Whenever parents get together, the same question arises: When should my child learn to read?
The age a child begins reading can vary. The majority of children read by ages six or seven—in other words by first or second grade—yet some learn to read earlier.
However, an early start does not mean a child has an advantage in later grades as kids' abilities tend to catch up with one another as they get older.
The US Department of Education recommends that kids read by third grade when reading becomes incorporated into various subjects. At that point, the inability to read begins to affect a child's performance in other lessons.
Other than that, there are no concrete rules. Learning to read involves many complex language skills that all need to come together to be successful.
There is also not a clear definition of what it means "to read." To some, reading begins when kids sound out letters to produce words, while to others, "reading" means when students are ready to read and understand what they’ve read.
Reading is not just a skill. Reading also requires a certain level of brain development that’s different for every child.
What is clear is the children who have not learned to read by third grade are at a disadvantage. They have less general knowledge, a poorer vocabulary, and a shorter attention span. In this article, you’ll learn the steps a child takes to become literate and how you can help your child become a reader if they’re struggling.
How does reading develop?
Reading ages vary greatly, but generally, there are some milestones along the way.
By the age of two, children often start reciting their favorite parts of books and identifying what they see in pictures.
In preschool, they learn about half their letters and begin to notice rhyming words. In kindergarten, children learn the rest of their alphabet, start to associate letters with sounds, and recognize common words without sounding them out.
By second grade, most kids can sound out or read common words and read basic sentences. For most people, that’s when they say their child can read.
Of course, that is just a general guide—the only certain thing is the order in which they’ll acquire certain skills. Children will start by identifying letters or a combination of letters before connecting these letters into sounds.
In preschool, children will learn to put names to those letters and sounds. After that, they’ll begin sounding out words until finally, they can recognize words and read them.
A slow reading start is not indicative of problems later. Many good readers were slow starters!
How is reading taught in schools?
There are a variety of methods that schools use to teach reading.
Some use a word recognition strategy and teach children to interpret the meaning of a word by how it's used in the sentence.
Another common tactic is to teach reading through phonics. Children learn what sounds letters represent and learn to read the word before meaning is assigned to it.
Word recognition is excellent for building understanding, and phonics is wonderful for teaching kids to sound out words. Many schools try to combine these strategies to get the best of both worlds.
No one is quite sure what happens in a child's brain when they are learning to read. One theory is that, like speaking, reading is a natural process that will happen eventually if given time. All you need to do is surround the child with books, and one day they’ll be able to read them.
Another theory is that reading is a series of guesses that get more accurate as children learn to decode the word's context in the sentence.
However, the most popular theory is that reading essentially decodes a message based on the letters' sounds, which is why many schools have changed their focus in preschool to practicing phonics.
Children who struggle with phonics are also more likely to struggle to read, making teaching phonics the best way to nurture future readers.
How you can help teach reading at home
You play a huge role in teaching your children to read. Studies show that children who are read to and listened to as they read aloud have an easier time learning to read than their counterparts.
In addition, having you show enthusiasm for reading spreads to your children and gives them more motivation to learn. The most important thing is to let your child read what interests them and at their own pace.
There are several activities you can do that have been proven to improve reading skills, including:
- Using your finger to show the word you are reading as you read
- Using funny voices for the characters in the story
- Stopping at pictures and asking children what they see
- Have children join in on repeated text
- Connecting the pictures in the book to real events in the child's life
- Pausing reading to answer your child's questions about the story
- Reading to your child even after they've learned to read
You can help your child with phonics by breaking down the sounds of words your child likes to say.
Also, turning it into a game will make the child enjoy it even more. The more your child connects reading with fun, the more likely they are to do it.
And the goal is not just to teach your child to read but to create lifelong readers.
There is no true answer to what age a child begins reading. Some children learn quickly, and some struggle, but it all seems to level out by third grade.
However, what’s clear is that the study of phonics early and being read to at home are two strong indicators of lifelong readers. Although we have general benchmarks that most kids meet along the way when learning to read, schools and parents both clearly play crucial parts in helping a child read fluently and become a lifelong reader.
If your child needs some extra help with reading, get in touch with one of our tutors.