In today’s demanding and fast paced world, it’s easy to get caught up thinking about all the skills that your child should have before starting school. Whether you are your child’s primary caretaker or if you only have a couple of hours after a busy workday, it’s easy to get caught up in how much there is to learn and how little time there is to do it. Early education for children, especially when it comes to literacy, doesn’t need to be another stressful thing to think about, especially if we start asking what is developmentally appropriate. Developmentally appropriate means that your child’s body and brain are ready to learn the next concept—from your child knowing how to use his or her mouth to forming certain sounds to being able to understand that written words represent spoken sounds, knowing and being patient with how children grow is the first step toward effective teaching.
In this section, we’ll explore how we can best support learning at home in a developmentally appropriate way. In the tables below, we’ll focus on reading behaviors, interactions with printed materials and the budding literacy skills that children exhibit from infancy to 8 years old, even when they don’t recognize letters or sounds yet. To jump to a certain age range, scroll down for clink on the links below:
A quick note before we begin: these are just guidelines--some children may struggle with a certain skill for a longer period of time, then quickly speed through more difficult concepts, while others may quickly gain mastery at first but then struggle due to less practice with more basic strategies. The key takeaway from this chart is how each of these skills builds a strong foundation for lifelong reading--so don’t hesitate to review a skill or story that your child loves, even if she mastered it--that’s building confidence!
This chapter is designed as an easy reference on your child’s development when it comes to reading, writing, and critical thinking. For each year, we’ll explore what reading (or pre-reading) skills should be built at that age, what those reading behaviors might look like, and finally, how you can support that learning at home.
Part 1: Ages 0-2
In this next section, we'll review how reading might look for your newborn babies up to age 2. These strategies can be used to reinforce concepts with older children, or as a fun, confidence boosting practice before tackling harder concepts.
Understandably, parents don’t often see newborn babies from age 0-1 as readers, but even if your baby hasn’t said her first word yet, there are actions you can take to instill a sense of what words means and get your child ready to learn.
Before age 1, children aren’t yet able to tell words apart from pictures on a page; nevertheless, if a child sees a trusted adult engrossed in reading a newspaper, book, or phone, they’ll want to join in on the fun and see what’s keeping the adult’s attention. Let them have a chance to see what you’re reading with printed, tactile materials such as blocks with letters and durable picture books. The letters, numbers, or pictures on these learning tools help your child develop the idea that pictures and letters can represent or symbolize real life objects. Even more importantly, children build motor skills through touch. Motor skills are what we use to control our bodies—from gross motor skills like using your back and legs to walk, to fine motor skills, which are mostly practiced through our hands, like writing your signature. Babies are just starting to develop both—giving them blocks or durable books allows them to understand their body better and familiarize themselves with actions we don’t give a second thought to, like picking up a block or opening to the first page of a book. Verbally, you can support baby literacy at this age by forming exaggerated words and sounds. Let the child watch your mouth as you talk—they’re learning how to properly form their lips and tongue to make certain sounds instinctually. You’ll be surprised just how accurately some babies can imitate adult sounds!
From age 1 to 2, children will be able to tell apart familiar images on a page, and get excited when a favorite character (or even just a drawing) comes back their way. At this point, we still want to support children with tactile reading tools like the blocks and durable picture books we mentioned. At this age range, children will have much better control over their arms and hands, meaning they can form a pointer finger and point at interesting parts of a book. Encourage your child with praise whenever he or she points something out on a page—this can be in the form of attention (“What’s that you’re pointing to?” “Is that a ___?”) or direct praise, naming the behavior that showed your child is learning (“You pointed at the cow! Good job pointing at what you wanted to show me!”) even if your child isn’t speaking fully coherent words yet. Everything you say to a young child is practice—practice for their ears to listen, their brains to connect what was said with what they see, and their mouths to imitate what you are saying.
Codi can support this function in children, too. One fun activity we like is giving a Codi with a soft outfit to child aged 0-1. When Codi is on, start with naming the colors that Codi’s ears and antenna flash to. Form the words with your mouth and let your child see, encouraging them to try the sounds out themselves. Start with the first sound of the word, like “red”. Form your mouth in an exaggerated way to make the /r/ sound and encourage your child to do the same. Practicing a skill like this with Codi, everyday objects, or when out of the house will allow your child to better connect the idea that they have control over their mouths and vocal cords and reinforce the idea that we use those sounds to communicate.
Part 2: Ages 2-4
In this section, we'll explore how to support reading for children ages 2 to 4. If your child is already mastering the strategies presented in Part 1, feel free to skip to this section and try some of those teaching moves with your child!
At ages 2-3, children can remember familiar books and storylines. If your child is speaking with a limited vocabulary already, they may ask for certain favorite books or stories. At this age, you might see your child “reading” closely by pointing at pictures, sliding their finger across the words on a page, and flipping the book from beginning to end. Don’t worry if your child isn’t speaking yet—there’s still plenty of practice we can do with letter sounds and reading concepts. At this age, read to your child by pointing at the pictures on the page. When you get to a character or object mentioned, double tap on the character to reinforce the idea that the sound you’re making (the character or object’s name) connects with the image on the page. As you read, review elements of the story with your child, even if he or she isn’t quite interacting with the words yet. A great strategy to use is previewing the story before you begin reading. This allows your child to remember the storyline and reinforce the idea that this book conveys a story. A great strategy here is to take a picture walk. Picture walks are quick previews of a book. Flip through the pages of a book, “reading” it with your own words and describing what is happening, then provide a prediction for what you think the book is about (“This first page shows a three little pigs with their mom. It looks like they’re living with mom and pretty happy about it... this last page shows the three little pigs living together in a brick house. I think this story is about how they built their new house! What do you think?”)
From ages 3-4, your child is developing even more quickly. At this age, you can build your child’s reading independence by allowing them to hold onto the book and turn the pages, though he or she may not always get to the correct page. Letting your child hold the book is another exercise in print concepts, or understanding all the elements in the book, like cover, cover illustration, title page, story pages, and so on. To support this practice, make sure your child is holding the book right side up and viewing the book’s pages from left to right. This is also a great time to model reading fluency with your child. Reading fluency simply means reading with emotion. Vary your voice for different characters and show the emotions the characters would feel with exaggerated facial expressions. This is also a great social and emotional learning opportunity—show your child basic emotions that characters might feel, starting with happy, sad, and angry. Show your child an ‘angry’ face and let them copy it back to you!
This is also a great time to use flashcards to start teaching certain letters and the sounds they make. You can use Pillar’s print out flashcards included in our free ebook, which feature the letter, an example word, and corresponding letter sound. A great reading strategy is to keep the cards spread out to a side of the book you’re reading. When you see a familiar picture, ask your child if they recognize the picture. Then make the letter sound, and depending on your child’s familiarity with this game, directly tell them the proper letter or have them chose. This practices multiple skills—connecting sounds with letters and words, as well as fine motor skills of pointing out objects, turning pages, and picking up flashcards. By the end of age 3, your child should have a beginning knowledge of the alphabet. A quick note: if you’re a legal guardian of a 3 year old, now is a good time to start thinking about future schooling options. Depending on the state you live in, 4 could be the first year for preschools.
Codi can support this learning at home with its multiple alphabet songs. In your Codi Parent App, go to the Library page and search for ‘alphabet’. After singing those songs, ask your child to name words that begin with certain sounds. Our goal is to connect the idea that each sound in the song has a written symbol and those written symbols can be used in different ways to form different words.
Part 3: Ages 4-6
In this section, we'll explore ages 4 to 6--a huge developmental leap for any child! No matter if you decide to send your child to preschool, daycare, or home care, children at age 4 and up are ready to learn the alphabet, use words to express their emotions, speak in complete sentences of four to six words, and practice their skills like adults or similarly aged peers. At this age, your child will still need prompting and support to practice new sounds and think about subjects more deeply.
From ages 4 to 5, children begin using multiple formats to express meaning. This means your child may draw pictures, narrate, and write down their ideas with early forms of spelling. Support this practice by giving them thick, easy to handle writing instruments like crayons so your child can tune their fine motor skills and connect their handwriting with meaning. Children at this age are frequent users of invented spelling—using the limited letters they know, children love constructing sentences that are structured like their speech. Empower this activity by using flashcards of each of the alphabet letters and sounds so they can those meanings mentally. The flashcards included in the free ebook version of this guide can be used for practice in multiple ways:
- Practice first by sight and verbally. Hold up each flashcard and ask your child to speak the letter name, example word printed on the card. When your child has mastery over all the letters by sight, ask them to think about other words that start with the same sound. Our goal is to master the sounds each letter makes and understand that the printed letter matches with an audible sound that’s a part of a word.
- After your child is familiar with the flashcards, introduce a word hunt game. How them a flashcard, and look for that letter in the book together. You can push this activity even further by asking your child to also name the sound that letter makes.
- Writing is also great practice for your child to connect letters to their respective sounds. Give them time to explore different writing instruments, but we recommend thick crayons at age 4 (more on this in a later article). Correcting your child’s spelling is not crucial here, but do ask your child what sound each letter makes. Allow your child to draw pictures to fill in meaning, but encourage them to draw the same story progressing along multiple pages. We’re not just trying to practice letters and sounds here—we want to make sure your child has a strong sense of what how storylines unfold.
Another important date to remember is Kindergarten—depending on the country and state you are in, Kindergarten is usually compulsory, so sign up early!
From age 5 to 6, your child is experiencing one of the biggest changes in their lives—not just in setting and rigor in the form of Kindergarten, but also social and emotional skills like empathizing with peers and building friendships. School is a great way to gain this practice. If there are no available Kindergartens near you, try to schedule playdates or daycare sessions where your child can interact and learn from new peers. “Academic success” is Kindergarten is more about how well your child can handle the frustration of learning many new concepts than learning how to read and write their name—though that helps too!
At age 5, practice the alphabet until your child knows the upper and lower case letters by heart. Now, instead of reading from a book directly, pick a book or topic that you’ve read before and ask your child to tell you its story without opening the book first. As you read more and more books, don’t be afraid to return to earlier, “easier” books to give your child a confidence boost and help them understand new connections between words and pictures.
If your child is in school, ask her or her teacher what learning strategies (like tapping out words, learning sight or snap words, reading superpowers) they cover in class. Using the same language at school and at home, even if you only have a few minutes to practice each evening, gives your child a strong foundation of practice and understanding that they could learn and take risks no matter what environment they’re in. Once your child remembers all the upper and lower case letters and the sounds they make, it’s time to practice putting them together in the from of consonant-vowel-consonant words, or CVC words (i.e. cat, lip, top, bed, etc.). When reading books together, point out the spaces between words and have your child practice identifying the first letter of each word. Finally, practice sight (or snap) words with your child. You can find a primer on sight words here. In short, they’re common words that may have letter sounds that don’t match with our flashcard examples—we practice sight words until children know them by sight or in a snap.
Codi can support learning for 4 to 6-year-old children at home with longer stories like The Gingerbread Boy, The Three Billy Goats Gruff or The Three Little Pigs. These stories feature multiple characters with fun readings, predicable story lines, as well as plenty of simple words that you can pick out and ask what sounds and letters construct the words.
Part 4: Ages 6-8
For children ages 6-8 attending elementary school in the United States, required literacy skills are dictated by national learning standards called the Common Core or similar standards mandated by your state. Whether your school follows standards or your child is home schooled, these lists of skills are helpful to know when determining what your child should review as well as what they should learn next.
After age 6, children should understand that letters and words are abstract representations of sounds and meanings that authors use to tell stories and pass along information. A great support at home would be to keep a favorite topics log of ideas, places, objects, people or fields that your child is interested in. At the end of the week, order these topics by category and see what similarities they share. Use the weekend to research something new about the topic--for example, if a child is interested in bugs and the weather, we may find a book or web resource about environments insects live in. The important action here is modeling for your child how to find out more about a topic and connect it with others--in other words, how to research! Codi can be a help here, too; use Codi's stories are a jump off point for topics that might still be too difficult in terms of reading comprehension, such as world cultures of science.
In Chapter 2, we will explore easy and effective teaching strategies.