Your kindergartner and reading

Kindergartners learn the relationship of letters to sounds and master their first sight words.

By GreatSchools Staff

Are your kids reading at grade level?

Are your kids reading at grade level? Are there any gaps in their phonics or comprehension? Since learning to read is a long and complex process, some students hit college only to discover their skills aren't where they should be.

How do you know if your children are on track? Our grade-by-grade guidelines give you all the details you need to assess their aptitude.

Reading-readiness skills

Throughout the year, kindergartners are introduced to skills that prepare them for reading. Students often work with letters of the alphabet to build their vocabularies, helping them begin to understand reading as a process of discerning meaning from print. Kindergartners should be immersed in a print-rich environment that will help them develop an awareness and understanding of spoken and written language.

Reading specialist Jennifer Thompson explains: "As children use language, they reveal their working knowledge of the rules of language, how to use them and put words and parts of words together in meaningful ways."

Books and print

Kindergartners should learn how books are read, from front cover to back, from the top of the page to the bottom, and from left to right. By the end of the year, students should be able to recognize the parts of a book — the cover, the title page, and the table of contents.

The letter-sound relationship

Kindergartners also learn the relationship of sounds to letters, helping them decode written words. Students need time to practice working with letters and their sounds, sometimes by sorting picture cards according to the sounds they start with. Expect your children to gain practice blending sounds to create words and breaking down words into separate sounds. They might learn how to clap out the syllables with the teacher. Later they'll begin to read easy books to practice the letter-sound relationships they're learning. They'll learn to recognize frequently used words like is and here.

Reading for meaning

In kindergarten, kids start to learn how to make meaning of what they hear read aloud to them and what they read themselves. You can expect them to recognize the sequence of events in a story, their cause and effect, and their possible outcomes. Students will learn to retell familiar stories, summarizing their main ideas and plots. Kindergartners should be able to identify characters, settings, and important events, and classes might act out a story using props to demonstrate students' understanding.

Reading aloud

Kindergartners frequently listen to books being read aloud. Listening to a teacher or parent provides a model of fluent reading and helps children develop a positive attitude toward books. It also helps your child understand vocabulary and language patterns in texts.

Books read aloud are often discussed before, during, and after the reading to increase involvement and understanding of the text. "This conversation is critical," says Thompson, "for it helps children build their background knowledge when adults model their thinking, experiences and images that come to mind as they read. Children can use this to connect what the author is saying, to what they already know."

Shared reading

Kindergartners might have time for shared reading. During shared reading, children come together to read a big book, one with enlarged text that the whole class can see, guided by their teacher. During the reading, children are actively involved. Teachers sometimes pause to teach vocabulary, introduce a reading skill, or encourage the students to predict what comes next. Kindergartners should be able to follow along with the text and pictures while the book is being read. Teachers typically read the book several times over the course of a few days.

"Active involvement between student and teacher motivates interest and enhances comprehension of the story," says Thompson.

What to look for when you visit

  • Charts displayed with poems, songs, and chants in enlarged text.
  • Books with print and pictures big enough for the whole class to read together. (Your kindergartner may be given a smaller version of the same book to follow along.)
  • Predictable books that use repetitive language, sequences, rhythms, and rhymes, letting early readers predict where the sentences are going to go.
  • Decodable books, with the phonics lessons and high-frequency words that your child has learned in class.
  • Leveled books, books organized in levels of difficulty from easier books for beginning readers to longer and more complex books for advanced readers. (The leveling of texts allows teachers to match books with an individual student's reading ability.)
  • A reading area with a class library of books and a place for students to sit comfortably and read.
  • A listening center with a tape recorder, earphones, tapes of stories and multiple copies of the accompanying text. Listening to the tapes provides a model for fluent reading.
  • An ABC center, where students can participate in various activities involving letters, including an upper- and lower-case match, a letter sort, and an alphabet bingo game.
  • A word wall, or list of words displayed in alphabetical order on a bulletin board, used for reference and to reinforce vocabulary words.
Reading Magic

Recommended books

Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever, by Mem Fox (Harvest Books, 2001).

The Read Aloud Handbook, by Jim Trelease (Penguin, 5th edition, 2001).

Read to Me 2000: Raising Kids Who Love to Read, by Bernice E. Cullinan (Cartwheel, 2000).