Reading Skills Chart by Child’s Age: Benchmarks to Know!

Parents play a huge role in their child’s reading development. Children who have parents who conscientiously encourage language skills by reading and speaking to their children have higher literacy levels and more academic success. Being aware of important reading milestones is the first step in making sure your child is on track.

AgeMotor Development Benchmarks (what your child can do)Communication and Cognition (what your child is saying and learning)
1-6 monthshead bobs, moves side to sideresponds to voice, coos, begins to imitate some sounds
6-12 monthsholds the head steady, sits in lap without support, drops/throws books, grasps books, puts book in mouth, likes and touches pictureslikes your voice, responds to own name, begins to say “ma”, “da”, “ba”
12-24 monthsholds and walks with book, brings book to adult, no longer puts book in mouth right away, turns board book pages, turns book right-side up, points at picturessays a single word (then 2 to 4 words phrases), names pictures, understands 50 words or more
(1-3 years old)
scribble on paper, turns paper pages, turns 2 to 3 pages at a timeanswers questions and identify objects in books, pretends to read books and makes up stories, finishes sentences in books they know well, knows book names, has a favorite book, learning 2-4 new words a day
15 monthsN/Asays 4-5 words or more
18 monthsN/Asays 20 words or more
21 monthsN/Alikes the sounds of rhyming, tries to “tell” experiences
24 monthsN/Asays 150-300 words or more
Preschoolers (3-4 years old)
3-year-olds knows the correct way to hold a book, looks from left to right on pages and top to bottom, explores book independentlysays 900-1000 words, says simple sentences, can sing the alphabet song with help, recognizes the first letter in their name
4-year-oldssit still for longer stories, drawssays 1500-1600 words, asks “why”, joins in rhyming games, recognize signs and labels, names some letters in the alphabet
5-year-oldssits still for even longer stories, can write some letters and well-known words, writes own namesays around 2,600 words, knows about 20,000 words, identifies beginning/middle/end sounds in spoken words, recognizes some words by sight, predicts what happens next in story, retells main idea of story
First and Second Grade
6-year-oldswrites their own text for others to read, holds a pencil properlyreads through picture books or familiar stories on their own, identifies new words, monitors own reading and self-corrects, counts syllables in a word
7-year-oldswrites their own text for others to read, holds a pencil properlyidentifies many words by sight, rereads the text when they don’t understand, connects reading to personal experiences
Second and Third Grade
8 years oldcan produce different forms or writing,selects and reads age-appropriate chapter books independently, reads aloud with expression, understands the concept of paragraphs, writes notes (texts and emails), understands humor in text, interprets text meaning, uses context to understand text
Fourth Through Eighth Grade (Ages 9-13)N/Atransitions from learning to read to reading to learn, explores different types of texts, reads to extract specific information, reads and writes for fun, writes in different styles, compares information, makes inferences
Middle-schoolers and High-schoolersN/Acontinues to expand vocabulary and reading increasingly complex texts, analyzes how characters interact, determines themes, identifies figurative language

Reading benchmarks are helpful guidelines to measure your child’s growth, but because all children learn at a slightly different pace, your child may be learning reading skills faster or slower than the benchmark.

What Are Reading Benchmarks/Milestones?

The word “benchmark” means a standard used to measure something. Milestones are like checkpoints or goals that help you to track your child’s learning. Neither are meant to be rigid rules about when your child should be able to do something. They are tools designed to help parents, educators and doctors support a child’s learning based on age-appropriate goals.

As a parent, knowing age-appropriate reading milestones will help you know how to encourage your child, and what types of materials and tasks you can give them. Learning and progression are the goals, not the meticulous tracking of a checklist.

Obsessing over your child’s progress will most likely do more harm than good. Rushing or pushing your child to achieve a particular milestone can leave major gaps in their learning. Children intuitively learn in a way that slowly leads them from one skill to the next. They need to accumulate skills that help them reach milestones, and the best you can do is provide a nurturing learning environment.

Parent Involvement in Reading Development

Learning to read begins long before children enter the classroom. The first few years of a child’s life are critical in building a foundation that will eventually allow a child to start to read. Only 60% of children under 5 years old have parents who frequently read to their children. Children who are read to at least three times a week by a parent are almost twice as likely to score in the top 25% in reading compared to children who are read to less than three times a week (Source).

One of the best ways to encourage early reading progress is to talk to children. Dr. Todd Risley from the University of Alaska says that parents commonly only talk “business” to their children. They tell them where to go and what to do, but they don’t talk to their children about more complicated or abstract topics. Research shows that the most important part of parent-to-child talk is the amount. The more words children hear early on, the easier they will transition from speaking to reading.

All of these statistics show that parents have a significant impact on their child’s reading success. Parents don’t have to have a college degree or be avid readers to help their children reach reading development milestones. The biggest struggle parents face when preparing their children is access to materials and time.

Especially working-class parents or parents on welfare may find it much more difficult to find time to read to their children, and/or may not be able to afford to have books in the home. Parents may turn to other resources like teachers or after-school childcare centers to provide access to literature and opportunities for children to learn.

For multi-lingual families, it is important to read to your child primarily in their first language (or the language spoken at home), as well as the language that is spoken in the community and at school.

What To Do If Your Child Is Not Reaching Age-Appropriate Benchmarks

Not all children will reach milestones right on schedule with the table listed above. In fact, most children will jump around at their own pace, only roughly sticking to the established benchmarks. If your child continues to make progress but misses a few benchmarks, there is no cause for alarm.

However, if you have noticed a significant difference between your child’s speech and his/her peers’ speech or they are significantly delayed in reaching milestones, it might be worth reaching out to your child’s teacher, the reading specialist at their school, or their doctor.

Your child may be showing signs of a learning or physical disability.

According to the National Center for Learning Disabilities Here are some “red flags” that may indicate a learning disability:

  • spelling the same word differently in a single document
  • reluctant reading or writing
  • trouble answering open-ended questions
  • weak memory skills
  • slow work pace
  • frequent misreading of information
  • easily confused by instructions
  • poor organizational skills

Sometimes reading issues can be misinterpreted as vision issues. Here are some signs of vision impairment:

  • squinting
  • eye rubbing
  • bumping into things
  • burning, itching, watery eyes
  • headaches
  • trouble reading words he already knows
  • losing place while reading
  • saying that the words look blurry

Strategies to Encourage Development of Reading Skills


You might think that your newborn has no interest in reading — and you are probably right. But how you interact with your baby now will reflect in their learning later on.

First, they need to see and hear you. This means taking back and forth with your baby as they babble, making eye contact, pointing to and naming things, and playing simple games. This will help your baby start to understand that sounds mean something.

Infants might enjoy board and cloth books, books with baby faces, naming books, and nursery rhymes. Start to let babies turn the pages on their own and incorporate reading into daily routines.

Toddlers and Preschoolers

Toddlers will start to show more interest in books and want to participate even more. This is a good time to help them learn new words and encourage comprehension.

Ask questions about the who, when, where, what, and why in a story. You might start with questions like “Where’s the dog?” or “Is the boy happy or sad?”. Your toddler will most likely take a special interest in one or two favorite books — be ready and willing to read the same book over and over. Repetition is key in their learning.

Toddlers might enjoy rhyming books, picture books with stories, counting books, and seek and find books. Start letting your toddler pick out books that appeal to them.


Kindergarten is a big stepping stone into the world of reading. Now, your child is probably reading more than they ever have. Their teacher is reading books to them at school and they might even be bringing home reading assignments.

Encourage them by allowing them to choose their own books at the library. Help them identify their interests and then look for books that help them learn more. As you read with your child “tracking” or following the words they read with your finger can help them take it one sentence at a time.

Let your child read through different mediums — on the computer, on the road signs, or at the grocery store. This will help your kindergartener be motivated to read to understand the world.

Grade-School Age

As children grow older, they continue to read for school, but start to read less for fun. Children who continue to read will do better academically in the future as they increase their vocabulary and comprehension skills. Researchers call this “decline by 9” which refers to the statistic that almost a fifth of kids stop reading for fun between the ages of eight and nine years old (source).

Technology is the primary cause of decreased interest in reading. While technology can be entertaining, it doesn’t provide the same critical thinking practice that reading does.

There are things you can do to keep your child reading. It is important that your child sees you reading (books, recipes, news articles, etc). Keeping a variety of reading materials in the house, restricting TV time, and taking frequent trips to the library will push your child to read for fun. Talk with your child about their experiences and help them expand their vocabulary.


It is never too early to start reading to and with your child. Not only will it benefit their motor development, communication, and cognition, but it will bond them to you. Children who are read to feel loved and connected to their parents. Reading is a great activity to pass the time and keep children engaged and learning.

Reading helps children develop emotional intelligence and understand the people and the world around them. As you read with your child, you will find yourself having important conversations about life experiences and challenges. Your child will learn to develop empathy, problem-solving skills, and a bond of trust with their parent.

Reading development benchmarks are a wonderful tool to guide you as you encourage your child to read. Remember, benchmarks are meant to be loosely interpreted, so don’t worry if your 15-month-old only says two words or if your 3-year-old still holds books upside down. Learning to read is a process and children naturally explore the world in their own time. So be patient, and keep on reading.