Learning to read is perhaps the single most important skill your child will learn in elementary school.  Reading is a complex process and developing the skills to become a reader is different for everyone.  “Learning to read” can also be a confusing concept for parents as teachers may be using terms and language you may not be familiar with.  “Beginning Reader”, “Emergent Reader”, “Developing Reader”…just what does it all mean?  

With back to school on the horizon, now is the perfect time to start helping your child prepare for school by “getting ready to read”.  In this blog, I will break down the different stages of reading development for parents and provide some tips to help your child “get ready to read” in time for back to school! 

Reading Development: 

There are four main stages of reading development that your child will go through in elementary school. You may hear your child’s teacher referring to these stages on report cards or during teacher conferences.  Different school districts and provinces may refer to these stages with slightly different language, but the actual stages remain constant.  

(Note: I have purposely NOT included grade or age levels with these stages because every child develops reading skills at their own pace with many factors determining when a child progresses from one stage to the next.)  

Here’s a breakdown of the four stages a reader will go through, along with some key characteristics of a child in each stage: 

STAGE 1 – EMERGENT READER:   (sometimes referred to as BEGINNING READER) 

 A child who…

  • is showing an “emerging” interest in print, books, and stories 
  • knows most of the letters in the alphabet and understands the concept of a word
  • is not yet able to read independently but may be able to recognize some letters and words 
  • requires support to make meaning from the print 
  • may be reading books with simple words, short sentences, repeated patterns, and lots of detailed pictures (ie. pattern books, rhyming books, books with repetition Brown Bear, Brown Bear


A child who…

  • can read short, simple texts with very little help  
  • recognizes a growing range of simple words such as “and”, “the”, and “is”. 
  • begins to show an interest in a wider range of reading material such as information books, poetry, magazines, and comics.  
  • tries to sound out words they don’t know based on the sounds of the letters
  • is aware when they have made a mistake or if the story doesn’t make sense 
  • Is reading books with more lines of text per page, fewer patterns and pictures (ie. Elephant and Piggy, The Pigeon Rides the Bus

STAGE 3 – BEGINNING READER:  (sometimes referred to as EFFECTIVE READER) 

A child who…

  • is able to read longer, more complex texts without help 
  • can decode out most unfamiliar words by sounding out the word, or breaking the word  into syllables
  • recognizes more and more words automatically, without sounding out
  • Is able to focus more of their attention on the meaning of the story
  • continues to show an interest and explore different types of print including fiction, nonfiction, and poetry
  • Is reading longer stories that have more print per page, longer sentences and fewer pictures  (beginning chapter books) 

STAGE 4 – PROFICIENT READER:    (sometimes referred to as AUTOMATIC READER) 

A child who…

  • Is reading moderate to more difficult texts with fluency (smoothly) and confidence 
  • Can read aloud at the same speed and expression as their natural speaking voice
  • decodes (sounds out words) automatically 
  • Uses text for a wide range of purposes including: gathering information, directions, entertainment, general knowledge, current events
  • Is reading texts that have a wide range of topics, more difficult words, longer sentences, fewer or no pictures.  (ie – chapter books, series, novels, graphic novels)  

Reading Readiness – Help Your Child Get Ready to Read! 

Some parents believe that, in order to help their child get ahead in school, it is important that they already know how to read (Stage 2 or 3) before they begin kindergarten.  NOT TRUE!  Success in reading is not determined by whether your child CAN read when they start school, but by whether your child is READY to read when they start school.  

READING READINESS is KEY to your child’s reading success!  That’s where you come in!  Parents play a key role in helping their child move through the stages of reading development (above) successfully by helping them be “reading ready” when they start school.  Whether you are driving in the car, at the park or just before bedtime – here are some simple, engaging games to help your child get ready to read! 

Age 3-4 and up – Help your child recognize RHYMING WORDS

  • Read lots of rhyming books aloud to your child
  • Play a rhyming version of Simon Says:   “I hear, with my little ear, something that rhymes with …….” (i.e. pail – tail) 
  • Play “Find a Rhyme” game. “Can you find a rhyme: bun-sun-fun – ????” 

Age 4-5 and up  – Help your child understand SYLLABLES

  • Play a clapping syllable game by helping your child clap out syllables in their name or in familiar words (“A-DRI-ENNE – my name has three claps!  How many claps does yours have – let’s try it!”
  • Play “guessing” how many syllables are in words. Don’t be afraid to use LONG words like “extraordinary”  (Wow!  That word has five claps!!!

Age 6Help your child understand the BEGINNING SOUND in words 

  • Play a Beginning Sound version of Simon Says:  “I hear, with my little ear, something that begins with “Buh” (TIP:  say the sound rather than naming the letter).  
  • Name beginning sounds of everyday objects: “Oh – there’s a STOP sign!  What sound does STOP start with?   Ssssssssss”  

Age 6+  Help your child understand a word has BEGINNING, MIDDLE, and END sounds 

  • Play “What’s That Word?” game to help your child hear all the sounds in a word.  
  • Stretch out a word by their sounds:   “What does cuh-ah-tuh say?”  (cat)  “It’s time for buh-eh-duh!” (bed)   “Please pass the sss-aw-ul-tah” (salt)

Age 7 Help your child understand how to SWITCH SOUNDS to make new words

  • Play “Sound Switch”:  “What word would you have if I changed the b in book to a t?”  or “What word would you have if I took away the t from the word “store”?  

Final thoughts

We all want our children to learn to be confident, competent readers. While every child learns to read in their own way and in their own time, recognizing the stages of reading development can help parents become more aware of the skills involved.   Helping your child become “reading ready” is one way parents can ensure their reading success in school.  

For more information about How to Make Reading Fun for your Child  – check out this BLOG 

For more information about Reading Tips for Parents – check out this BLOG 




About the Author Adrienne Gear

Adrienne is a teacher, author and speaker from Vancouver, BC She has over 25 years of elementary teaching experience and has written seven professional books for elementary teachers in the area of reading, writing, and thinking. Adrienne is also a Literacy and Learning advisor with the Simbi Read for Good platform. She is a well-sought after speaker and speaks to educators across the country and around the world. She is passionate about reading, children’s literature, and all things west coast. Adrienne currently lives in Kelowna, BC with her husband and their dog.

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