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Reading: Age 3–4 (Early years)

The early reading skills your child will learn at this age are an important foundation for starting school.

The focus at this age is on sharing stories, songs, and rhymes together and building talking and listening skills. Luckily, there are lots of fun and easy ways to encourage early reading success at home.

Reading at nursery

At nursery, your child will be learning some key early reading skills.

Linking sounds and letters

Your child will be getting used to letter sounds by playing lots of fun activities. They may also be beginning to learn that how the speech sounds (known as phonemes) in the words we say are represented in written form by a letter or letters (known as graphemes).

Helping tell a story

Story time is an important part of any day at nursery! Your child will have plenty of opportunities to hear and enjoy stories together. They might also be encouraged to retell stories in their own words. This all helps build talking and listening skills, which are essential for early reading.

Singing songs and rhymes

Hearing and learning songs and nursery rhymes is an important part of early reading. They can help your child to explore sounds and to begin learning story language and story structures.

Getting ready for reading at home

There are lots of fun and easy ways to help your child get ready to read. Here are our top ideas.

1. Talk about books, words, and pictures

Before you start reading a book, talk about the title and the pictures on the cover (front and back). Ask your child what they think the story might be about. After reading, ask your child what they liked about the story.

Try asking ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions about the story and the pictures. For example:

‘How did the bear get across the river?’

‘Why was the fox cross?’

2. Listen to (and sing!) songs and rhymes

Singing songs and nursery rhymes helps your child to hear the sounds in words and build up a bank of favourites they know well. Play with words and sounds and make up nonsense rhymes too. Encourage them to join in.

See if your child can do the actions in time with this rhyme:

Activity: Three Little Frogs rhyme

Sing this fun action rhyme with your child.

3. All join in

When you are reading to your child, ask them to join in with bits that are repeated. For example, ‘Run, run, as fast as you can! You can’t catch me, I’m the gingerbread man!’. Traditional stories, like The Gingerbread Man, often have repeated phrases, and children will love doing the voices!

4. Play rhyming games

Rhyming games are fun and will help your child start to hear and understand speech sounds. Try ‘I spy’ when you are out and about. Have fun with rhyming words – for example, can your child think of a word that rhymes with ‘cat’?

In all games and activities, make sure you pronounce speech sounds clearly. Try to make them as short as possible – for example, the letter m has a short /m/ sound, not a continuous /mmmmmmm/ sound. Try not to add an extra sound onto the speech sound either (for example, the sound is /m/ and not /m-uh/).

Video support

Julia Donaldson’s top reading tips

Author of The Gruffalo, Julia Donaldson, shares her top tips for reading with your child to make sure they get the best start with learning to read.

Story time: Chicken Licken

It’s story time! Watch this Oxford Reading Tree story, read by a professional storyteller, and learn simple techniques to use when reading with your child.