Reading and Writing at Age 3: Expectations & What To Teach

As your child grows, you may start to wonder about appropriate academic activities for their age. It’s crucial to keep in mind that every child develops at their own pace, especially in the domains of reading and writing.

Can 3-year-olds read and write? Technically, yes 3-year-olds can read and write. However, not all of them will read and write this young. It will be much easier to teach your child these skills when they are ready, so it’s more important to offer the tools and watch for the signs than it is to force a kid to try to develop skills.

For a 3-year-old, reading and writing are going to look very different than they will for older kids. Keep your expectations realistic, and foster a love of learning in your child above all else.

Reading at 3 – What To Expect

A 3-year-old is exiting the toddler years and heading into the preschool phase. This leaves a lot of room for opportunity. 

Can 3-Year-Olds Read?

Most 3-year-olds cannot read full sentences. However, they can recognize letters and may be able to match letters to their corresponding sound.

If you read the same book to your child often, he may even be able to recognize the words you are going to say before you say them because he has the book memorized.

Normal Reading Skills at Age 3

An average 3-year-old will know what letter their name starts with and understand that words equal stories and sounds.

However, every child develops at their own pace, and most kids aren’t reading fluently on their own until they are a couple of years into elementary school.

3-Year-Old Writing Skills

While a 3-year-old will not sit down and write a well-plotted novel, she can write. Some 3-year-olds can write their names, and others can make marks that are recognizable as letters. 

Your 3-year-old may try to label drawings they’ve made using letters or marks they know, and they may also try to copy letters from books they enjoy.

What Should a 3-Year-Old Know Academically?

Preparing your child for preschool or kindergarten helps them get a good start. There are some skills that 3-year-olds will likely need to help them in these environments.

Language Skills

  • Ask and answer questions
  • Say their name
  • Say around 250-300 words
  • Repeat or create stories and share them verbally

Social Skills

  • Show affection
  • Express emotions that are wide ranging
  • Understand the concept of mine and theirs

Fine-Motor Skills

  • Walk
  • Climb
  • Run
  • Ride a tricycle
  • Draw a stick figure
  • Draw simple shapes
  • Attempt to use scissors

Cognitive Skills

  • Compare and contrast items
  • Sort objects by likeness
  • Create pretend worlds
  • Name colors

How To Teach 3-Year-Old To Read

While it is entirely possible to teach your 3-year-old to read, remember that every child learns at their own pace and that patience on your part is key.

Don’t rush things; just enjoy the process!

Read to Them

If you want to raise a reader, then read to your child. You can start when they are infants and continue throughout their childhood.

Reading to your child helps them recognize common words, and it helps them understand that letters put together make certain sounds.


There’s a reason songs are used so much in children’s entertainment. They are a great way to help kids learn words and rhymes, and they are easy to remember. 

From the alphabet song to songs that teach kids how to count, singing is an easy way to teach kids literacy skills that they will remember.


Kids can learn how to read by learning how to write, and vice versa. Help your kids use crayons to write simple words, even if the writing is barely legible.

You can also have kids draw pictures about their day and then help them label what they drew.

Choose a Program

There are an abundance of programs for parents who want to teach their kids to read.

Pick something, and customize it to move at the pace you and your child are comfortable with learning.

Sometimes having a book or curriculum to follow can be less intimidating than figuring it out on your own.

How To Teach 3-Year-Old To Write

Although reading and writing often go hand in hand, this isn’t always the case. Some kids will catch on faster than others, and that’s okay.

Developing a love for learning is more important than following a strict learning time frame.

Develop Hand Strength

Your child needs to develop hand strength to hold a writing utensil, and there are exercises that can help with this.

Give your child a container of glue and have them trace letters you have written for them.

You can also encourage them to use clay or dough to form letters. Both of these build hand strength.

Look for Pencil Alternatives

It’s often difficult for little hands to hold a pencil, so look for other options.

Chunky crayons are great for tiny fingers. Dry erase markers can also be fun and easy to hold. 

Don’t Worry About the Details

Your child will write things backwards, sideways, and crooked when they are young. Don’t stress about these details.

Simply let your child work to improve their writing abilities without getting into details about spelling and grammar.


Encourage your kids to draw, not just write. This will help them develop hand strength and use their imaginations to make up stories.

Eventually, they will learn to write the words that go along with what they are drawing.

Related Questions: 

Is Preschool Good for 3-Year-Olds?

Preschool is generally good for 3-year-olds because it helps prepare them for elementary school.

Kids who go to preschool tend to be around eight months ahead of their peers who didn’t go to preschool when they start kindergarten.

These advantages aren’t limited to academics. A 3-year-old who goes to preschool will also reap the benefits of being socially ahead of peers who did not attend.

When Do Toddlers Start Coloring in the Lines?

Though you may be anxious to see your child’s scribbles become cohesive coloring pages, it can take until the age of five for kids to learn to color in the lines.

Anywhere between ages 3-5 is normal, and this isn’t a skill you need to rush. Let kids enjoy coloring, and the fine-motor skill development will come along when it’s time.

Closing Thoughts

Every child is different, but all children can benefit from having parents read to them and introduce them to words. This is the first step in creating a life-long reader.