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Learning to Read: Developmental Milestones on the Road to Literacy

by: Shannon Kalisher

The process of learning to read is a journey filled with magic, excitement, and fun as well as frustration and impatience. Most of us do not remember how we learned to read (that is the "magic" piece). There are, however, a series of developmental and academic milestones one must move through in order to become a successful reader. Most children relish in the accomplishment of becoming a reader by the end of 1st grade but the road to literacy begins before a child can even talk or walk. Your child's success as a reader is highly dependant on the opportunities s/he is presented with from the very beginning of life.

Below are reading milestones a typical child will master along the road. The lists are not exhaustive but include the important building blocks necessary to become a successful reader. Use these lists as a guide for monitoring your child's progress; however, please keep in mind that just as in other areas of development, growth rates vary among children. If you have further questions or concerns, please visit

Infant to age 3



Age 3-4 years


1st grade

As was mentioned above, children move through these steps at different rates and with varying levels of ease and/or frustration. But what should you do if you have significant concerns about your child's acquisition of these skills? The first step is to document your child's areas of strength as well as areas of need specific to reading. What is s/ he good at? What does s/he struggle with and/or not want to do? Next, set up a meeting with your child's teacher. You are your child's best advocate and you may notice something that the teacher has missed. On the other hand, your child's teacher can offer unique insight and observations that provides clarification for your concerns. After discussing your child's strengths and weaknesses, collaborate with your child's teacher and create a plan of action. This plan might include: monitoring your child's progress for a certain amount of time, small group work in the area of reading, strategies that can be implemented at home, a tutor might be in order, and, eventually, in some cases, meeting with the school's pre-referral team will be necessary (a step prior to Special Education testing). Make sure that you feel confident with the plan and of course follow-up regularly to ensure necessary changes are made.

By keeping these reading milestones in mind, you will be better able to make the road to reading a more successful, exciting time for your child. Who knows, you might even catch a glimpse into the "magic" involved in learning to read.

Shannon Kalisher is a literacy specialist and consultant for Child-Works, LLC. Child-Works, "the ultimate parent toolbox", provides consultation in the areas of education, sleep and behavior. Check out literacy activity kits, tutoring services, and small group reading/writing workshops.

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