How to Support Your Child's Reading Development

Jan 22, 2023

Reading is a crucial aspect of child development as this is a necessary skill for academic success, as well as a skill for life success. As parents, we can start to support early reading skills YEARS before we expect our child to read independently. Due to individual brain development, the range of when children start to read varies significantly and this is okay!

Just like other early skills, we as parents can feel pressured to encourage skills before our kids are ready. Please remember, most kids reading levels tend to even out around 3rd grade, regardless of what their reading level was in kindergarten. Some kids learn how to read quickly, without any formal instruction. However, most kids need some level of phonics instruction to be successful once their brains are ready for instruction (somewhere between the ages of 4-6).

Why is this important for parents?

In 2019, the average number of 4th grade students who were at or above their current grade level was only 35.24% (Education - USAFacts). The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) conducted a reading assessment between January to March of 2022 to representative samples of fourth- and eighth-grade students in the nation. While students performing at the very top had no change in reading levels, all other students who participated showed a decline in reading scores compared to previous years (NAEP Reading: Reading Highlights 2022 ( So, we need to be supporting reading at home in addition to school. As you will see, most of the suggestions we have listed to support early skills are not formal instruction, but research-based ways to cultivate a strong life-long reader.

Good news! Here are some fun facts research has shown impact your child’s reading:

  • According to the S. Department of Health & Human Services, a mother’s reading skill is the greatest determinant of her children’s future academic success, outweighing other factors, such as neighborhood and family income.
  • Enjoyment of reading is linked to how often children observe their parents read. Looking for an excuse to check out that new book – this is it!
  • Other studies have shown that children value reading when they see their father’s reading.

What are the skills needed for reading?

According to the National Reading Panel, the five pillars of learning to read are phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. For young children, we can support our children’s future reading success by first working on phonemic awareness, which is understanding the different sounds in the English language. When Erin and I are testing for dyslexia, one of the skills we are looking for is phonological processing.  After your child has this strong foundation, they then progress to decoding, or sounding out words, with fluency and comprehension following next. So, before you pull out books, kids need the foundation first!

What can you do to support reading?

Birth to 1:

  • Talk! It can be about anything – describing how you are sorting laundry, loading the dishwasher, or looking for the something (e.g., “Here is a bowl, cup, plate,” “I’m putting the laundry in the basket,” “I’m looking under the pillow”)
  • When handing your child an item, make sure to label it simply, such as “cookie,” “ball,” “baby.” Language starts with your child using nouns and they use this to identify their wants and needs. For example, when your child says “cookie” they are really mean “I want a cookie.”
  • Look at picture and board books while pointing and labeling pictures you see.

Ages 1 to 2:

  • Continue to read out loud, while including short stories as well as their other board books. (One of the main goals here is simply for them to enjoy books and have joint attention to an activity.)
  • Read books with rhyming or repetitive patterns so that your child starts recognizing them. For example, they can start to understand when every sentence starts or ends with the same word.
  • Read the same books multiple times! I know we as parents can get bored, but the repetition helps your child build vocabulary and comprehension. You may notice they start to memorize and may “read” the book themselves as they remember you reading the story.
  • Ask your child to touch various parts of their body while emphasizing sounds, for example, their “h-ead”, “ch-eek”, “ch-in” and “l-eg”. You can also do this with so many activities, such as foods, toys, the options are endless!
  • Sing nursery rhymes and songs!

Ages 3 to 4:

  • Start focusing on sounds. For example, “Wow! Snake starts with the same sound as Sarah! S-S-Snake and S-S-Sarah!” Or, try emphasizing sounds when giving directions, “Can you find your ch-air?” and “Can you find your c-oat?”
  • Read books that focus on rhyming, such as Dr. Suess books. Some of our other favorites are: Frog on a Log, Giraffes Can’t Dance, Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin!, Little Blue Truck, The Gruffalo, Goodnight Goodnight Construction Site, Whose Toes are Those?, Llama Llama Red Pajama
  • Try versions of I Spy. Look for items in your home then ask your children to find as many things that start with the letter sound (e.g., “I Spy with my little eye something that starts with /b/”). Or, when looking at a book together, segment the sounds of the entire word, say “I spy with my little eye a h-or-se” and then let the child find a picture of a horse. 
    • Some books that also support this skills are: A is for Apple; The Sound of Letters; Letter Town; I Spy series
  • Make up silly sentences with alliteration to help your child identify, and later produce, words that begin with the same sound. For example, “An angry alligator ate all Abby’s apple!”
  • Start matching letters to sounds. While reading, point to a letter and repeat the letters sounds. We want to emphasize SOUNDS over letter names. For example, it is more important for your child to know the letter ‘b’ says “buh” rather than stating it is a b.
  • Read out loud to your child whenever you can fit it in!

Ages 5 to 6:

  • Continue to directly teach letter sounds. A great resource to support this is “Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons.”
  • Practice writing the letters while saying their sound.
  • Encourage them to sound out letters while reading, even if it is only the first letter.
  • Focus on books with phonological patterns which support learning letter sounds. Some examples include: Books from Collins Big Cat Phonics series; Learn to Read CVC Words Storybook; Primary Phonics set (these are leveled series); or any other reader sets like Bob books or I Can Read series.
  • Ask and answer who, what, where, when, why, and how questions about a story.
  • Put books in LOTS of places. In addition to their room, try keeping a basket of books in the bathroom and in the car. We want to encourage our children to naturally reach for books and enjoy them!
  • Consider audio books or podcast type stories to listen to in the car to work on comprehension skills. Here are two that we enjoy!

And for older kids:

  • Increase books to longer stories with an attempt to read out loud to your child for 20 minutes per day. Depending on the level of your reader, try including opportunities to do “popcorn reading,” which means you go back and forth taking turns with your child. At the beginning this may be only a sentence, then a paragraph, and eventually taking turns with pages. The goal is to encourage reading, without making our kids stressed or want to avoid reading.
  •  See the source image
    Have you seen this famous table before? If you simply read aloud, and then encourage independent reading, your child will gain vocabulary and knowledge that supports them across all other areas in just 20 minutes a day!

I have concerns for dyslexia, what should I be looking for?

At its core, dyslexia is a basic reading disability, which means your child is not learning or demonstrating skills that are expected for their age. This also means that to have a reading disability, your child has to have been exposed to reading curriculum. Due to this, and the variation in skill development at an early age, we aren’t really testing for dyslexia until the end of kindergarten or in first grade, but usually second grade is the most common.

Here are things to watch out for:

  • Difficulty learning letters and letter names
  • Unable to write a letter that matches the correct sound
  • Trouble recognizing common words they see often, such as their name
  • Very slow and labored decoding
  • Guessing at words rather than sounding out
  • Unable to blend sounds after they have decoded (for example, they sounded out each letter of cat, but cannot remember the three sounds or put them together to make the whole word)

At early stages of reading, you will see these behaviors as they are beginning readers and will make mistakes - Don’t panic!  Reading takes time, just like other skills. You may want to bring up concerns if you see your child not able to progress, for example, not able to remember letter names even after these have been taught multiple times.

While reversing letters when writing is a trait for people with dyslexia, it is not one of the actual criteria for a diagnosis. Reversing letters while writing is also typical for most children until the end of second grade, or around the ages of 7-8.

If you feel like you are seeing some of these skills, after your child has had instruction, you can request an evaluation through your school district or seek out a private evaluation. If they are determined to have dyslexia, your child will need a research-based program that systematically teaches phonological skills.

How you can support reading after they have learned basic reading skills:

After your child has mastered basic reading, we want to support their fluency and comprehension. The first way to support this is practice. Our kids need to practice reading in order to become faster and more efficient. To encourage this, and their confidence, let your child read books that are just slightly below their reading level. This helps them start to identify simple words quickly, so they no longer have to decode every word, especially common words (e.g., the, and, was, what, is, etc.).

Even when your child can read independently, continue to read out loud with them for the first few elementary years. This allows you to fix any simple errors when decoding and ensure they understand vocabulary. When your child is reading out loud and makes a mistake, simply state the word correctly as soon as possible so they can correct their error. Reading aloud also allows you the opportunity to give them definitions of words they may not know or ask questions to ensure they understand. Consider asking about character’s feelings, guessing what may happen next, or asking questions that make them recall something from the story.

Focus on building their vocabulary! When our children are transitioning from learning to read to reading to learn, they need to be able to understand and pull meaning from what they have read. We LOVE the resources available at Jordana has their Storyteller’s Word A Day on the dining table – we flip it over and look at a new word during dinner!

Make reading fun! There are so many books that also have a movie. Consider reading the book and the reward can be a movie watching party. Check out this resource that lists books with a movie:

Have you tried to encourage reading, but your child does not seem interested? They just haven’t found the right book yet! Consider these book lists from Read Aloud Revival to search based on age and interest: The Read-Aloud Revival Recommendations - Read-Aloud Revival ® with Sarah Mackenzie (

We hope you feel equipped to support your child’s reading development! Remember, take it slow, make it fun, and know that it takes time!

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