This is a question that many parents have asked themselves at one point or another while researching about their child’s developmental milestones: When do kids start reading?
Some children begin to read their first words when they are 4 years old, while others are still learning letters and will only start reading later, around 7 years old. During this phase, it is common for parents to be concerned with their children’s development. Comparisons often take place with classmates at school, or even between siblings, thinking that the child is running late or even that it may be too early to encourage them to start reading.
So we have gathered here some information about what experts say on the matter of the right age to learn to read.
What age do kids start reading?
This really depends on your definition of read. We see children, sometimes as young as 3 and 4, who have learned phonics and can sound out words. The challenge with this definition of reading is that the children don’t comprehend the words that they are speaking, says Dr. Chandra Foote, an educational psychologist, professor in the Department of Early Childhood/Childhood Education and Dean of Education at Niagara University.
“Typically, children are developmentally able to begin formal reading instruction between the ages of 6 and 9 (first to third grade),” Dr. Foote wrote in an email.
“In psychological terms, this age range is known as a critical period for learning to read,” says Dr. Foote. “It is the time when children are primed and ready.”
It is necessary to understand that the beginning of school life is not necessarily linked to the beginning of children’s literacy. Children can start attending school well before they need to learn to read or write.
In the early years of early childhood education, students’ development takes place through many ways: the child explores the world through touch, shapes, colors, music, and also begins socialization by relating with colleagues and teachers.
All these pedagogical stimuli are important so that, when the time comes to start literacy, learning happens more naturally and without major difficulties.
What is literacy?
There is a difference between being able to recognize words and actually being literate. It is common for many people who are able to read and write, still not to know how to make effective and contextualized use of written language. They have a hard time understanding texts and expressing themselves through writing.
Literacy, therefore, goes beyond learning to form words: it is necessary to know how to use writing in everyday life, applying it in society, building and expressing meanings.
Therefore, it is possible that children aged 5 or 6 already write words and sentences, but the literacy process continues in the following years so that they have a complete language development.
So what age do kids learn to read?
When it comes to child development, it is always important to emphasize the fact that the maturity of each child is variable and influenced by many factors: social relationships, culture, stimuli. For example, there are babies who start walking at 9 or 10 months old, while many only after 13 or 14 months old. This does not mean that there is any developmental problem: what really matters is that the child is always stimulated in a natural way.
In the literacy phase, there are schools that begin to introduce letters at around 4 or 5 years old. In this case, children who are already attending school can start learning gradually to be effectively literate around the age of 6 or 7.
Depending on the school’s curriculum, however, this process may start later, and only be completed in the 3rd year of elementary school.
Regardless, learning to read sooner or later does not indicate that the child is more or less intelligent. Schools and families can work together to ensure that this process is respected while the child is encouraged to learn.
Stimulate without pressuring
The process of developing literacy begins long before we realize it. Since birth, the child has the curiosity and the will to learn. This can be stimulated in different ways throughout childhood, one of the main ones being the act of playing.
Playing is how children learn about the world around them and build their knowledge in a natural way. Therefore, encouraging contact with the world of reading in the form of games, music and, of course, books, is important for the child to be able to learn to read and write more naturally and without difficulties.
The fact that the child shows interest and taste for reading sooner or later does not mean that they have greater or lesser intellectual capacity. For this reason, families do not need to create expectations, much less put pressure on their children during this phase. Instead, try enjoying daily moments of meaningful reading and playing, together with your children, ant it will make learning a much more pleasurable challenge.
“Consider activities like read-alouds and book time etc. The more exposure that children have to print, the better,” Dr. Bethanny Rice, an educational leader at Endicott College, shared in an email. “Limit screen time and encourage children to handle/hold books. Even the behavior of knowing how to hold a book, which way to turn the page will help when it comes time for reading.”
When parents include children in things like making a grocery list, looking at labels, identifying letters in words they see, and other everyday activities like these, then children are more likely to arrive at school ready to learn how to read. Meaning, they already have a basic understanding of letters and print.
“You can’t teach a child to read before they’re ready any more than you can teach a baby who’s just crawling to stand up and walk,” Ann McKitrick, an early childhood educator at Nurtured Noggins, wrote in an email. “It’s a developmental process.”
Playstories: learning through fun reading
To encourage literacy and reading in a playful and enjoyable way, Playstories creates personalized books for kids where children are protagonists in stories with which they can relate.
Creating the child’s own character with all their characteristics increases the interest for the book and connection with the story, stimulating learning.