Preparing to read starts early.

Literacy preparation starts as early as age two. Here's exactly what we do to help little ones learn to read effortlessly:

Between birth and ~6 years old, young children are hardwired to easily learn and be fascinated by language. During these years, children are naturally inclined to learning about literacy. Here's how to make the most of this time so your child can learn to read effortlessly!

Between birth and ~6 years old, young children are hardwired to easily learn and be fascinated by language. This is how children learn to speak the primary language(s) used at home without any special instruction, and why babies, toddlers, and preschoolers love everything from babbling, to silly songs, to bedtime stories.

But what many people don't realize is that this ability and joy with language can naturally transfer to *literacy skills* too—if we give children tools at their level.

Here are three tools we use in our Montessori programs for children from ~18 months - 3 years old:

1. Language Objects + Matching Games

These objects can be as simple as household items like a whisk or cutting board, sets of musical instruments, or realistic miniature objects representing everything from jungle animals to famous landmarks like Big Ben and the Eiffel Tower. Children play games with these objects: combining them in pairs, matching them to a card with a printed picture, and eventually matching just the cards themselves.

This helps young children build a rich and varied vocabulary in an engaging way which adds up to increased reading fluency later on. But, crucially, it also helps children come to understand that images printed on a page can *represent* things in real life. This seems obvious to us as adults, but is incredibly abstract and a big cognitive leap for a young child.

This preparation is very useful before children learn the alphabet, since letters printed on a page don't even represent real objects in the world, but sounds—an added level of complexity!

2. Sound Games

Sound Games are similar to I-Spy. The goal is building phonemic awareness, or the ability to notice and isolate each individual sound in a word. For example, to be able to break down the word 'cat' into three separate sounds: /k/ /a/ /t/

To play, a guide (teacher) will lay out a series of miniature objects that represent various three-letter words: objects like a miniature net, cat, dog, pen, or jet. They then ask the child to find or do various silly actions with one of objects. Which one? The child finds out by hearing their guide say the sound its name begins with, ends with, or has in the middle.

The guide might say, 'Ava, can you find the one whose name starts with /k/ and put it on your head?' and the child delightedly picks up the cat and declares that 'cat' starts with /k/ and then laughs as they try to balance the little cat on their head.

Sound games help children recognize and manipulate the sounds in words, laying the auditory foundation needed for learning the alphabet and phonetic reading.

3. Sandpaper Letters

As children become more familiar with sounds, usually around 3 years old you can we introduce sandpaper letters. This material is a set of wooden boards with the letters of the alphabet etched into them in sandpaper.

These tactile letters help toddlers and young preschoolers connect sounds to their written forms, making the abstract concept of letters more concrete and engaging.

Children are taught the whole alphabet, a few letters at a time, by feeling and tracing the written shape with their hands in the same motion they'll later use when writing, and while hearing their guide pronounce the sound each makes.

Why this matters

When kids start young, gaining literacy feels effortless and natural. They're innately driven towards language, and the tactile and fun games make it so you don't have to push them. They freely choose to practice and build skills. They learn to associate reading with joy, curiosity, and ease.

But if you wait until 5, 6, or even later when a child is leaving or already left the sensitive period for language, you may have to resort to less engaging methods to motivate them and that can turn reading into a chore rather than a delight.

When you start early and make it fun and accessible, you can watch your child develop a lifelong love for reading. By following this progression, you’re not just teaching them to read—you’re nurturing a joyful and confident approach to learning.