Age-by-age learning skills

Reading Skills: What to Expect at Different Ages

By Amanda Morin

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Not all kids develop reading skills at the same rate. But there are some general milestones to look out for as your child grows up. Take a look at how they typically unfold.

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Reading Skills: What to Expect at Different Ages

Kids develop at their own pace, but generally can be expected to meet certain milestones. These are typical ages for reading milestones.

Kids ages 0–12 months
• Begin to reach for soft-covered books
• Look at and touch the pictures in books
• Make cooing or nonsense sounds to respond to a familiar story
• Help turn pages

• Kids ages 12-36 months
• Name familiar pictures, such as dog, cup and baby
• Answer questions about what they see in books
• Pretend to read by turning the pages and making up stories (24 months +)
• Recite the words to favorite books
• Recognize the covers of favorite books

Kids ages 3-4
• Know the correct way to hold and handle a book
• Recognize that the words tell a story
• Understand that words are read from left to right and top to bottom
• Start hearing rhyming words Retell stories
• Recognize about half of the letters of the alphabet
• Recognize and “read” familiar labels, signs and logos
• Start matching letter sounds to letters
• Perhaps recognize own name and some other often-seen words

Kids age 5
• Read some sight words
• Use story language and vocabulary in play and conversation (for example: “The dump truck is here,” said the guy.)
• Begin matching words they hear to words on the page
• Recognize and match letters to letter-sounds
• Identify the beginning and ending (and sometimes middle) sounds/letters in words like cat or sit
• Sound out simple words
• Tell the who, what, when, where, why and how of a story Put a story in order, either by retelling or by pictures
• Predict what happens next in a story
• Begin writing or dictating their own stories
• Sound out new words using phonics and word families (such as adding the beginning sounds to at to read cat, bat and sat)
• Start reading or ask to be read books for information as well as entertainment
• Answer basic questions about what they’ve read

Kids ages 6-8
• Recognize up to 200 sight words
• Use context clues (pictures, surrounding words, topic-specific vocabulary) to decode unfamiliar words
• Go back and re-read when a mistake is made (self-correcting)
• Start answering questions that require them to think about what they’ve read
• Start writing stories using inventive spelling
• Imitate the style of favorite authors when writing

Kids ages 9-13
• Make the move from learning to read to reading to learn
• Read with purpose (for enjoyment, to learn something new, to figure out directions, etc.)
• Explore different genres
• Recognize words without hesitation
• Put the events of a story in order
• Read out loud accurately and with inflection
• Identify and articulate the main idea
• Summarize what has been read
• Understand similes, metaphors and other descriptive devices
• Find meaning in what has been read

Kids ages 14-17
• Relate events in the story to their own lives
• Compare and contrast different reading materials
• Discuss character motivation
• Make inferences/draw conclusions about the story
• Support a thesis using examples from the story
• Identify examples of imagery and symbolism
• Analyze, synthesize and evaluate ideas from texts
Graphic of Reading skills: what to expect at different ages
Graphic of Reading skills: what to expect at different ages

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About the Author

Portrait of Amanda Morin

Amanda Morin is a parent advocate, a former teacher and the author of The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education.

Reviewed by

Portrait of Donna Volpitta

Donna Volpitta, Ed.D., is coauthor of The Resilience Formula: A Guide to Proactive, Not Reactive, Parenting.

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