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Ask the Experts

Is my kindergartner expected to read?

By Allison Gardenswartz, Consulting Educator


What is the developmentally appropriate expectation for kindergartners with regard to reading? I have a 6-year-old boy who is in kindergarten. He knows his letters and the sounds of each letter. He is making progress blending the sounds and reading words. He is not reading fluently at all and thinks that he is a "bad reader."

I think that the school environment puts too much pressure on him to be reading and he feels that he should be reading. He has had meltdowns at home about reading homework. I am constantly reassuring him that he is learning and practicing and is doing a great job. I know from my older son that some children don't read until later on. It would be helpful to understand, what is an appropriate expectation for kindergartners and reading?


Reading is definitely developmental and just like some children walk and talk earlier than others, some children will read earlier than others. One of the keys to reading is capitalizing on a child's interest in reading at the time that they show it. It is essential that a child feel good about reading and thus willing to put the effort into the struggle of trying to decode these letters and sounds into words with meaning.

Kindergarten is the year of learning to read. Kindergarten teachers expect that the reading readiness skills are in place prior to kindergarten and then they use the kindergarten year to ensure consistent knowledge of all letters and sounds, blending and beginning reading by the conclusion of the year.

For a child that is struggling, I always recommend going back to a place where he is confident and successful and then building from there. Read books that are sing song like or seem a little easy — maybe books that he has memorized, yet he can read aloud fluently to build confidence and get him feeling good about reading again. On a day when he feels frustrated or is melting down, allow him to sit in your lap while you read to him. As long as he is following along in the book and actively listening, he is improving his reading skills.

It is always beneficial to talk with the classroom teacher as well. Different teachers have different expectations and you should be clear on what the expectation is for your son. Ask for specific recommendations from the teacher of things that you might do and what the teacher's impression is of your son's level. If the expectation seems unreasonable, then perhaps it is worth discussing with the principal.

Use the summer before first grade to model reading daily in your lives and be sure that your son is reading daily, whether he reads independently or he sits with you while you read to him. The goal is to lay the foundation for reading to be a positive force in his life and an enjoyable experience!

Allison Gardenswartz is the founder of a San Diego tutoring center specializing in gifted and remedial learning and test preparation studies. An educator for over 15 years, Allison is an expert in identifying and enhancing the learning abilities of school-age children. Allison now fully devotes her time to parent education, consulting and college counseling. Allison has a teaching credential and has taught for several years in various public school systems. She has three children: Jacob, 11, Sofia, 7, and newly adopted Ryan, who is 3.

Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.

Comments from readers

"My question is always, 'What about the child that does read?'. My son was 5 at the start of Kindergarten and he is able to read simple sentences on his own, but I feel like his school wants him to slow down. It is so irritating because he is so proud of what he can do and he is excited to do more. I understand that teaching is by no means easy, but I just wish more schools could meet the children where they are."
"I wanted to respond regarding reading levels. I find it easier to teach or assist children with reading through site words. If your child seems to get stuck while reading; try teaching them 10-20 words at a time. My son was a slow reader,however, once he became comfortable with words and meanings he took off. My daughter, on the other hand, loves to read and loves to be read to.My son is awesome in math he looks vibrant and eager to complete math assignments first off."
"Thanks for your comments.Should children start to build reading habit at early age? When is the suitable time? "
"I have a son who is about to satart Kindergarten in 2 weeks and this article terrifies me! It sounds like so much pressure, I don't know if I can take it let alone my poor 5 year old!!!"
"I taught mostly second grade in a low income area for 23 years and can testify that those children who have a good foundation at home enjoy reading (and school in general) the most. Being the grandparent of a 21 month old who recognizes many words from her favorite books, I agree with the research that says that the brain grows the most between 3 months and five years. Rather than trying to teach the names and sounds the letters make, I feel it's best to just read, read, read!!! "
"Thank you so much for this article. This year is an interesting one for me because I am feeling both sides of this question. I am getting ready to start my 5th year teaching Private Kindergarten and I have a son who is entering Public Kindergarten. The advice given from your experts was very reassuring how I conduct my class. My curriculum is based on the district standards, but is very idividualized. I have tried in the past to encourage my parents not to put too much pressure on their children. Like you said, children learn at different levels of development. It is interesting, however, because this year I am feeling all the pressure I am sure other parents feel. It really is different when it's your own child. I want as a parent and as a teacher to make learning a possitive experience for my son and my students. Thank you for all the information available to parents through your website. It has helped me tremendously!"
"My daughter gets frustrated easily. We will go over letters and sounds and how letters and their sounds go together to form words, but when ever I ask her anything, even if she knows it (because she has told me before), she gets frustrated immediately after I asked her, and she gives up and cries. Please help me? What can I do to help her not be so frustrated with learning, she is starting to feel that it is a bad thing instead of a good thing."
"Readiness? I hope that is what my daughter has. She is pretty good with most of the sight words, but when it comes to patients, I feel for her teacher...May they all be blessed..."
"Waldorf schools don't put pressure on children to read in kindergarten for exactly this reason. They play with words and letters; reading is pushed more in second grade when the brain has fully developed in that area. I know it works. My siblings (now in grad-school and high school valedictorians) were very successful in Waldorf Schools. I currently have my two children enrolled in Waldorf School. I wish your answers gave these types of educational options. "
"I'm sorry to disagree, but as a kgn teacher with 38 years of experience, I know that we do not expect or assume that children arrive with reading readiness skills in place. And if they don't, it's our job to teach them in spite of the mandates of school systems to teach only grade level standards. We teach children, not standards."