated by having a lovely day out in Sydney. Walking across the Harbour Bridge and going to the BIG Bookstore where he got to choose his first chapter book (and a book on trains, of course).

When he finished his star chart, it didn’t stop him reading. But he did miss the ceremony of marking the end of a book. So, we started a new one. This one is his “100 Chapter Books” spot chart (we ran out of star stickers!) He reads so many books because he simply loves to read, but this new chart encourages him to keep stretching himself in his reading ability. He is a quarter of the way through it already, and improving every day. Yikes!

He still hasn’t finished the Teach Your Monster game because his reading ability went so far ahead of it. He still asks to play it every now and then. In a few years I am thinking we will work through All About Spelling to catch up on some of the rules that he missed in his speed (like all the uses of a silent ‘e’). You never know, though, he might surprise me with that one too!

Finally, the most important thing that I did to help him learn to read was read to him. I wanted him to enjoy stories. To hear good stories. To be exposed to rich and beautiful language. To be inspired to want to read. I wanted him to know that, even if he could read, that I would always read to him. Mem Fox writes that “Children who have been endlessly entertained by wonderful stories have a joyful attitude to learning to read” (Reading Magic). That stories are the foundation upon which phonics instruction can be built. And so, I read to him (almost) every day.

Writing this out has reiterated to me just how simple and easy the process really was. I truly believe that this was because our son was ready to learn to read. We are beginning to see that he could very well be considered gifted. Honestly, despite his young age, he really did all the work.  I just encouraged and inspired him, with the occasional gentle prod.


This post contains affiliate links. For more information please see my disclosure statement. Most of the book links are to the Book Depository except where stated otherwise.

Teach Your Monster to Read – This is the program that we primarily used. The game is free on computers (here) or you can get it for the iPad for a very reasonable price here.



Alternatively, Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons has been highly recommended to me for teaching young children to read. I have this book and it looks great. I’m holding onto it in case our second son prefers something more Mum-led. (Amazon)


Mem Fox’s Reading Magic – This book was so inspiring for me as a mother of young children. It really encouraged me to make sure reading aloud with my children was a high priority. (Amazon)



The Read Aloud Revival Podcast – This podcast by Sarah Mackenzie is my absolute favourite. I find it so inspiring to keep my focus on the relationship with my children and the culture of reading that comes primarily through reading aloud together.


We used a combination of specific early readers along with many story books from our shelves. Readers, in particular, can be downright awful so it was a bit of a challenge finding ones that were enjoyable. Some of our favourite readers included,

Bob Books – These were the very first books that he read. They are pretty tasteless but did garner that first sense of achievement. We only used set 1. (Amazon)



Usborne Readers – My Very First Reading, My First Reading and beyond. We found that the Usborne readers had the best storylines and were the most enjoyable. The early ones use shared reading which helped to fill the story out and make it more interesting than just the simple words he could read. The later ones include some enjoyable retellings of classic stories. A particular favourite for us was Saint George and the Dragon.

Step into Reading – My son was very excited when I discovered a set of Thomas the Tank Engine readers in this series. They are based off the original books and some of the movies. Since he is a massive Thomas fan these books were a delight for him to read (Amazon).


Key Words with Peter and Jane – We found these books incredibly repetitive but really quite helpful for solidifying his automaticity with common words. It was through reading these books (we read 1-5) that he went from sounding out words to simply recognising them on sight (Amazon).


Read it Yourself with Ladybird – This series has quite a large range but we found it included a few retellings of classic stories which he particularly enjoyed. Peter and the Wolf and The Wizard of Oz were especially well enjoyed (Amazon).

Dr Seuss – What would a book list be without something by Dr Seuss? So many of his books are built using easy to read words such as Hop on Pop, The Cat in the Hat, and Green Eggs and Ham. We are huge Dr Seuss fans here and so my son loved being able to pick up one of his favourite books and read it for himself quite early in the journey (Amazon).




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