Nurture Literacy Skills With This Reading Roadmap

Here are the milestones to look out for during every step of your child's reading journey, and the books that will advance key learning skills along the way.

Apr 25, 2023



Nurture Literacy Skills With This Reading Roadmap

Apr 25, 2023

Most parents with independent readers would agree that the day their kids started reading on their own, it was amazing — like a switch just flipped on! If you’re the parent of a preschooler or an early reader, there’s plenty you can do to get that switch in the “on” position for your own child. 

Of course, reading is a skill that develops at different times for each child. And even though it may seem to happen overnight, the ability to read usually comes to kids after years and years of “pre-reading.” Things like the instructions kids receive at school, how parents help with reading at home, and even a child’s own passion for learning can all play a part in how and when a child learns to read. 

To help you make sure your child is on the right path, here is a general roadmap of literacy skills by age and what to expect on the path to reading. Every child and school is unique, but after reading this, you’ll understand general landmarks to look for, and gain some useful tips on how to help instill a lifelong love of literacy in your child. 

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Ages 3 to 5: Playful Pre-Readers

Skills They’re Working On 

At this stage, kids are typically working on recognizing each letter in the alphabet, and their corresponding sounds. With their developing motor skills, it’s common for kids at this age to have trouble forming word sounds like “f”, “r”, “s”, and “th.” (Here's everything you need to know about language and literacy development in preschoolers.)

What They’re Learning in School

A major skill that needs to be established at this age is phonemic awareness, says Andrew DiNapoli, director of curriculum at the Baldwin School District in Long Island, New York. “With phonemic awareness, you’re not using any print,” he says. “You’re asking students to make a connection between sounds and letters.” This might involve asking students what sounds they hear in the word “big” without them seeing the word, or clapping out syllables in a longer word. 

Each classroom is different, but preschool teachers will generally work on this and other pre-reading skills such as repeating rhyming words, using flashcards to recognize sight words, and of course, plenty of reading aloud to kids. 

How You Can Support Them at Home 

There are plenty of fun and easy ways to help your child continue to grow these skills:

  • Continue practicing important pre-reading skills by talking to your child throughout the day. “That might include picking up a box of cereal in the store and saying, ‘Do I want this box or this other box?’” says DiNapoli. “It may seem silly stating obvious things, but the amount of vocabulary a child is exposed to from an auditory standpoint really affects the vocabulary they build.”

Best Books for Ages 3-5

Ages 6 to 7:  Newly Independent Readers

Skills They’re Working On

While children this age may still need help decoding trickier words, they typically begin to read simple sentences and early reader books on their own. They’re also developing their reading comprehension and writing skills. For some kids, pronunciation of tricky sounds like “r” may still be a work on progress. (Here's everything you need to know about language and literacy skills in kids ages 6 to 7.) 

What They’re Learning in School

DiNapoli says a school’s approach to literacy education will vary, but in general, kids this age are exposed to many different strategies to help them master their reading and writing skills. Reading with a partner, reading solo, interactive writing activities, learning and applying different decoding strategies to text, and playing word games to further understand word sounds (i.e. “If we replace the “m” in “mop” with “b”, what’s the new word?”) are just a few things your child may be covering in the classroom. 

Reading homework at this age may be a list of weekly sight words or daily reading. Worksheets that cover reading may also be a part of homework. 

How You Can Support Them at Home

Whether your child has assigned reading every night or none at all, you can support their budding reading skills by helping them find books that both speak to their interests and are appropriate for their reading level

  • Getting your child invested in a book series is a great way to get them to read multiple books all on their own! With short chapters and engaging illustrations, the book series in the Branches line are also great for beginner readers ready to transition from picture books to more challenging reads (Branches books are ideal for readers who have advanced from the Acorn series). To get started, check out the feathered tales of Owl Diaries, the hilarious antics of Pig the Pug, and the thrilling adventures of Dragon Masters

  • Even if your child is reading well on their own, you can use shared reading time at home to further enhance their key skills. DiNapoli recommends talking to your child’s teacher to see which decoding skills they may need work on to improve their reading fluency and comprehension. “Ask the teacher what your child is relying on most — visual or syntax clues,” he says. “Whatever they’re not relying on, parents can use shared reading time to target those gaps at home.”

Best Books for Ages 6-7

Age 8: Confident Independent Readers

Skills They’re Working On

By the third grade, kids are likely reading independently and can decode most words on their own. They’re gaining many new skills — for instance, they’ll be able to summarize what they read and use text to support their ideas. Writing skills will start to mature, too, as sentences turn into paragraphs. They’ll also use their new language skills to help them form deeper relationships with friends. (Here are more important reading milestones for children in 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades.) 

What They’re Learning in School

Around the third grade, schoolwork starts to shift from learning to read to reading to learn. Kids are expected to have mastered the basic concepts of decoding sounds and words. They use these reading skills to study more complex topics like history, science, social studies, and literary themes. 

While context clues can help younger kids identify new words, this may be harder to do as school topics get more complex, says DiNapoli. “This is such a great age for students to start understanding different terms,” he says. Parents can help by increasing the volume of both of fiction and nonfiction books kids have access to outside of school.

How You Can Support Them at Home

  • If your child is hesitant to read once their homework is done, continue reading the engaging Branches books for their shorter chapters and full-color art that are engaging for reluctant readers. The Eerie Elementary and Dragon Masters series are kid favorites in the Branches series. 

Best Books for Age 8

Ages 9+:  The Decline By Nine Begins, So  Keep Them Hooked! 

By this age, most kids have developed strong independent reading skills, which translates into stronger language skills as well. They may be able to infer when you’re not having a great day and start to form stronger emotional relationships with their peers. 

However, the Scholastic Kids & Family Reading Report found that kids at this age start to lose interest in reading just for fun. Only 35 percent of 9-year-olds report reading 5 to 7 days a week, compared to 57 percent of 8-year-olds. 

What's more, fewer 9-year-olds think reading for fun matters, with only 57 percent saying they think reading books for fun is extremely or very important, compared to 65 percent of 8-year-olds. The number of kids who say they love reading also drops as kids get older,  from 40 percent of 8-year-olds to only 28 percent of 9-year-olds claiming a passion for books. 

What They’re Learning in School

Reading homework may feel more like “work” now. While each teacher may handle assignments differently, DiNapoli notes that workbooks and reading logs (or having to read for a certain amount of time) are all common homework assignments at this age. 

How You Can Support Them at Home

  • Give your child plenty of decision-making power when it comes to what they read. “Tell them it’s okay to abandon a certain book after a few pages, as long as it doesn’t become a trend,” says DiNapoli. “It gives them that empowerment of choice.” When kids have a say in what they read, it keeps them interested in books. 

  • Get them hooked on a series. Pitching your child on a bunch of books when they’re reluctant to pick up even one may seem like a stretch, but DiNapoli says getting them into a series is an easy way to ensure they’ll read multiple books. The most popular series with this age group include The Bad Guys, I Survived, and Diary of a Wimpy Kid
  • Make a reading inventory list to help older kids recognize the types of books they like to read, and to keep their passion for reading thriving. As a bonus, they may realize they read more than they think, and start to truly think of themselves as “readers”!


Best Books for Ages 9+

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