Reading Skills: What to Expect at Different Ages

By Amanda Morin
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Even as babies, children build reading skills that set the foundation for learning to read. Here’s a list of reading milestones by age. Keep in mind that kids develop reading skills at their own pace, so they may not be on this exact timetable.

Babies (0–12 months)

  • Begin to reach for soft-covered books or board books

  • Look at and touch the pictures in books

  • Respond to a storybook by cooing or making nonsense sounds

  • Help turn pages

Toddlers (Ages 1–2 years)

  • Look at pictures and name familiar items, like dog, cup, and baby

  • Answer questions about what they see in books

  • Recognize the covers of favorite books

  • Recite the words to favorite books

  • Start pretending to read by turning the pages and making up stories

Preschoolers (Ages 3–4 years)

  • Know the correct way to hold and handle a book

  • Understand that words are read from left to right and pages are read from top to bottom

  • Start noticing words that rhyme

  • Retell stories

  • Recognize about half the letters of the alphabet

  • Start matching letter sounds to letters (like knowing b makes a /b/ sound)

  • May start to recognize their name in print and other often-seen words, like those on signs and logos

Kindergartners (Age 5 years)

  • Match each letter to the sound it represents

  • Identify the beginning, middle, and ending sounds in spoken words like dog or sit

  • Say new words by changing the beginning sound, like changing rat to sat

  • Start matching words they hear to words they see on the page

  • Sound out simple words

  • Start to recognize some words by sight without having to sound them out

  • Ask and answer who, what, where, when, why, and how questions about a story

  • Retell a story in order, using words or pictures

  • Predict what happens next in a story

  • Start reading or asking to be read books for information as well as entertainment

  • Use story language during playtime or conversation (like “I can fly!” the dragon said. “I can fly!”)

Younger Grade-Schoolers (Ages 6–7 years)

  • Learn spelling rules

  • Keep increasing the number of words they recognize by sight

  • Improve reading speed and fluency

  • Use context clues to sound out and understand unfamiliar words

  • Go back and re-read a word or sentence that doesn’t makes sense (self-monitoring)

  • Connect what they’re reading to personal experiences, other books they’ve read, and world events

Older Grade-Schoolers (Ages 8–10 years)

  • In third grade, move from learning to read to reading to learn

  • Accurately read words with more than one syllable

  • Learn about prefixes, suffixes, and root words, like those in helpful, helpless, and unhelpful

  • Read for different purposes (for enjoyment, to learn something new, to figure out directions, etc.)

  • Explore different genres

  • Describe the setting, characters, problem/solution, and plot of a story

  • Identify and summarize the sequence of events in a story

  • Identify the main theme and may start to identify minor themes

  • Make inferences (“read between the lines”) by using clues from the text and prior knowledge

  • Compare and contrast information from different texts

  • Refer to evidence from the text when answering questions about it

  • Understand similes, metaphors, and other descriptive devices

Middle-Schoolers and High-Schoolers

  • Keep expanding vocabulary and reading more complex texts

  • Analyze how characters develop, interact with each other, and advance the plot

  • Determine themes and analyze how they develop over the course of the text

  • Use evidence from the text to support analysis of the text

  • Identify imagery and symbolism in the text

  • Analyze, synthesize, and evaluate ideas from the text

  • Understand satire, sarcasm, irony, and understatement

If you think your child is struggling with reading, take notes on what you’re seeing. Which reading milestones is your child not meeting? Share your concerns with your child’s doctor or teacher. Keep in mind that some schools focus on different skills in different grades.

About the Author

About the Author

Amanda Morin 

worked as a classroom teacher and as an early intervention specialist for 10 years. She is the author of The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education. Two of her children have learning differences.

Reviewed by

Reviewed by

Ginny Osewalt 

is a dually certified elementary and special education teacher with more than 15 years of experience in general education, inclusion, resource room, and self-contained settings.

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