reading · slice of life

My 3 year-old wants to read! So now what?

photo (11)My in-laws sent Isabelle a Halloween card last week.   I opened it and read it aloud to her.  She was delighted by the card and carried it around for awhile.  But then something unexpected happened.  She began to cry.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

She had forgotten what it said.  I scooped her up on to my lap and read it to her again.  And that seemed to please her until…

30 seconds later she was crying again.

“What’s wrong now?” I asked, feeling my patience being pushed to its outer limits.

“I can’t read it!” she wailed.

I softened. “You don’t know how to read yet. And that’s okay.  You’re just learning how to talk.  First you have to learn to talk, then eventually you’ll learn how to read.”

But she then she said what I thought I always wanted to hear, “I wanna learn to read.”

Thoughts swarmed in my head. What’s that?  You want to learn to read? You’re not ready to read yet!  

I pulled Isabelle back on to my lap and told her, “Mommy will teach you how to read.  I promise you.  But it’s going to take some time.  Just like it took time for you to learn how to talk, it’s going to take time for you to read.  It may take a few years.”

“A few years?” Isabelle asked, probably wondering just what years were.

“Yes, a few years.  But I promise you, I will teach you how to read.”

And that was that.  Or so I thought.

Last night she was still napping when my husband’s plane arrived at the airport.  The plan was to pick him up at 5 p.m. and go to an early dinner at Panera on the way home.  But she was in a deep sleep.  Therefore, he took a cab home.  When Isabelle awoke from her nap, all she wanted to do was go to Panera to eat.  I explained we were eating dinner at home, but that set off the tears again.  (Oh to be three years-old… everything’s a crisis!)  So, I did the first thing that came to mind.  I wrote up grabbed a sticky note and explained what an “I.O.U.” was. Then, I issued an I.O.U. for a dinner at Panera to her with the date on it.

A few minutes later, I was in our bedroom, chatting with my husband who was unpacking his suitcase, when she came into our room crying.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

Tears streamed down Isabelle’s face. She held the sticky note and said, “I can’t read this!”

“That’s because you can’t read yet,” I replied matter-of-factly.

“I want to learn to read!”

Then I had a virtual repeat of the scene from three days’ prior.  This time, I had to explain what was happening to my husband.  As I drew my tearful toddler to my lap, I looked at Marc and said, “Isabelle wants to learn how to read.” Then I turned to her, “Remember Mommy told you I’d teach you how to read after you saw the card from Grandma and Papa?”

“Yes,” she said through her tears.

“You don’t know how to read yet. It’ll take time to learn how to read.  But I promise you, I will teach you.  It’s going to take a few years, but with a lot of practice, you’ll learn to read what the words on the page say.  Until then, you can use the pictures to remind you of what things say.”

A few minutes later she was giggling again, but I was left wondering what my next move was going to be.  Clearly she is motivated to decode the squiggles on the page.  Isabelle knows the letters stand for sounds which form words.  She can identify uppercase letters and a lot of the sounds they make (That’s thanks to all of the phoneme practice we’ve done for her C.A.S.).  She loves “reading” memorized books aloud.  All that said, I’m pretty sure she’s not developmentally ready to read.

After waking up in the middle of the night (an hour ago) thinking about this, I started googling, “What do I do when my three year-old wants to read?” (BTW: Start googling that phrase and you’ll be surprised by the things Google wants to auto-fill for you!)  I came across a piece that reassured me of my decision not to purchase flash cards or any other kind of packaged program to help Isabelle learn to read.  The author of the article encouraged readers to help children identify letters in their natural settings.  I figured that’s a good place for the two of us to start.  I can certainly have Isabelle identify uppercase and lowercase letters in words she’s curious about and ask her what sounds they make.  I think this will help her find the significance in the letter-sound connections since she’ll be ‘studying’ words she is interested in.

With that, I think I’m going back to bed.  I will get off of Pinterest where I found lots of sight word bingo activities and Montessori word puzzles.  For now, we’re not going to do those.  I’ll just keep reading lots of picture books to Isabelle and encouraging her to interact with words she’s curious about learning.  And slowly, in her own time, she’ll learn how to read.


Head over to on Tuesday for more slices of life.
Head over to on Tuesday for more slices of life.

21 thoughts on “My 3 year-old wants to read! So now what?

  1. Stacey, this is a wonderful problem to have! Maddie was very similar when she was Isabelle’s age. She showed an interest in words and reading very early. She would often ask me to track the print with my finger when I was reading. She started recognizing familiar words. Before I knew what happened, she had taught herself to read! You will know just what to do when the time comes, I have no doubt. You’ve already provided Isabelle with a HUGE bank of literacy skills. I admire her motivation!!

  2. I marvel at the complexity of Isabelle’sthinking! I am constantly amazed by the very deep thought processes of our little ones. And at the privilege of being given a the chance to listen!

  3. Such a magical statement and while we teach reading and kids learn, the process is seems like magic. As Dana said, you provide a great literary environment and continually model the value of reading. Isabelle is clearly motivated and focused on what she wants. With this combination, you won’t be able to stop her!

  4. I’m with you! I love watching my daughters’ reading skills developing naturally and over time…it’s so amazing. Kindergarten, in particular, was a thrill!! I was blown away by the fact that when Alice started Kindergarten, she couldn’t read but by the end of the year, she was reading books aloud to me, and now, in first grade, she is reading early reader chapter books to me and recognizing words like “enthusiastic,” which she did last night. I was SHOCKED! And my four year old? She is starting to print her name with recognizable letters. I don’t think it ever gets old, the thrill of emerging literacy!

  5. i had a similar experience with my daughter and solved the problem by making LOTS of books about her. We took pictures and make pictures of her doing what she loved and of those she loved and wrote totally predictable texts such as “Suzy likes pasta. Suzy likes eggs.” A favorite was “Suzy likes Pooh. Suzy likes Piglet…” She could recognize her name and began adding her own pages soon after. She would go through “reading fits” as we called them when all she wanted was her own collection of Suzy books. It was early reading for sure but she was satisfied until she was five!

    1. I love this idea, Anita. My mother-in-law, who was a Reading Recovery Teacher, created a book like this for Isabelle on her last birthday. It’s time to take it out again and then create some others. Thanks for the inspiration.

  6. I love go-getters and it sounds like Isabelle is one of them! But I agree that no child should be rushed in to reading. Like riding a bike or potty training, when it’s right it clicks. When my children were reading, they loved the website to learn the letters and the sounds in a much more entertaining way than me with flashcards 🙂

  7. I love Isabelle – talk about growth mindset and grit. The crying is tough now but her will and determinination will serve her well. Go with your gut — there is no research that says reading early makes you a better reader – in fact research often shows the opposite. Enjoy these years — they go by so quickly. I can’t believe my “baby” is reading Of Mice and Men.

  8. It’s a nice problem to have. I think you’re so right to use some early touching base with letters, etc., but do no direct teaching with flash cards, etc. If you want to help her feelings, could you draw on stickies to show what’s happening? Like with the IOU (letters ok), put a little sketch of Panera. The symbol relationship is valid, ready for the next, more abstract step. Good luck, Stacey.

    1. I thought of sketching the Panera logo, but couldn’t remember what it looked like. That said, I had to sketch a note for her later in the day yesterday and remembered your words. I drew a picture of 8 Hershey’s Kisses (long story) in lieu of writing out the words. 🙂

  9. I realize that the story involved tears but overall it’s great that Isabelle wants to read. I think your approach to help her through play and natural setting is the best.

  10. Wow! So exciting to hear those words…I want to learn to read… I can’t wait to hear how the next few months go 🙂

  11. Stacey,
    As always, I loved the glimpses into the next steps in Isabelle’s literacy development. I am happy to see that you are thinking carefully about what you want her literacy foundations to be like and the messages you are sending with the decisions you make. Thanks for sharing your thinking and process!

  12. Oh sweet girl!! I remember the three being tougher for my daughter than the “terrible two’s”. I love this post. I am so glad that she is taking an interest in reading and I think you are going about it in a natural and developmentally friendly way. I love the voice in your writing btw, very fun to read.

    1. The terrible twos are a myth (at least that’s my opinion). Whoever called it the Terrible Twos either had an angel child by three or didn’t make it ’till the kid turned three since three is SO much more challenging. That being said, as long as she’s healthy I’m happy to deal with the drama and tears!
      Thanks Gigi!

I'd love to hear from you! Please leave a comment below.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s