When can a child read

Reading Milestones (for Parents) - Nemours KidsHealth

Reviewed by: Cynthia M. Zettler-Greeley, PhD

Nemours BrightStart!

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This is a general outline of the milestones on the road to reading success. Keep in mind that kids develop at different paces and spend varying amounts of time at each stage. If you have concerns, talk to your child's doctor, teacher, or the reading specialist at school. Getting help early is key for helping kids who struggle to read.

Parents and teachers can find resources for children as early as pre-kindergarten. Quality childcare centers, pre-kindergarten programs, and homes full of language and book reading can build an environment for reading milestones to happen.

Infancy (Up to Age 1)

Kids usually begin to:

  • learn that gestures and sounds communicate meaning
  • respond when spoken to
  • direct their attention to a person or object
  • understand 50 words or more
  • reach for books and turn the pages with help
  • respond to stories and pictures by vocalizing and patting the pictures

Toddlers (Ages 1–3)

Kids usually begin to:

  • answer questions about and identify objects in books — such as "Where's the cow?" or "What does the cow say?"
  • name familiar pictures
  • use pointing to identify named objects
  • pretend to read books
  • finish sentences in books they know well
  • scribble on paper
  • know names of books and identify them by the picture on the cover
  • turn pages of board books
  • have a favorite book and request it to be read often

Early Preschool (Age 3)

Kids usually begin to:

  • explore books independently
  • listen to longer books that are read aloud
  • retell a familiar story
  • sing the alphabet song with prompting and cues
  • make symbols that resemble writing
  • recognize the first letter in their name
  • learn that writing is different from drawing a picture
  • imitate the action of reading a book aloud

Late Preschool (Age 4)

Kids usually begin to:

  • recognize familiar signs and labels, especially on signs and containers
  • recognize words that rhyme
  • name some of the letters of the alphabet (a good goal to strive for is 15–18 uppercase letters)
  • recognize the letters in their names
  • write their names
  • name beginning letters or sounds of words
  • match some letters to their sounds
  • develop awareness of syllables
  • use familiar letters to try writing words
  • understand that print is read from left to right, top to bottom
  • retell stories that have been read to them

Kindergarten (Age 5)

Kids usually begin to:

  • produce words that rhyme
  • match some spoken and written words
  • write some letters, numbers, and words
  • recognize some familiar words in print
  • predict what will happen next in a story
  • identify initial, final, and medial (middle) sounds in short words
  • identify and manipulate increasingly smaller sounds in speech
  • understand concrete definitions of some words
  • read simple words in isolation (the word with definition) and in context (using the word in a sentence)
  • retell the main idea, identify details (who, what, when, where, why, how), and arrange story events in sequence

First and Second Grade (Ages 6–7)

Kids usually begin to:

  • read familiar stories
  • "sound out" or decode unfamiliar words
  • use pictures and context to figure out unfamiliar words
  • use some common punctuation and capitalization in writing
  • self-correct when they make a mistake while reading aloud
  • show comprehension of a story through drawings
  • write by organizing details into a logical sequence with a beginning, middle, and end

Second and Third Grade (Ages 7–8)

Kids usually begin to:

  • read longer books independently
  • read aloud with proper emphasis and expression
  • use context and pictures to help identify unfamiliar words
  • understand the concept of paragraphs and begin to apply it in writing
  • correctly use punctuation
  • correctly spell many words
  • write notes, like phone messages and email
  • understand humor in text
  • use new words, phrases, or figures of speech that they've heard
  • revise their own writing to create and illustrate stories

Fourth Through Eighth Grade (Ages 9–13)

Kids usually begin to:

  • explore and understand different kinds of texts, like biographies, poetry, and fiction
  • understand and explore expository, narrative, and persuasive text
  • read to extract specific information, such as from a science book
  • understand relations between objects
  • identify parts of speech and devices like similes and metaphors
  • correctly identify major elements of stories, like time, place, plot, problem, and resolution
  • read and write on a specific topic for fun, and understand what style is needed
  • analyze texts for meaning

Reviewed by: Cynthia M. Zettler-Greeley, PhD

Date reviewed: May 2022

When Do Kids Start Reading?

A lot of caregivers want to know: “When do kids start reading?” Of course, there is a basic answer, and then some nuance that complicates but clarifies things. An understanding of general times when milestones are hit can be equally helpful and stressful. As tempting as it is to know where your child is “supposed to be,” there is a huge spectrum of times that things click in, and even people professionally familiar with child development can find themselves frantic when it comes to their own children. The timeframe in which kids start reading is no exception.

To understand when kids start reading, you need to know what reading is. A general explanation is the action of reading words correctly, but there is more to reading than that. Reading Rockets, a very respected reading research site, defines reading as “making meaning from print.” This larger definition allows us to pull in the valuable skills of younger children, and involve young kids in the process of building their reading lives.  Below, I’ll directly answer the question “when do kids start reading?” while giving tips for balancing the sometimes difficult journey to building literacy skills with the challenge of making reading an enjoyable and fulfilling pastime.

Making Meaning For Pre-Readers

Can toddlers read? Well, yes. Ages 2–4 are very low stakes times in a child’s reading life, and an excellent time to make reading an enjoyable part of daily life. When sharing stories with young children (might I suggest board books?), you can help them make meaning by discussing the illustrations.

Asking questions aloud and answering them for yourself (“Where did the kid go? Oh! They’re behind the tree!”) can help your child understand what is happening in the story. This also teaches them to evaluate a story as it’s being told. Predictions, character identification, and story part recall are a huge part of early elementary literacy. Practicing these skills as a young child can go a long way. This is also a great place to plug in social emotional education. Point out characters with sad and happy faces and connect the emotion to story events. Even one small comment each time you read a story adds to the richness of your child’s reading life, and very soon you’ll see them copying these habits while they look at books.

The Mechanics of it All

This is where things get real in the reading world, and often where struggles can pop up. Being able to read is a combination of knowing how to use phonics to decode certain words (cat being the sounds /c//a//t/) and having sight words (“the” doesn’t follow sound rules) memorized. A phonics-based approach to reading will have students learning sounds, then putting the sounds into words, then putting the words into sentences. I’ve written before sharing tips to help beginning readers.

The tricky thing about this part of a reading journey is that people spend years going to school to understand the process of phonics education. Simply being able to read is not enough to know which words a beginning reader will be able to sound out, which words have phonics components they haven’t learned yet, and which words simply don’t follow phonics rules at all. To add to the confusion, some readers are able to decode (unlock words) very quickly without relying too much on phonics rules and others heavily rely on phonics instruction to make reading work. It’s different for every reader and far from simple. I again refer to Reading Rockets: it is generally an awesome resource for caregivers and educators, but also has information about why kids struggle and ideas for helping readers at different stages in this process.

Becoming Fluent

Reading fluently is the next step in the reading journey. Fluency measures speed, accuracy, and expression. A huge component of building fluency is repeated readings: having beginning readers read the same thing over and over, building confidence and becoming familiar with the text. Speed and accuracy will improve as the student feels confident in the actual words. Expression comes as the student understands what is happening in the text.

Being read to improves expression and general fluency so much. This brings us back to the “making meaning” definition of reading. You might be able to decode a word or say a sentence, but without understanding what is happening (the skill of comprehension, which is all of reading instruction after 3rd grade), you won’t understand what kind of expression to use when reading it aloud. Listening to audiobooks has been huge in my household. Even when my children struggle with different mechanics of reading, I am shocked at how much expression they pour into what they read, until I remember this skill has been modeled for them constantly as they grew up. 

So, When Do Kids Start Reading?

Generally, kids start decoding and understanding the written word between the ages of 4 and 7, or between kindergarten and second grade. However, there are SO MANY reasons that reading skills might develop on a different timeline. The work families can do to support a love of reading starts much earlier and can be influenced long after that range. Valid advice no matter where your reader is: foster a positive association with reading by looking for pleasure reading titles and reading to and with them.

Hopefully this was helpful. Learning to read and support beginning readers is not a simple process by any means. My biggest piece of advice is to bring it back to relationships. No matter the age or stage, if reading together is becoming stressful, take a break and read one of their favorites aloud. A positive association with reading will take a student a long way. 

You might also be interested in:

  • What is the Best Way to Teach Reading? A Literacy Professor Weighs In
  • Reading Tips for Parents To Help Beginning Readers
  • 50 Of The Best Books For Beginning Readers

methods of teaching reading to the first grade

When to teach a child to read

There are early development studios where children are taught to read from the first years of life. However, pediatricians do not recommend rushing and advise starting learning to read no earlier than 4 years old, best of all - at 5–6. By this age, most children already distinguish sounds well, can correctly compose sentences and pronounce words. Therefore, most often parents think about how to teach their child to read, already on the eve of school.

Source: unsplash.com / @jonathanborba

How to know if your child is ready to learn to read

Before you start teaching your child to read, you need to make sure that the child is ready and wants to learn. To do this, try to answer the following questions:

  • Does the child know the concepts of “right-left”, “big-small”, “inside-outside”?
  • Can he generalize objects according to these characteristics?
  • Can he distinguish between similar and dissimilar forms?
  • Is he able to remember and execute at least three instructions?
  • Does he form phrases correctly?
  • Does he pronounce words clearly?
  • Can he retell a story he heard or experienced?
  • Can he formulate his feelings and impressions?
  • Can you predict the ending of a simple story?
  • Does he manage to participate in the dialogue?
  • Can he listen without interrupting?
  • Can he rhyme words?
  • Do the letters attract his attention?
  • Does the child have a desire to independently look at the book?
  • Does he like being read aloud to him?

If you answered “yes” to these questions, your child is ready and will soon learn to read correctly.

Methods for teaching reading

Most of the methods involve learning while playing, so that the child is not bored and learns knowledge better.


Zaitsev's Cubes

For more than twenty years, these cubes have been introducing children to letters and teaching how to form words and syllables. They allow you to understand how vowels and consonants, deaf and voiced sounds differ. There are 52 cubes in total, each of which depicts warehouses (combinations of a consonant and a vowel). The cubes vary in color and size, the large ones depict hard warehouses, while the small ones are soft. During classes, parents are encouraged to pronounce or sing warehouses so that the child remembers them better.

K Zaitsev's ubiki
Source: moya-lyalyas.ru

Vyacheslav Voskobovich's "towers" and "folds"

windows. You can put cubes in them to make syllables. And from several towers you can make a word.

Voskobovich's "towers"
Source: catalog-chess. ru

Skladushki is a book with pictures, educational rhymes and songs. Parents sing them and in parallel show the warehouses in the pictures. The author of the methodology claims that a child of six years old can be taught to read in a month using "folds".

A page from V. Voskobovich's "folds"

Doman's cards

This method of teaching a child to read is based on memorizing whole words, from simple to more complex. First, the child masters the first 15 cards, which the parent shows him for 1-2 seconds and pronounces the words on them. Then the child tries to memorize phrases. This technique helps not only to learn more words, but also develops memory well in general.

Doman cards
Source: friendly-life.ru/kartochki-domana-dlya-samyh-malenkih

Maria Montessori's method of teaching reading

The essence of the Montessori method is that the child is first asked to feel the writing of a letter, and then pronounce it. For this, didactic materials are used - cardboard plates with pasted letters, the outline of which the child traces with his finger, naming the sound. After studying consonants and vowels, you can move on to words and phrases. The Montessori method not only helps to learn to read, but also develops fine motor skills, logic, and the ability to analyze.

Montessori cards are easy to make yourself.
Source: hendmeid.guru

Olga Soboleva's technique

The author of this technique believes that you need to start learning not from the abstract alphabet, but immediately in practice - by analyzing simple texts. The Soboleva program allows you to teach a child to read from the age of five - at this age, children are already able to keep their attention on a line of text. Different approaches are offered depending on how it is easier for a child to perceive the world - by eye, by ear or by touch. In addition to reading skills, the technique develops interest in creativity, imagination, attention and memory.

Source: freepik.com / @gpointstudio

How to teach a child to read by syllables

Teaching a child to read by syllables should be done in stages. First, explain to him that sounds are vowels and consonants, deaf and voiced. Say them with the child - he must understand how they differ. Letters and sounds can be learned while walking: draw your child's attention to the letters on signs and announcements, and soon he will learn to recognize them.

When the child has mastered the letters and sounds, start teaching him to read simple words - "mom", "dad". Then move on to more complex ones - “grandmother”, “dog”, “apartment”. Show your child that syllables can be sung.

Syllabary for learning to read

Next, move on to word formation. You can cut cards with syllables and invite the child to make words out of them. When he gets comfortable, move on to reading short texts. It is better to start with two or three phrases, and a little later switch to texts of five to ten sentences.

To enroll in Foxford Online Elementary School, a child must have at least basic reading, numeracy and writing skills. To check the readiness of the child for school, we offer to pass a small test that does not require special preparation.

Source: freepik.com

Exercises for learning to read

There are many exercises on the Internet that help children learn to read, you can print them out and start learning right away. Start with exercises that teach you to recognize letters and tell correct spellings from incorrect spellings.

From O. Zhukova's manual “Learning to read. Simple Exercises.
Source: mishka-knizhka.ru

When the child gets used to the letters, move on to the exercises for syllables. For example, like this:

Geometric hint exercise. For greater clarity, blocks with words can be cut out.

Such exercises not only teach reading, but also develop logical thinking well:

Gradually move on to exercises where you need not only to read correctly, but also write words:

One of the most difficult and entertaining exercises is fillords: you need to find and cross out the words on the field of letters.

Source: graycell.ru

Games for learning to read

With the help of cubes or cards with letters and syllables, you can play different educational games with your child. Let's take a few examples.


Take a word of 3-4 syllables and place the cards in random order on the floor. Explain to the child how these syllables are read. These will be garages. Give the child different toys and offer to send them to the garage as you wish: for example, the car goes to the TA garage, the bear goes to the RA garage, the ball rolls to the KE garage, and so on. Make sure your child is positioning the toys correctly. At the end of the game, invite the child to make a word from garage syllables. Perhaps not the first time, but he will get a "ROCKET". Gradually introduce new syllables into the game.



Lay out images of various goods on the table - this is a store, and you are a seller. Give your child a stack of cards with syllables - they will function as money. The child needs to buy all the items in the store, but each item is only sold for the syllable it starts with. For example, fish can only be bought for the syllable "RY", milk - for the syllable "MO", and so on. Give your child a few extra cards to make the task more difficult. When he gets used to it, change the conditions of the game: for example, sell goods not for the first, but for the last syllables. The game is both simple and complex: it will allow the child to understand that words are not always spelled the way they are pronounced. After all, a cow cannot be bought for the syllable "KA", for example.


Game for several people. Give the children several cards with syllables. Take out the cubes with syllables one by one from the box and announce them. Whoever has a card with such a syllable - he takes it. The first person to complete all the cards wins. During the game, children will accurately remember the syllables that they had on their hands.


Finally, a few more tips on how to teach a child to read:

  • It is better to start teaching children to read by memorizing letters. It is important that the child can recognize and name them without hesitation.
  • In the early stages, pronounce the consonants as they are read in words: not [em], [el], [de], but [m], [l], [d] - this way it will be easier for the child to find his bearings.
  • Sculpt letters from plasticine, draw and color, buy an alphabet with voice acting - use all the channels of the child's perception.
  • Gradually build letters into syllables and then into words. Play rearranging letters and syllables, let the child experiment.
  • Teach your child rhymes about the letters of the alphabet, look at the primer, use cards with letters and pictures. Thanks to the illustrations, the child will be able to memorize the symbols faster.
  • Distribute the load: fifteen minutes a day is better than an hour twice a week. Alternate entertaining and serious tasks.
  • You can hang signs with their names on objects in the child's room - the child will quickly learn to recognize them in texts.
  • Read aloud regularly to your child and gradually introduce them to independent reading. Every evening, offer to read at least a few lines from a well-known book on your own.
  • Lead by example. For a child to want to learn to read, he must regularly see you with a book.

We hope that our recommendations will help you teach your preschooler to read. Even if your child is just learning to read, at Foxford Elementary School he will be able to improve his skills.

At what age should a child be able to read

The ability to read is one of the basic human social skills. Without it, it is impossible to receive and transmit information, therefore this skill should be developed in every person. Modern parents strive to teach their child to read as early as possible, so that by the time they start learning, they already have some knowledge base. So when should a child start doing this?


  • A Few Important Details

When We Begin

Experts disagree about teaching children to read early, and neither do parents. Someone thinks that a child should get basic reading skills even before entering school: this will make it easier to adapt to the educational process. Others are sure that a teacher in the 1st grade should teach a child to read, since an unnecessarily early start to school is harmful for children: let them enjoy their childhood for now.

Learning too early - why it is harmful

The development of a child's cognitive abilities follows certain patterns, certain stages, it is undesirable to change or accelerate it, and often it is completely impossible. Until the age of five, children think figuratively - in pictures, and it is difficult for them to perceive information in the form of letters, numbers or other signs. And even having understood the general principle of reading, little students read, but they cannot understand the essence of what is written.

Learning to read early can lead to health problems:

  • excessive brain tension;
  • abnormal blood flow to the cerebral hemispheres;
  • eye strain.

Intensive classes can unbalance the development of different types of thinking in a child: the emphasis will be on the logical, and the figurative will be “abandoned”. Yes, the child will become better at remembering, speaking, analyzing, thinking logically, but the development of the right hemisphere will be slowed down, and it is responsible for no less important dreams, emotions, understanding of music and color. The emotional development of the baby will be somewhat retarded, and at an older age this may respond with serious problems in the form of:

  • lack of ability to empathize with others;
  • difficulties with correct understanding of one's emotions;
  • inability to determine one's strengths and weaknesses;
  • difficulties in understanding one's own and social values;
  • isolation and uncertainty.

It is known that many geeks are developed from early childhood, but most often, growing up, they do not have happiness and are poorly adapted to the realities of the world around them. Therefore, it is more important to raise a socially adapted person from a child than to teach him to read too early.

What the experts say

Psychologists, psychophysiologists and other experts recommend starting to teach a preschooler to read not earlier than he is 5 years old, but at the same time he must be ready to learn. They say about it:

  • intelligible correct speech without speech defects;
  • correct listening comprehension of the text;
  • the ability to explain the meaning of a word;
  • ability to build coherent logical sentences;
  • the ability to briefly retell the plot of a cartoon or fairy tale, describe your day;
  • the ability to concentrate on an activity, such as needlework.
  • A healthy five-year-old child usually has all of these skills. And at this age it is time to get acquainted with letters and sounds, then by the time of admission to grade 1, the child will master reading at a sufficient level.

    Is it possible to instill a love for reading

    It is not enough to teach a child to read - he still needs to instill a love for this occupation. View your favorite books and read them, study the illustrations, get acquainted with the adventures of the characters. It is important that older family members show the child that reading is an amazing learning opportunity, and not a hateful duty. It will be useful if the child saw people with books in his close circle, then, imitating them, he himself will want to plunge into the world of literature.

    The first reading lessons should be conducted in the format of a game: in this way the material will be absorbed by the child easier and better, the child will not have time to lose concentration during the lesson, and avoid stressful experiences.

    Choosing a teaching method

    Today there are many methods to teach a child to read, it is important to choose the one that suits your child.

    Perhaps the most popular method is classes in the classical alphabet (the alphabet itself can be developed by any author). The kid quickly remembers the letter, as it will now be associated with a certain picture. Later, you can move on to another well-known book - the primer and study reading by syllables from it.

    Many techniques are based on the use of cubes or tablets. They are convenient and interesting, but are often criticized by school teachers. It is believed that such training misses a very important component - basic familiarity with the alphabet.

    The most famous of these techniques:

    • Zaitsev's cubes - the emphasis is on making syllables from individual letters and words from syllables, understanding vowels, unvoiced and voiced, hard and soft consonants.
    • Chaplygin cubes - training not only allows you to compose syllables and words, but also develops fine motor skills, and this will have a beneficial effect on the overall development of the child;
    • Glenn Doman's cards - learning is based on the use of visual memory: syllables and words are printed on cards, and the child memorizes their spelling;
    • "Skladushki" by Voskobovich - 21 cards with syllables, from which you can build houses with whole words.

    The Montessori method is another well-known teaching option. Toddlers first master the letter, then move on to getting to know the letters, and then learn to read the syllables.

    Are there any downsides to learning to read at home? In addition, at home, parents usually miss such an important part of the lesson as the sound analysis of the word, and the child may also have difficulty breaking down words into syllables. It is not easy to correct this mistake later, therefore it is better to immediately entrust a professional teacher to teach the child to read and write. It can be either a private tutor or a teacher of preparatory courses before the first grade - such classes are held today in literally every school.

    A few important details

    If you decide to teach your child to read at home, it is important to follow a few rules. All studies should be built on the principle “From simple to complex”, that is, you first need to learn letters and sounds, then you can start to compose them into syllables and only then move on to whole words.

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