At what age should should a child learn how to read?
This week I was reflecting on this question and my reading experiences in early elementary school as I didn’t learn how to read until the summer before first grade. Though I have trouble remembering specific details, I do vividly remember loving each day of kindergarten because I had most sweet and nurturing kindergarten teacher. While she was a great kindergarten teacher and comforted my fears about going to school, she never taught my class how to read. I remember practicing how each letter sounded and learning how to write individual letters, but never the skills needed to put this all together.
Fast-forward to the summer before first grade. My parents obtained the developmental goals for a student entering the first grade and were concerned as this included that a student should know how to read at a basic grade-level upon entering the first grade. Luckily I had wonderful parents who helped me grasp the concept of phonics and encouraged me as I rapidly began to practice reading in order to get back on track for the start of my first grade year. Sadly, some of my peers from my kindergarten class were placed into remedial classrooms and tutoring programs as they also hadn’t been prepared with the kindergarden reading skills that were expected to build on in the first grade.
In all, I am grateful that this experience didn’t hinder my learning or my love for reading, but I have recognized that it could have resulted in a bigger problem if I hadn’t practiced diligently and taught myself how to read in this summer before first grade. This got me to thinking, at what age should a child learn to read? When is it developmentally appropriate? And, at what age are schools expecting this from children today?
It’s interesting to see the mass of standardization in elementary education from when I was in kindergarten almost fifteen years ago. Common Core State Standards outline an extensive list of print concepts, phonological awareness tasks, phonics/word recognition, and fluency skills that a child should master in a kindergarten classroom. Below are a few of the English Language Arts Standards that are expected to be taught in a kindergarten classroom.
- Follow words from left to right, top to bottom, and page by page.
- Demonstrate basic knowledge of one-to-one letter-sound correspondences by producing the primary sound or many of the most frequent sounds for each consonant.
- Read common high-frequency words by sight (e.g., the, of, to, you, she, my, is, are, do, does).
- Read emergent-reader texts with purpose and understanding. (In regards to fluency)
With these standards in mind, we are pushing for literacy in kindergarten and even in the year prior within many preschool programs. Parents of toddlers are encouraged to foster these emerging literary skills, laying the foundation for reading in their child’s future schooling years. According to the staff at Great Schools, “By providing opportunities each day for your preschooler to practice emerging skills, you’re laying the foundation for her to become a successful reader.” This can be encouraged through incorporating reading into daily activities, widening your child’s vocabulary, using the internet for interactive games and activities, and exposing your child to words on paper.
In contrast to these pushes for literacy in preschool and kindergarten, Bev Brenna, an education professor who specializes in literacy education at the University of Saskatchewan, states that,
“There simply isn’t one age where kids can or should be reading—despite the deeply ingrained North American ideal that children learn to read in first grade, around age six.”
I think we can all agree that learning to read is a gradual process that doesn’t happen overnight and that this timeline may vary depending on the individual child. There is no “magic formula” or “precise age” in which a student should be able to read as this skill develops over time. Students will continue to fall within a range in regards to their reading-level and it is important that we learn to recognize and accommodate these varying levels with the intention of creating a challenging and supportive learning environment for every student.