Moving From ABCs to "I Can Read!"
If you have one of those kids who moved from crawling one day to running the next, you know how quickly kids develop in certain areas. Reading tends not to be one of those areas, though. It may take years for your child to go from recognizing his own name to being able to read sentences. Most kids are able to read by second grade, but they develop at their own pace in the years leading up to that point.
Many kids start showing interest in reading between the ages of 3 and 5. Your preschooler might pretend to read his favorite books to his stuffed animals or demand that he be allowed to hold the book while you read the words. Some kids this age can also pick out some simple sight words like "the" or "dog," but they aren't able to read full sentences yet.
Other kids have basic reading skills by age 5. They may be able to read simple sentences made up of basic words. It's less common for 5-year-olds to be able to sound out unfamiliar words, but some kids can do it.
By 7, the majority of kids have acquired reading skills. They've learned to recognize certain sight words and have learned enough about the sounds letters make to be able to identify new words. At this age, kids can generally read picture books and very simple chapter books with short sentences, although advanced readers may be able to understand more challenging chapter books by age 7.
Milestones on the Path to Reading
Your child should hit a lot of milestones on the way to learning to read full sentences and identify new printed words.
A child starts learning literacy skills in infancy, when he starts showing interest in books and stories. Those skills develop further in toddlerhood. By the age of 3, most kids will have favorite books and may pretend to read them or be able to finish your sentences as you read them. Toddlers should also start to understand that printed words correlate to printed ones and that words are made up of individual letters that have unique sounds.
Between 3 and 5, most kids will learn to recite the alphabet and start trying to write letters, although they may not be identifiable at this point. They should be able to recognize their own printed names and may also recognize other names and simple words. Preschoolers should also have some understanding of the sounds that different letters make, especially common consonants like S and T.
By the end of kindergarten, kids' writing skills should progress to the point that they're able to print their own names and some other letters and numbers. They should be able to follow along with a simple story and retell it when prompted. Those who can't yet read sentences should be getting close to reaching that milestone.
Helping Your Child Learn to Read
Supplying a wide variety of age-appropriate books is an essential part of helping your child build reading skills. Studying written words and noticing that they have a correlation to the illustrations and the words that you say out loud is an important precursor to learning to read, and kids need access to books to do that.
Make regular library visits to select new books and read them out loud, underlining the words with your finger as you speak. Stop frequently to ask questions or point things out, engaging your child in the story. When a dog appears in the book, you might ask your child what a dog says or point out that your family has a dog, too. Ask a preschooler to guess what might happen next or to read certain sight words that he recognizes.
Encourage him to read to you if he wants to. Listen intently, even if he's making up the words, and praise him for his efforts. This will make it clear to your child that his burgeoning reading skills are an exciting development.
When to Be Concerned
Ideally, your child's teachers in kindergarten and first and second grades will communicate with you if they have any concerns about his development. Some kids who fall behind their peers in reading struggle with learning disabilities like dyslexia. A child who can't seem to learn the alphabet in preschool or who struggles to sound out words by first grade may have such a disability. The school should be able to screen for learning disabilities. But if the school doesn't take action, it's worth talking to your pediatrician about whether your child should be screened by a licensed professional.
Other kids have the ability to learn reading skills but just aren't interested in settling down with a book. If you have one of these kids, try to make reading into a joy rather than a chore. Find books about things he loves, like bugs or fire trucks or princesses. Make a daily reading routine that he associates with good things. Maybe you'll have a nightly snuggle session on the couch with a book, give him his daily treat at the start of your reading time or finish reading time by letting him watch some TV. Just don't frame reading as something he has to do before he gets to do something fun—make it clear that reading itself should be fun.