Reading Milestones for Early Readers

By Huntington Learning Center

As children become better and more independent readers, parents can help guide them along in their reading and literacy development. Parents need to understand the progressive reading “building blocks” and guide your child toward mastery of each of them. Here are some of the key reading milestones as your young reader advances through elementary school:


Decoding – Once students learn phonics—the sounds of letters and letter combinations—they move on to decoding, in which they use small words or word units to figure out larger words. Learning to decode helps students recognize root words, prefixes and suffixes. For example, a child who can read up can more easily read cup and upon.


Word recognition – In kindergarten, children spend a great deal of time learning high-frequency words (often called sight words). These are vocabulary words that appear often in books and other literature. Memorizing them and being able to recognize them instantly is one of the keys to achieving reading fluency. Examples include the, that, an, him, her, into, like and come.


Spelling – In the early grades especially, your child will learn how different letters are associated with different sounds and how words are composed of letters. Part of spelling involves learning about the sounds that vowels and consonants make as well as other letter combinations, including:

  • Blends (such as fr, sp and bl, for example)
  • Digraph sounds, or pairs of letters that make a single sound (th, sh and ng, for example)
  • Diphthongs, or two adjacent vowels (au and oi, for example)


Young readers also begin to identify letter patterns and recognize them in unfamiliar words (such as the short a sound in cat and hat and the long i sound in bite and kite).  


Punctuation and mechanics – In order to read (and write) well, children must understand the parts of a sentence, how sentences are formed and what punctuation means.


Comprehension – As your child begins to read to him or herself and to you, the ability to comprehend what he or she reads is critical. Your child should be able to read a passage or chapter, recall details about what happened, and make predictions about what might happen next.


Fluency – Reading fluency is the ability to read quickly, smoothly and correctly. As your child progresses through elementary school, he or she must improve his or her reading fluency and be able to recognize words on sight without having to sound out every letter or chunk.


Here are a few simple ways you can help your child improve his or her reading skills:


  • Point out patterns. As your child learns to decode words, point out words that rhyme, words that contain the same prefixes and suffixes, words that build on other words, and similar patterns.
  • Read aloud. Continue to read aloud to your child even when he or she can read independently.
  • Mix it up. Have your child read aloud to you and silently to him or herself. Read to your child. Have him or her read to a sibling or family member. And read a variety of material types.
  • Encourage questions. As you read together, ask your child periodically to summarize what a story or passage means. Ask about the theme of the story, what he or she thinks about the characters and what they might do next, and what he or she does or doesn’t like about the story.
  • Teach your child to relate to stories. Comprehension involves self-reflection. Encourage your child to compare situations in stories to those in his or her own life. Ask whether your child knows any classmates or friends who are similar to characters in the stories he or she reads.


As your child advances through school, he or she will continue to strengthen the reading basics. Aid your child in learning the fundamentals now so that he or she will soon have the skills to succeed in school and enjoy this wonderful pastime for the rest of his or her life.


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