Some of our kiddos read at age four, while others didn’t read till almost eight. One of my girls had no interest in even learning the alphabet as late as first grade, and I felt a bit panicked that she wasn’t reading at all in first grade, but she suddenly picked it all up — because she was ready — and went from sounding out cat and hat to reading full chapter books in a weekend over the summer between first and second grades, at almost age eight.
A grandchild — who loved to be read to and picked up amazing content knowledge through his mom’s reading to him — had no interest in actually learning to read to himself until he was about seven, when he announced, “I think I should know how to read now. Mama, will you teach me to read?” So she purposefully went over some basics with him and he could read some very beginner materials, but wasn’t especially interested yet.
Several months later, he suddenly took off in reading and announced to me, “Grandma, it’s so funny! I couldn’t read and I couldn’t read and I couldn’t read, and now I can’t help myself–I read everything I see!” It all clicked. And because his mother had not pressured him, but simply read to him and helped him develop tools as he matured, he read on his own timetable without the stigma of thinking there must be something wrong with him — instead, he encouraged himself to learn a new skill when his brain was ready.
So when is my child ready?
While many of us think of a child learning to read at about age five, the truth is that the reading readiness age varies widely, as children mature at different rates and focus on different skills at different seasons. It is not uncommon for a child to learn to read somewhere between ages four and seven–or even as “late” as the age of eight or nine. There are a lot of factors to take into consideration, such as (for the typical child):
- Does your student associate the printed words on a page with spoken language?
- Does he recognize letter names and/or sounds?
- Can he hear and articulate specific sounds in words, such as b in ball, or rhyming words?
- Can he interact at some level with books and comprehend stories read aloud to him?
- Does he have an interest and a desire to know how to read?
For more on these questions, see this article on reading readiness.
Readiness activities and practice
- I helped my preschooler with sound recognition by encouraging her to match sounds to letters. Tools: a cheap spiral notebook, cut-able magazines, kids’ scissors, and a gluestick. I made a letter at the top of a page — say, Bb — then asked her to cut out B (the sound, not the letter) words. (Keep the sound as short as possible and try not to add “uh” to it — so B cut short -almost a puff of air, not Buh.) I’d say the sound over and over from time to time. She’d look through the magazine and say B B B hat. Nope. B B belly. Yes. And cut it out and gluestick it to the notebook page. It might be B B big…I didn’t care as long as SHE could justify the sound correlation. That’s how I helped her learn to develop letter knowledge and phonological awareness — pre-reading skills. And we got fine motor skills practice in as a bonus with the scissors and gluestick.
- If your child is ready to move to more letter recognition (beyond just the sounds), you could start with sandpaper letters for tactile effect; if you don’t have any/don’t feel like cutting those out, you could do puffy paint letters on blocks, or magnetic 3D type letters (aka refrigerator magnets). Name the letter and say the sound. (Again, keep it as short as you can – M very short with just closed lips, vs Muh) Then talk about words that have that sound. This is where the magazines came in for us.
- Reading — decoding — is more about knowing the sounds the letters make than knowing the names of the letters. If she knows that says D O G and reads it as Dee Oh Gee, that doesn’t help…but if she knows those letters represent the sounds d aw g, she can put the sounds together.
- Marie Rippel has lots of fun games and activities, everyday stuff you can do with your kiddos to build five critical skills for reading readiness.
- Besides the usual word games and rhyming games, sound games, and magnetic letter tiles, puzzles are great pre-reading activities because they nurture visual discrimination. My very favorite puzzles have apparently (sadly) been discontinued, but if you can find the Lauri crepe foam puzzles at a thrift store or on ebay, the puzzles that are all one “thing” but in different poses would be my first choice. One puzzle is all fishes — some fins go up, some go down, left, right, etc. Another is all people — all “gingerbread man” style people in different poses: arms up, leaning right, one leg back, etc. The idea is that they are all the same things, but slightly different shapes. If your child can visually discriminate between the boy with his left arm up and the boy with his right arm up, he’s on his way to telling which letter is a b and which is a d, for example, or a p versus a q or g.
He may not be reading, but he’s still learning
Please also remember that your child’s reading age is usually not an indicator of intelligence but of readiness. Keep reading to him, exposing him to stories and information and history and experiments and activities through books. He is still learning, just not yet reading.
He will likely be more interested in reading (or being read) books about topics of interest, so you might check the library for colorful books such as Usborne books or Dorling Kindersley books, as well as classic children’s literature. These are probably more apt to encourage his involvement than dry phonics readers. (Of course, there’s something to be said for a short reader, such as a Bob book, that can give him a sense of accomplishment when he can get through the whole book on his own and build skills from there.)
I have a good friend whose two boys did not read till ages 9 and 11, respectively — one was dyslexic and the other was simply busy learning other things — but by the time they were in high school, they both were interns for NASA. They were plenty intelligent and their mom was wise to not “dumb down” what they were learning, but to simply get info into them by reading to them, giving them audio and video material for now, and letting them build brain connections through sports and music and hands-on activities.
Some of our kiddos have been inspired to read because they knew they’d get that special library card as new readers. Others were spurred in a non-threatening way to practice by reading to younger (read: happily non-judgmental toddler) siblings or even to canine buddies in the library’s emergent reader program — dogs are good listeners!
Looking for a more formal introduction?
A few reading programs that you may want to peek at for starters would include All About Reading, Logic of English, Reading Horizons, and Explode the Code. Learning Language Arts through Literature incorporates phonics into its Blue Book level, and Sandi Queen’s Language Lessons for Little Ones provides a script of sorts to introduce reading and language in a pain-free way. I’m also partial to anything from Ruth Beechick (below). For online programs, one freebie is Starfall’s reading program. You’ll find more ideas in the resources below.
If you would like further guidance in determining what may be within the typical range for an emerging reader, or at what point you might want to consider further assessment of your child’s readiness to read (or to learn in general), HSLDA has reading specialists on the Special Needs team, happy to help members who have questions.
Here are a few more resources:
- Is My Child Ready to Read? (podcast with one of HSLDA’s reading specialists)
- What’s My Child’s Learning Readiness? article
- Read Aloud to Build Skills & Relationships How to use read-alouds to build skills
- Exploring Visual Processing Struggles: Checklist & Resources
(Some below are affiliate links, meaning your price doesn’t change at all, but I may receive a few cents per item to help bring you more fun blog posts!)
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