That magical breakthrough moment — when your child shows an interest in letters, and begins to make out words on a page or in the world itself — happens at different ages for different children, even within the same family. Most parents describe a long period in which a child can’t keep letters straight or identify words, then a quick burst of comprehension, followed by more regular, but still sudden leaps. It really can seem like magic — so don’t rush it.
Some strategies to support your emerging reader:
Mix it up. When children start to pick out words, allow them to read to you some of the time, but reading time shouldn’t be strained, exhausting or feel like a test. At first, try pointing to words you know your child will recognize and have him or her read them. When your child knows more words, try reading alternating pages. Don’t abruptly withdraw your reading services. Being read to is an enormous comfort and part of your bond, and you don’t want to convey to your child that becoming an independent reader jeopardizes that together time. Continue reading aloud picture book favorites — and some more-sophisticated books they can’t read on their own yet, like Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” or Kate DiCamillo’s “The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.”
Every child learns to read at a personal pace. There is no “correct” age for independent reading, and no special formula for getting every child to read by, say, age 5½. In fact, few 5-year-olds are ready to do full-on independent reading — even if many kindergarten programs are structured toward that goal. If you’ve been focused on raising a reader all along, you can feel confident that your child is taking the steps toward independent reading at the pace that’s personally right.
Don’t make reading work. Your child may already be under pressure to learn to read at school. Reading at home should be beautiful, fun, curiosity-quenching and inspiring. It’s great if you can help support your child while learning to read, but your most important job is more profound: to foster a love of reading. Don’t put it on yourself to make your child hit particular targets.
Check in with the teacher. Talk with your child’s teachers, but don’t get nervous if your student is not reading at the same level as his or her peers. Late readers often grow up to be better, more enthusiastic readers. That said, if you or your child’s teacher suspects a reading challenge, like dyslexia, get a formal evaluation. Your child may be under more stress about learning to read than you realize.