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When Should You Begin Reading Instruction?

Parents often wonder: “When should I start introducing reading instruction to my children?” Most children are able to read by the age of six or seven, but the ability to read isn’t a lightswitch that just magically flips on one day. Children go through a process of pre-reading developments that enable them to become fluent readers. 

The process of learning to read looks different for every child. Children typically signal when they’re ready to begin reading instruction. When they start showing an interest in stories and books, that’s usually a good place to start. 

Key Takeaways

  • Children learn to read at different ages. 
  • Every child learns a variety of pre-reading skills before they can read. 
  • Reading to your child frequently sets them up for success. 

Learning to read is a unique process for every child. Some children start learning to read in preschool or daycare and some children start learning to read in first grade. Although some children learn to read more slowly than others, this doesn’t mean that their chances of being successful readers are any less likely. It’s important to remember that children learn at their own pace and that this is completely natural. 

With that being said, here is a general outline of how kids learn to read at different ages according to Nemours Kids’ Health

  • Toddlers (Ages one to three): At this age, children might have some favorite books that they request you read to them. Children can name familiar pictures in the book, use pointing to identify objects, and finish sentences they know well. They can also answer questions about the books they enjoy. 
  • Early Preschool (Age three): At age three, children may explore books independently, listen to longer books, retell familiar stories, and sing along to the ABC song with some guidance and prompting. Children may also recognize the letters in their name and make written symbols which resemble letters.
  • Late Preschool (Age four): Children recognize words that rhyme, can name about 16 letters of the alphabet, write their full name, develop awareness of syllables, and match some letters to their sounds. At this age, children also understand that printed text is read from left to right, top to bottom.
  • Kindergarten (Age five): By kindergarten, many children can produce words that rhyme, match some spoken and written words, recognize familiar words in print, and predict what will happen next in a story. Children at this age can also identify and manipulate small speech sounds. 
  • First and Second Grade (Ages six to seven): Children are now able to read familiar stories, sound out unfamiliar words, use pictures to figure out new words, and self-correct when they make reading mistakes. 
  • Third Grade (Age eight): Most children are able to read by the time they hit third grade. At this point, reading becomes necessary in order to keep up with the schoolwork they will be expected to do. 

How Can You Prepare Your Child for Reading? 

The best way to set your child up for success in reading is by reading to them often. A longitudinal study by The University of Melbourne determined that children whose parents read to them frequently developed stronger language, literacy, numeracy, and cognitive skills later in life. The study also found that children who were read to more frequently at ages four to five achieved higher test scores.

Children benefit from having motivation to learn. If your child loves stories, they will be more motivated to learn how to read. Instill a love of stories by making storytime a daily activity in your home. You can start reading to your child at any age, the younger the better! Reading at home with your child is beneficial for many reasons: your child is exposed to stories, it is an opportunity for child-parent bonding, and it gives your child an opportunity to make connections between auditory sounds, words, and pictures. It’s also a great way for your child to be exposed to new vocabulary—and having strong oral vocabulary is extremely helpful in developing reading fluency and comprehension.

If possible, set up a small “library” at your home. Even if it’s just a few books, children will appreciate having a special reading area where they can keep their favorite books on display. Having books out in the open (as opposed to in a closet) means your child will be more likely to reach for a book to flip through. Even before children learn to read, many enjoy pretending to read books or just looking at the pictures. Keep the books in an easy to access place so that your child is more likely to pull one out. Trips to the library can be magical for children, so adventures to the local public library to peruse books or attend storytime sessions can be inspirational and exciting for children. Take a look at recommended book lists to get a sense of what books could be an engaging and rewarding read for your child.  

What are Pre-Reading Skills?

Before children can start reading, there are some pre-reading skills they should learn first. Some of these skills are phonemic awareness and alphabet recognition. Simply put, phonemic awareness skills are what children use to identify and manipulate the specific sounds of the language, and alphabet recognition is the ability to distinguish between different letters. 

The National Reading Panel lists five key components needed for reading: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and spelling. The first place to start is developing phonemic awareness. You can read about how to develop your child’s phonemic awareness here. After that, you can begin teaching alphabet recognition and phonics. There are a variety of strategies you can use to teach these concepts to your child, but the most important aspect is keeping things fun. 

You want your child to develop a positive relationship with reading; it shouldn’t be an activity they associate with hard work or frustration. To make the process enjoyable, be sure to include fun activities such as coloring in block letters, playing with block letters, playing ABC games, and fun ABC sing along songs

How Often Should I Practice Reading With My Child? 

If your child shows a lot of interest in reading, go ahead and practice every day! Practice will look differently depending on where your child is at in their pre-reading process. You might be working with them to develop phonemic awareness skills, or maybe you’ve moved on to alphabet recognition. Wherever you’re at, feel free to practice 10 to 20 minutes a day if your child is enjoying it. 

If your child is not very interested in reading, you can practice pre-reading skills about three to five days a week for a short period of time. Remember: you want to keep the reading practice a positive experience in their mind, so don’t feel like you have to force it on them. If your child is not quick to show interest in books, don’t worry, they will start when they are ready. 

The amount of time you spend on reading instruction is entirely dependent on your child’s interest. With that, if your child never wants to practice pre-reading skills, try switching up the activities. If they don’t like drawing letters, try an ABC song. If they’re not enjoying the song, maybe ABC building blocks will entertain them. When in doubt, re-read their favorite books aloud. It’s all about finding what works best for your child. 

Can I use Reading.com to teach my child to read before they go to kindergarten?

Absolutely. Reading.com is recommended for children four to seven who demonstrate reading readiness. What does reading readiness look like? We look for a child who:

  • Can pay focused attention to something for 20 to 25 minutes at a time (e.g., reading a book together, playing a board game, etc.)
  • Enjoys having books read to them
  • Pretends to read or write when playing
  • Makes up stories to go with pictures
  • Can match or sort objects by shape, even if they’re different sizes and colors (e.g., put all triangles in a group, all squares in a group, etc.)
  • Usually speaks in complete sentences
  • Can retell familiar stories in their own words
  • Can answer simple questions about a story that was just read to them
  • Holds a book and turns pages the correct way

If your child shows some of these characteristics, we encourage you to start using Reading.com today! At Reading.com, lessons and games are designed to make the reading process fun and effective for young learners. 

How much time should I spend with my child per day on Reading.com?

Each lesson will take about 15 to 20 minutes to complete with your child. We recommend doing a new lesson every day or every other day (about three to five times a week). In between new lessons, our games have been expertly designed to reinforce the skills your child is learning, so your child can play the games by themselves for extra practice to really commit those new skills & knowledge to long-term memory.

Once your child has unlocked books in our program (after just 10 lessons!), we strongly recommend that you re-read the books with your child to increase their fluency with sounding out the words. You should feel comfortable doing new lessons at your own pace, using the games & books for reinforcement, and even re-doing lessons if you feel like your child would benefit from that before moving on. 

The Bottom Line:

  • You can use Reading.com to teach your child reading skills. 
  • Reading instruction can begin before kindergarten. 
  • Instruction is most effective when it involves games and songs.