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Short Stories for 3-Year Olds


One of the most relaxing times for a 3-year-old and an adult is story time. It provides a warm, nurturing experience for you and the child, and it promotes learning. The most age-appropriate short stories for 3-year-olds are nursery rhymes. However, short picture books and oral storytelling work well with children of this age as well.

Nursery Rhymes

When 3-year-olds hear a story, they are building a foundation for learning while having fun. Nursery rhymes such as “Humpty Dumpty” tell a story with a beginning, middle and end, so children learn that events happen in a sequence. Have your 3-year-old follow along with his index finger as you read; this teaches the left to right orientation that's required for reading in English. Since nursery rhymes are short and easy to repeat, they often become some of the child’s first sentences. Rhymes like “Jack Be Nimble” and “Little Miss Muffet” also help children develop their mouth and tongue muscles.

Picture Books

Introduce simple picture books into story time when 3-year-olds demonstrate an ability to absorb information by answering questions about the story. You could ask “Where did Miss Muffet go when she ran away?” or “What do you think happens next?” Read aloud and talk about the pictures. Books such as the “Five Little Monkeys” series by Eileen Christelow have vibrant illustrations and introduce simple math skills like numbers and counting. Expect 3-year-olds to want to read the same book over and over. Doing so gives them a sense of comfort and stability. As they grow more familiar with the books, they will likely recite the text along with you.

No Book Needed

Telling a familiar short story, such as the story of Goldilocks and the three bears, without a picture book supports a 3-year-old's learning and development differently than when stories are read aloud from a picture book. Children have to use their imaginations to visualize characters’ physical features, movements and sounds. When telling an oral story, make direct eye contact with the child and be animated. Jumping up, raising and lowering your voice, widening your eyes, gasping, crouching and drawing close to the child all add to the story. As 3-year-olds are drawn into the story, match their facial, vocal and physical expressions with yours to create a call-and-response effect. This will encourage them to contribute to the story.

Dramatic Play

Reciting nursery rhymes, reading short picture books and telling stories orally meet the needs of 3-year-olds who are auditory and visual learners. Kinesthetic learners can be stimulated by the same stories if they're delivered in a way that orients to this learning style. Point to body parts that are mentioned in a short story, such as the nose or an ear, while you are saying the word and have 3-year-olds mimic your actions. Active verbs are invitations for 3-year-olds to move. Keep these things in mind when choosing a story to share with your child. Short stories with refrains or repeated dialogue work especially well for dramatic play.

About the Author

Shelley McKinley has experience as a principal, assistant principal, science teacher and central office administrator. She began writing education-related articles in 2011 and was referenced in the Journal of the National Association for Alternative Certification in 2012. McKinley holds a Doctor of Education in curriculum and instruction from Texas Southern University.

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