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When Should Children Learn to Read and Write?

By Annie Stuart for WebMD

At one time or another, most parents wonder how their child is stacking up in school. Part of that is wondering how children learn to read and write.

There is a wide range of normal variation in many areas for young children; not every child learns at the same rate. Still, general milestones can be helpful to parents as a guide. Missing a milestone doesn't always mean a child has a learning deficit or disability. It may simply mean that you need to make some changes in the classroom or at home to help your child learn and reach his or her full potential.

When Children learn reading: Milestones that matter

Pat Wolfe, EdD, education consultant, former teacher, and author of Building the Reading Brain, says you can tell by kindergarten-age whether Children are likely to have trouble with reading. "Can they hear rhyming words? Do they know that squiggles on a page stand for sounds when they talk?" These are key pre-reading skills that lay the foundation for reading.

Often Children start reading in the first grade. During that school year, watch for these signs of reading difficulty:

  • confusing letters
  • connecting the wrong sounds with letters
  • skipping words, not remembering words, or frequently guessing at unknown words, rather than sounding them out

If your child is having trouble reading by the end of first grade, begin by talking with her teacher to find ways to resolve the problem.



For a video about the importance of helping your child get the reading help he needs, click on this link.



Ages 4-5: learning pre-reading skills: Children learn to:
  • substitute words in rhyming patterns
  • write some letters
  • pronounce simple words
  • develop vocabulary



Ages 6-10: learning to read: Children learn to:
  • read simple books by mid-first grade and know about 100 common words
  • understand that letters represent sounds, which form words, by mid-first grade
  • enjoy a variety of types of stories and talk about characters, settings and events
  • remember the names and sounds of all letters and recognize upper- and lowercase by second grade
  • read independently and fluently by third grade
  • sound out unfamiliar words when reading



Ages 11-13: "reading to learn": Children learn to:
  • read to learn about their hobbies and other interests and to study for school
  • comprehend more fully what they've read
  • read fiction, including chapter books, and nonfiction, including magazines and newspapers



Ages 6-10: learning to write: Children learn to:
  • write consonant sounds by the end of kindergarten
  • write legibly and with ease, with an understanding of words by first grade
  • write stories with a beginning, middle, and end and with a character, action, setting, and a little detail by second grade



Ages 11-13: learning to write: Children learn to:
  • use the correct grammar, punctuation, and spelling most of the time
  • become more fluent writers, increasing in speed; handwriting becomes more automatic
  • use varied sentence structure, including simple, compound, and complex sentences
  • write different kinds of compositions such as reports and persuasive writing
  • use references from various sources to write compositions
  • use the computer for writing and research




When Children don't learn: Seek help
How can you know if your child needs extra help? Often a child who's struggling will show signs of unhappiness, says Horowitz, giving you a social or emotional barometer that clues you into their frustration. "That's when you definitely jump into motion."

  • To find out if there's really a problem, work with your child and gather data, says Horowitz. "If you're concerned about whether your child is reading or spelling at the level he should - with the accuracy and precision he should - investigate. Read with your child and see. Write with your child and see. Does it take three times longer than it does for other children? Then talk with your child's teacher about it."
  • Some children simply have minor lags in learning. But even when parents suspect a learning disability, they tend to wait almost a year before seeking help, often to avoid stigmatizing their child. But early intervention can help. Research shows that the best time to help a child with reading challenges, for example, is in the first two years of school.
  • If you're concerned about your child's performance, ask your school for testing to see if an intervention is needed. Federal law requires schools to test children with possible learning problems and develop remedial programs so that they can succeed.
  • As a parent, it's wise to keep an eye on milestones. But use a child's signs of struggle to motivate you to investigate, not to press the panic button. Remember, reading and writing include a range of complex skills to learn.



Read and Apply:


These booklets by the Council of Great City Schools will show you what your child may be doing this in English/Language Arts.

Parent Guide English Language Arts Kindergarten
Parent Guide English Language Arts First Grade
Parent Guide English Language Arts Second Grade
Parent Guide English Language Arts Third Grade



Reading Tips for Parents – available in English and several other languages