Every parent knows that reading to your kids is beneficial for so many reasons. For one, kids love books, so reading to them makes for some great parent-child bonding. But it also helps build the foundation for literacy and promote a love for reading, setting them up for success in the future. So, when are kids ready to start learning to read on their own? There are some signs your child is ready to read, according to child literacy experts, and it can help you get them started on a fulfilling, lifelong hobby of reading. I checked in with early childhood literacy specialist and kindergarten teacher in New York City, Brooke Rogosin, as well as teacher, literacy expert, and writer for the blog Living for the Sunshine, Cindy Hemming, to see when kids are ready to learn to read and how parents can set their kids up for reading success.
As a parent, it's easy to see that kids love books. Even when they don't know how to read, kids enjoy just flipping through the pages of their favorite books, getting lost in the pictures or in their own version of the story — which they will very proudly "read" to you and it's the absolute most adorable thing. I began bringing my son to our local library as a baby to let him explore the kid's section unrestricted and today, as a 5-year-old, it's still one of his favorite places. Books are like candy to my kid and as a daughter of a professional librarian, I'm sure my mom couldn't be more proud. Now my son is in kindergarten and he's reading. Like, really reading whole entire books. There's no question that literacy is one of the most important skills a child will ever learn because it opens so many doors for them and their future. So how do you know if they're ready to take on that new and exciting adventure? Timing can be important, so here are the signs you should be looking for.
1. They're Already Pretending To Read
Is your child opening up their favorite books and reading them aloud? This could be a sign they're eager to become readers. "Learning to read is similar to other developmental milestones in a child’s life," Rogosin tells Romper. "Just like learning to walk and talk, learning to read lives along a continuum for young children. What is most important is that you are reading to and with your child."
Hemming adds that reading to your child is far more effective than any kind of "artificial practice exercises." She recommends reading to your child for "30 minutes a day," and "encouraging your child to 'read' their own books is also wonderful. [Children] can also 'read' environmental print (logos)." Help your child recognize words in their environment and watch them get excited when they spot the same word and are able to read it later on.
2. They Love Books & Story Time
Whether your child loves being read to or they love "reading" and telling their own stories, your kid's interest could be a sign they're ready to take on the real thing. One thing that really helps early readers is "[naming] what they are seeing in the pictures, or have [your child] name what they are seeing. Using the pictures in a book is part of early reading. Talk with your child about the story or what they are learning from the book," says Rogosin.
3. They Know The Alphabet & Letter Sounds
Learning to recognize letters and the sounds they make, including rhymes, is a big step in learning to read. "My job as a kindergarten teacher is to provide young readers with the tools to help them make sense of letters, sounds, and how it all goes together," Rogosin says. When kids have these tools, they're able to begin sounding out words on their own.
4. They Are At An Appropriate Developmental Age
We all know those moms who brag about their 3-year-old being able to read the latest issue of National Geographic (lies), but Rogosin says that kids are usually ready to learn how to read by 5 or 6 years old. "This is when they are ready to begin using their knowledge of letters and sounds to decode words on the page. I have found that using the context of the story and thinking about what makes sense in the picture is also an important part of learning to decode," she says. She assures parents that while some families may notice their 3-year-old "decoding words in books," other children may not be reading by age 5 and both are totally OK.
Hemming agrees. "Children are generally ready to read between the ages of 5 to 7 with some 4-year-olds showing early interest. Delaying reading until 6 to 7 seems alarming to some Americans, but in countries like Finland, this is the norm." But she warns parents not to be too forceful with their kids. "There’s no pay off for a child to begin reading as a toddler (except perhaps to show off to the parents’ friends). Wait until your child shows interest and keep it fun." If your child is the right age and they're expressing an interest in reading, try exposing them to as many books as possible but let them take the lead and find books they're interested in.
5. They Make You Re-Read The Same Book Over & Over
So many parents can relate to this one because we've all felt personally victimized by a child who's requested Good Night Moon for the ten thousandth night in a row. But Rogosin says that this can actually be a sign your child is a reader. She says that learning to read begins with "holding a book in their hand, knowing to turn the pages, pointing to pictures, flipping back to pages they like, and having you reread the book over and over. These are all signs that your child is a reader." So, reading Good Night Moon on repeat is actually helping your child memorize the story so they'll actually be able to read it to you soon enough — try to contain your excitement. Even if you are sick of reading the same books over and over, it's all worth it in the end. Hemming makes a great point when she says, "the best place to learn to read is on your lap."