Important Reading Milestones for 3rd, 4th, and 5th Graders

Here’s what to expect during these years, and how to help your child thrive at every age and stage.
By ZOË KASHNER and Megan Zander
Jul 12, 2019




Jul 12, 2019

As your child moves into the upper elementary school years, they go from learning how to read to using their reading skills to learn. Here, we'll give you intel on some of the important milestones that you can expect in the 3rd, 4th and 5th grades. Plus, find out how to determine if your child is reading at grade level — and how to help if they’re not.

By the end of 3rd grade, your child will be expected to:

1. Identify the meaning of common prefixes (un-, ex-) and suffixes (-full, -less)
2. Be able to read and pronounce nearly any common word
3. Describe the relationship between events, concepts, or steps in a process
4. Read social studies and science content containing familiar words and concepts
5. Identify an author’s point of view
6. Justify their own idea from a text by using evidence from the text as support
7. Write paragraphs

By the end of 4th grade, your child will be expected to:

1. Read with accuracy and fluency (not stumbling over words)
2. Self-correct after mispronouncing a word
3. Be able to look for meaning in historical, scientific, and technical texts
4. Compare and contrast two or more accounts of the same event
5. Describe the theme, character, setting, and point of view in a story

By the end of 5th grade, your child will be expected to:

1. Quote from what he reads to help support his understanding
2. Summarize what she reads and state the main idea or theme
3. Compare stories to each other
4. Be able to describe causes and effects as described in a reading
5. Read and understand literature, poetry, and drama
6. Use adjectives, transitions words, and phrases in writing

Marissa Fraser, an elementary school teacher in Danbury, Conn., notes that starting around third grade, children’s reading levels may vary depending on the type of book they’re reading. 

“Kids at this age start to learn that if a book covers a subject they already have some knowledge about, it’s easier to read than a book about a topic they know nothing about,” says Fraser. If your 10-year-old who loves video games drags his feet with some chapter books but can’t get through the Diary of a Minecraft Zombie books fast enough, then you’ve seen this concept in action.

What to Do If They’re Having Trouble

“By the end of 3rd grade, a child should be reading fluently,” says Fraser. If your child ends the school year and is still struggling to read aloud, Fraser recommends sticking to upper grade books to hold your child’s interests, but giving gentle reminders of lower-grade strategies. For instance, tactics like sounding out words, looking at surrounding words in the text for context clues, and breaking larger words into smaller pieces can help. 

Of course, checking in with your child’s teacher is also crucial to make sure you’re both on the same page with how to support your child’s reading progress. “Ask the teacher what your child's reading level is and for some book examples to guide you on what they should be reading,” says Fraser. “You may be surprised!” (Here are some great resources for every grade.

Great Books for Growing Readers

Let's Talk About the Decline by Nine

Many kids turn nine around the third grade, which is a pivotal time for a child’s long-term reading success. “The saying for reading is ‘fine by nine,’" says Fraser. “If a child is reading fluently and at grade level by age nine, generally they have a good chance of staying on grade level successfully.” 

Although reading becomes a critical skill at this age, the 2019 Scholastic Kids & Family Reading Report found that it’s when children begin to show a lack of interest in reading for fun. Only 35 percent of 9-year-olds report reading five to seven days a week, compared to 57 percent of 8-year-olds.

One way to prevent the “decline by nine” is by helping your child see reading as an enjoyable hobby rather than a chore or solely homework. Expose them to books in a wide range of styles and on a variety of topics to keep them excited about reading and help them find what sparks their interests. 

Graphic novels, like the Dog Man books, can be a good gateway to entice reluctant readers to pick up a paperback. “They can even challenge kids to read a harder book without realizing it,” says Fraser. “Because of the pictures in graphic novels, kids may think it’s an easier book than it actually is.” 

For children who love watching TV series through to the end, devouring a captivating book series can give them a similar sense of satisfaction. Harry Potter fans might want to check out the Amulet series, about a girl named Emily whose mother is kidnapped by a tentacled monster and learns her new powers are essential to saving both her mom and the world. If fairy tales are more your child’s jam, the Whatever After books offer modern takes on classic princess tales. And don’t forget classics like Goosebumps and The Baby-Sitters Club: These books are just as enticing to kids today as they were when you read them!

Books to Keep Kids Reading for Fun

Don't Stop Reading Out Loud (Really!) 

Although your child is getting older, they’re not too big to hear a story before saying goodnight. Reading aloud to kids is a great way to continue bonding with children as they get older, says Fraser. Plus, reading books together that cover tricky topics can open the door to important conversations with your kids. 

For example, if you chat about the Series of Unfortunate Events books after reading a chapter together before bed, you might just get some insights into your child’s thoughts about loss, lying, and morals. Or pick an inspiring read like Wonder to get their take on the importance of showing kindness to others.  

Great Books to Read Aloud to Older Kids

Reading Comprehension
Milestones & Expectations
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Age 9
Age 8
Child Development and Behavior
Reading Comprehension