When is the right time to teach reading?

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Subtitle: Hint: It’s not so much the age, but the stage.


There are a lot of theories about the “right” age to begin teaching reading. The simple truth is that it’s not so much about the ages, but the stages.

Teaching reading begins with teaching basic concepts about reading that we begin as soon as we open our first board book with our infant, followed by a layer of pre-reading skills, which gradually meld into actual reading. It is not so important when you begin as it is where you begin in the child’s development.

Here is a roadmap to help you identify where your child is at. All ages are approximate starting points for neurotypical children. Your experiences may vary widely.


Age 1 to Age 3 – Learning About Reading


  • Knows a book contains a story (or information) that is the same every time you read it.
  • Holds a book the right way up.
  • Turns pages left to right.
  • Knows that you read lines from left to right and top to bottom on the page.
  • Knows that reading is fun and enjoyable!


Age 3 to Age 5 – Learning Pre-Reading Skills


  • Recognizes and names all capital and lowercase letters.
  • Tells the main sound of every consonant and the short sound of every vowel. (If they can tell you that dinosaur toy is a Bracheosaurus, they are capable of this as well!)
  • Knows that words are made of letters and the same arrangement of letters always spells the same word.
  • Tells the beginning sound of a word.
  • Experiments with rhyming words.


Age 5 to Age 7 – Learning to Read


  • Segments common C-V-C words into their component sounds.
  • Knows common blends like sk, sp, bl.
  • Knows common digraphs like ch, sh, th.
  • Decodes simple words using blending.
  • Memorizes common sight words.


Remember, think where, not when. If your child is solidly familiar with all of the skills and knowledge in one stage, they’re probably ready to start the next. Meet your emergent reader where they are and walk forward together from there.