Reading Milestones: What to Expect at Different Ages

Mom_newborn_reading_pointing_700x493While every child is unique and develops at his or her own pace, there are specific reading milestones that can be helpful for parents to keep in mind as their child grows. And if you have a baby, you’re not off the hook. A strong foundation of speech and language development in the early years can help support your child’s growth as a reader later on. For specific tips on how to support your child’s development at various stages, check out our Reading Skills Toolkits.

Remember that these reading milestones are just guidelines. If you ever have specific questions or concerns about your child’s development, speak to your child’s pediatrician, teacher, or other professional to see if your child could benefit from an evaluation or extra help.

Newborn – 6 Months:

  • Be calmed by lullabies and nursery rhymes—their first stories.
  • Recognize a song or rhyme if you repeat it often.
  • Discover that they are their own little people and can affect the world around them.
  • Begin to imitate basic speech sounds.
  • Gradually transform “baby babble” into more articulate vowel and consonant sounds.
  • Begin to recognize familiar songs and phrases, and even respond to their names.
  • Respond to certain phrases with gestures, such as waving when you say “bye, bye” and lifting their arms in response to “up.”

6 Months – 1 Year:
  • Imitate sounds they hear in language.
  • Respond when spoken to.
  • Look and point at pictures they see in books.
  • Reach for books and turn the pages with help.
  • Respond to stories and pictures by vocalizing and patting the pictures.
  • Become more interested in the stories the books tell, not just handling the books themselves.
  • Turn pages in a book without help.
  • Sit alone in a corner immersed in a book.

1 Year:

  • Say many words and some phrases.
  • Respond to directions and questions.
  • Point to pictures in books (“Where is the dog?”).
  • Name pictures of familiar objects.
  • Pretend to read.
  • Respond to stories and pictures by making sounds or movements (“What does a dog say?” “Woof!”).
  • Recognize familiar characters or illustrators in new books.
  • Have a favorite book.

2 Years:

  • Speak in phrases and sentences.
  • Tell simple stories and sing repetitive songs.
  • Pretend and imagine new ideas or stories.
  • Begin to understand changes in the world around them (changing seasons, plants growing taller, getting older).
  • Remember frequently read stories and anticipate their favorite parts.
  • Talk about favorite characters and stories.

3 Years:

  • Recognize their first name (and possibly begin to write it, too).
  • Understand connections between letters and sounds.
  • Identify the beginning sounds of familiar words.
  • Make connections between stories and their world.
  • Imagine their own stories in greater detail.
  • Begin to understand and identify rhyming.

4 Years:

  • Match several letters and sounds. (“The letter N sounds like nnnnn!”).
  • Identify beginning sounds and think of new words with the same sound. (“Boat starts with the sound /b/. Boy starts with /b/ too!”).
  • Have a deeper understanding of more complex stories.
  • Identify and write their first name.
  • Read common words (no, it,).
  • Rhyme words more consistently.

5 Years:

  • Retell simple stories.
  • Use descriptive language to explain or to ask questions.
  • Recognize letters.
  • Identify letter-sound matches.
  • Identify beginning sounds.
  • Begin to match spoken words with written ones.
  • Write letters of the alphabet and some words they use and hear often.
  • Begin to write stories with some readable parts.


 6 Years:

  • Understand the letter/sound/word code, building speed and accuracy as they practice reading.
  • Begin to read independently.
  • Analyze what they read, and extend it: make predictions, discuss character’s motives, and connect to similar concepts.
  • Use language in careful ways; they mimic what they hear and enjoy word play.
  • Sound out more challenging words.
  • Read with expression in a way that matches the story.
  • Write a short story (but spelling is still a bit shaky).

7 Years:

  • Read independently.
  • Read at a good pace with expression.
  • Ask and answer who, what, where, when, why and how questions about stories.
  • Understand the central message or lesson of a story.
  • Invent their own stories with creative characters and events.
  • Build on the stories they read by investigating further through questions.
  • Write stories with a few paragraphs that include a beginning, middle and end.

8 Years:

  • Read independently and confidently.
  • Ask and answer questions about stories they read, while referring back to the text to support answers.
  • Actively use and understand academic vocabulary related to reading (like chapterscene setting, or stanza).
  • Compare and contrast story elements by the same author, such as themes, settings, and plots.
  • Write longer stories and reports that are well-organized and include multiple paragraphs, each focused on a specific topic.



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