What’s A Normal Timeline For A Child’s Reading Abilities?

Are your child’s reading skills normal for their age? The answer to this question isn’t always straightforward. Not only does every child’s reading abilities develop on a different timeline than another, but your school may have different timelines and benchmarks than others.

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That said, most children will fall within certain developmental parameters as they build reading skills over time. Here’s a general timeline of what to expect from your child’s reading abilities by age.

Babies (Ages <12 months)

  • Cooing
  • Makes noises when happy or unhappy
  • Makes a sound when talked to
  • Shows interest in soft-color or books (reaches, mouths, and touches pictures)
  • Understands “no-no”
  • Babbles
  • Tries to communicate by actions or gestures (reaching; pointing)
  • Repeats some sounds
  • Says their first word at 10-14 months

Toddlers (Ages 1–2 years)

  • Answers simple questions nonverbally
  • Uses short phrases (e.g. “all done”)
  • Labels common objects in their vicinity
  • Name items in pictures (e.g. baby, dog, bottle, etc.)
  • Imitate simple words
  • Pretends to read by turning the pages (even if they babble)
  • Asks for common foods by name
  • Makes animal sounds, such as “moo”
  • Combines words (e.g. “more milk”)
  • Begins to use pronouns, such as “mine”
  • More accurate speech and sound production
  • Answers simple questions

Preschool (3–4 years old)

  • Know the correct way to hold and handle a book
  • Understand the directions of words and lines on a page (words left to right; lines from top to bottom)
  • Able to identify rhyming words
  • Able to retell main parts of stories as well as some details
  • Knows most of the letters in their names
  • Starting to make sound symbol relationships (e.g. k /k/, m /m/)
  • Recognizes some printed words (e.g. names, common words)
  • Categorizes items (e.g. foods, toys)
  • Pronounces most speech sounds but can struggle with hard ones (e.g. r, s, sh, ch, y, v, z, and th, which do not develop until 7 or 8)
  • Able to be understood by strangers easily
  • Able to write some letters
  • Can identify some beginning or ending sounds in words when enunciated sounds

Kindergarten (5 years old)

  • Can speak with correct pronunciation for most words except long or complex ones
  • Uses some irregular past tense verbs, such as “ran” or “fell”
  • Combine sounds into words (/ba/ /t/ = “bat”)
  • Can carry out a series of 3 directions
  • Understands rhyming
  • Uses sentences with 7-8 words
  • Describes objects
  • Knows the sounds of each letter
  • Identifies beginning, middle, and ending sounds in consonant-vowel-consonant words (e.g. cat or miss)
  • Able to write all letters (Note: Letter reversals at this age are normal)
  • Can change individual sounds in the beginning of words (e.g. bat – mat)
  • Matches spoken words to printed ones
  • Start to recognize some words by sight without having to sound them out
  • Can both ask and answer who, what, where, when, why, and how questions about a story
  • Starts reading or asking to be read books for information and for fun

1st-2nd grade (6–7 years old)

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  • Able to spell non-phonetic words (e.g. time)
  • Able to write all words correctly (almost no letter reversals)
  • Improved sight word capacity and speed
  • Able to sound out unfamiliar words
  • Able to 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
  • Starts reading basic books

3rd-5th grade (8–10 years old)

  • The basics of reading are solidly learned and practiced
  • Reading is more enjoyable, and they are used to learning
  • Reads words with more than one syllable
  • Can guess at new words based on prefixes, suffixes, and root of the word (e.g. unhelpful)
  • Can describe the main parts of a story, including setting, characters, and plot
  • Starting to make inferences, summarize, and comprehend non-explicit information in a story
  • Can compare and contrast information from different texts
  • Can refer to evidence from the text when answering questions about it
  • Understands similes, metaphors, and other descriptive devices

6th-12th grade (11+ years old)

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  • Has more developed vocabulary for words not commonly found in conversation
  • Has the ability to read and understand or advanced books and passages
  • Has an understanding of plot development, themes, and symbolism
  • Can make a novel argument using evidence from a text
  • Can evaluate arguments made in a text
  • Has an understanding of character development

How To Determine If Your Child’s Reading Abilities Timeline Is Normal

This timeline is a general guideline of what to expect from your child’s reading abilities by grade and age, but remember that every child’s skills develop at a different pace. If your child is ‘behind’, that doesn’t necessarily mean that your child has a reading deficit.

There may be cause for concern if your child is anxious or uses avoidance techniques when asked to read. In these cases, speaking with your child’s teacher can help determine if your child’s reading skills are within normal parameters or if an assessment might be needed.

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Dr. Malkin can help determine if your child has a reading deficit with a comprehensive panel of tests and consultations. He can identify the cause of the deficit, as well as identify the learning techniques that will be most effective to help your child succeed.