When do kids learn to read?

By Tara Drinks

Expert reviewed by Elizabeth Babbin, EdD

At a glance

  • Learning to read is a process that involves different skills.

  • Kids start to learn to read at different ages.

  • Some kids need extra help learning how to read.

Learning to read is a process that involves different language skills. It happens over time, so it’s hard to say exactly when kids learn to read. To some people, reading means being able to sound out words and recognize words that can’t be sounded out. To others, reading means being able to read and understand sentences and text.

Learning to read is different for every child. Some kids start to learn to read in daycare or preschool. Others start gaining the skills in kindergarten or first grade. Read on to learn more.

At what age do kids learn to read?

Kids develop reading skills at their own pace. And some kids learn earlier and more quickly than others. Here’s what reading typically looks like at different ages:

  • By age 2, kids often start to recite the words to their favorite books. They also start to answer questions about what they see in books.
  • In preschool, kids typically start to recognize about half the letters of the alphabet. They also start to notice words that rhyme.
  • In kindergarten, kids often start matching letters to sounds. They also start to recognize some words by sight without having to sound them out.
  • By second grade, most kids can sound out and recognize words and can read and understand sentences. Most people consider this as having learned to read.

Keep in mind that every child is different. Not all kids develop reading skills at the same rate. Taking longer doesn’t mean they’re not on track to become good readers.

Why kids might have trouble learning to read

Learning how to read can be challenging for some kids. But that doesn’t mean they’re not smart. They just may need extra time and support to become full-fledged readers.

There are many reasons why kids have trouble learning to read. Some have a hard time understanding how language works. For example, they may struggle with recognizing sounds in words or matching sounds to letters.

In some cases, the type of reading instruction plays a role. Learn more about what can cause trouble with reading.

What helps kids learn to read

Practicing at home can help kids improve reading skills. Here are some ideas parents and caregivers can try and teachers can suggest:

  • Make reading a habit. Kids learn from what they observe. Try reading a book together every night before bedtime.
  • Play reading games. While running errands, have kids read the road signs out loud. Or play rhyming games together. 
  • Have conversations. Talk about things you’re seeing or feeling and ask questions so kids can do the same. This helps build the language skills kids need to be strong readers.

Key takeaways

  • By second grade, many kids can read and understand sentences.

  • Play reading games and have conversations to help kids learn to read.

  • Learning to read can be challenging for some kids, but that doesn’t mean they’re not smart.

About the author

About the author

Tara Drinks is an editor at Understood.

Reviewed by

Reviewed by

Elizabeth Babbin, EdD is an instructional specialist at Lower Macungie Middle School in Macungie, Pennsylvania.


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