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School-Age Readers

Listening and Learning

From kindergarten through third grade, a child's ability to read grows by leaps and bounds. Teachers provide lots of help, but parents still play a very important role in their child's reading development.

Kids who are first learning to read get more information from listening to books read aloud than from reading them independently. This is especially true for vocabulary development — kids will learn much more about what words mean by hearing books read aloud and discussing new words with their parents than from reading on their own.

As kids' reading skills improve, they'll begin to read independently. But this doesn’t mean that you should stop reading to your child. Reading aloud together can help build vocabulary, improve reading skills, and foster a sense of closeness between you and your child. Encourage discussion about characters and share your reactions to books to help reinforce the connection between what you read and everyday life.

Your Growing Reader

Here's how reading usually progresses from kindergarten to third grade:

Kindergarten. This is the time when most kids begin learning to read. By the end of the school year they will probably know most letters and their sounds, be able to match words with the same beginning or ending sounds, and read/write several simple words. They might be able to read simple text as well.

First grade. In this year, most kids learn to read many more words. They sound out words with a variety of phonics patterns, recognize a growing list of words by sight, and connect meaning to the words and sentences they read. Most first-graders can read simple books independently by the end of the school year.

Second and third grade. Kids in second and third grade continue to learn more phonics patterns and sight words for reading and spelling, read aloud more expressively and fluently, use reading to discover more about the world around them, and perhaps show a preference for specific authors and types of books. You'll likely start to see a shift as your child begins to focus their energy on learning new information from text. Ideally, kids this age have learned how to read, and are now reading to learn.

If you have concerns about your child's reading level at any time, talk to the teacher, school counselor, and doctor. Kids who are not making good reading progress might have a reading disability, such as dyslexia. With the right educational help, most kids can become readers, but finding and dealing with the problem early will bring the best results.

What to Read

As your child becomes a more confident reader, continue to let them choose from a wide range of books. When it comes to reading aloud, look for two types of books — those that could be read alone and those that are above your child's current independent reading level. With this mix, your child can read and re-read some books independently, while you'll read (or at least help with) the more challenging ones, which will help your child learn new words.

Let your child's interests lead the way when choosing books. Sports? Music? Dinosaurs? Offer books on topics you know are of interest. For example, if you know your child is interested in whales, look for books that talk about famous explorers or historical fiction set on whaling boats. As your child gets older, they might enjoy increasingly complex books that can teach about the world and introduce social and ethical issues.

Talk with your child about the books they’re reading independently and for school, and discuss favorite topics and authors. If the author has written a series of books, encourage your child to read them all. Some kids enjoy keeping a checklist of favorite authors' books.

Other types of books kids might like include:

  • biographies of famous people
  • books about kids dealing with challenges
  • books containing language play
  • mysteries
  • science fiction and fantasy
  • themed series

Another way to grab your child's interest is to pick books that have a personal connection. Introduce your childhood favorites and talk about why you love them. Kids may also like to read junior versions of the same magazines you read.

When and How to Read

The school-age child's schedule can be a busy one. You may be having dinner on the go as you scoot from soccer practice to music lessons. But if you can find 30 minutes a day to read with your child, you will help ensure future reading success. Even if 30 minutes isn't possible, remember that any time you spend reading is better than no time at all.

Use the same strategies you did when your child was younger — talk about what you read before, during, and after the story, asking open-ended questions that encourage your child to have a conversation with you. Read expressively and with enjoyment.

At this age, it's important to let your child read to you. You might choose to take turns reading ("You read a page, then I'll read a page," etc.). To help with less familiar words, you can "practice" them in advance by having your child point to the words you say on a given page, or even in a specific line of text.

If your child is reading and comes to a hard or unfamiliar word, encourage "sounding it out" or breaking the word into smaller parts to read one part at a time. If the word still is too hard, suggest skipping it and reading the rest of the sentence, then thinking about what word would make sense in that context ("What do you think would work in this sentence?"). 

Be careful not to correct every error your child makes, as this will be frustrating for both of you. If the book is too challenging, offer to change books and let your child choose one that they're comfortable reading to help build confidence.

If you're reading a longer chapter book, here are some tips for maintaining your child's interest:

  • Before you begin a new chapter, talk a little bit about what happened in the previous one.
  • Re-read lines your child found funny.
  • Let your child read to you (if they want to).
  • If a block of text is too challenging for your child, don't be afraid to summarize or skip over it. Or offer to take over the reading for a bit.
  • Ask your child's opinion about a character's actions or decisions. What would they do in the same situation? Save questions for the end so your child can simply enjoy the story.
  • Offer your own honest opinions about what you've read and ask the same of your child.

Making Time to Read

Reading aloud isn't the only way to encourage kids to read. There are plenty of opportunities during day-to-day life, like cooking together and having your child read you the recipe. Or when you play a new game, ask your child to read the directions aloud.

You might invite kids to participate in your family's vacation planning by having them read through brochures or magazines about a potential destination and highlighting things of interest.

Buy a children's dictionary so your kids can look up definitions of new words and help them look for answers to questions in an encyclopedia or online. When using the Internet, help your kids learn to question and think critically about the information found online.

Kids should have a library card and lots of chances to use it. Let yours make selections or ask the librarian for help finding books.

Set aside time for reading together each day. As your child gets older and spends less time every day with you, reading together daily can still be a way for you to connect. Talking about what you've read gives you a window into your child's imagination and thoughts about the world.