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Your kindergartner’s reading under the Common Core Standards

Reading is all about developing knowledge, which is something kindergartners do all year long – even while they’re learning their ABCs.

By Jessica Kelmon , Leslie Crawford

If learning to read is like building a skyscraper, then kindergarten is the year to construct the most solid reading foundation possible. As part of that foundation, kindergartners will be working on the five pillars of reading: understanding the relationship between sounds and words (phonetics), reading fluently, understanding what they read, expanding vocabulary, and building knowledge.

Here is what your kindergartner will be learning this year to ensure the foundation is in place to become a successful reader and student.

All about the alphabet

Fortunately, kindergartners don't need to learn how to say the alphabet backwards, like Mary Poppins singing "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" in reverse. Even so, under the Common Core Standards kindergartners are being asked to master the alphabet far beyond singing the ABCs. They need to develop a deep understanding of what the alphabet does: that it's the code for so much of the communicating and comprehending they'll do for the rest of their lives.

This year they'll be launching into the world of what educators call "decoding," the double whammy of phonic awareness and word recognition. By the end of the school year, kindergartners are expected to come away with a solid understanding of alphabet basics — not only familiarity with each letter but knowing that these letters come together to make words.

Kindergartners need to recognize all 26 lowercase and uppercase letters — as well as their sounds. Your child also needs to understand the five major vowels' long sounds (the a in ape, or the e in feet) and short sounds (the a in apple, or the e in elephant). They should be able to identify which letters are different in similar words (e.g. map, lap, tap). They should also know that spoken words represent a sequence of letters.

Left to right, up to down, front to back

It all seems so obvious by the time you've learned to read, but to a new reader, some of the most basic reading rules — starting at the top of the page and going downwards, reading from left to right, and page by page — require explicit instructions and explanations.

Kindergartners even need to realize that words are separated by spaces. By the end of the year, students also need to become familiar with parts of a book, such as the front cover, the back cover, and the title page. Under the Common Core, this knowledge of book components gradually increases with each grade.

Word sense and rhymes

Phonological awareness. It sounds important, but what does it really mean? A predictor of later reading ability, phonological awareness is an understanding of what's referred to as the sound structure of spoken words. While this may sound like pretty dry stuff, it's actually where a lot of the fun in learning to read comes in. Either consciously or not, grown-ups help new readers master this serious skill with silly word play — be it with Mother Goose rhymes (e.g. Hey diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle…) or Dr. Seuss classics like The Cat in the Hat.

This kind of word play, including tongue twisters, helps a kindergartner understand how words are broken into individual syllables (e.g. Sim-ple Si-mon) and how words with similar endings rhyme (e.g. me, he, she; splat, cat, rat). The more exposure kindergartners get to how syllables and words work together in spoken and written language, the more they'll build their word knowledge. They’ll be able to ask and answer questions about unknown words, or presto!, figure them out from the context.

By the end of kindergarten, children are expected to read dozens of three-letter words, known in educational vernacular as "CVC" (consonant, vowel, consonant) words. Being able to read these basic, often rhyming, words (e.g. pen/hen, pot/hot, bed/red) will give your kindergartner the confidence to build up reading vocabulary in grades to come.

All year long, kindergartners are working on what's known as "decoding" skills — deciphering the meanings of words and phrases within the context of what they're reading. And when your child asks you to read Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! over and over (and over) again? Take heart! Your clever kindergartner is practicing decoding without even knowing it! (To get your child hooked on another book, here are some other read aloud favorites.)

This year, student are being asked to figure out new meanings for familiar words (e.g. that duck is a bird, but that to duck means something different). Kindergartners are also becoming familiar with common inflections and affixes (small parts of words added to a root word, such as -s, re-, un-, -ed, pre-, -ful, -less) as clues to the meaning of new words. So by knowing, say, color, they can figure out how to read and understand colors and colorful.

Finally, with the help of adults, kindergartners are learning to make connections between words and their nuances, so they can sort them into categories (e.g. shapes and colors) and figure out antonyms, a fancy way of saying opposites (e.g. open/close, hot/cold). This year, they'll even be deciphering shades of meaning between words. Tip: Have your child act out similar words. What does it look like to march, strut, walk, and stroll? What does it look like to cry, sob, and howl?

Mastering common words

According to the Reading Teacher's Book of Lists, about half of all reading texts are made up of the same 100 words! Here's something even more remarkable about these wonder words: most kindergartners will know all of them by the end of the year. To that end, many kindergarten teachers will send their students home with lists of these high-frequency words (e.g. at, be, of, and to). Your child will also need to learn sight words - words that can't be easily sounded out or illustrated with a text (e.g. good, out). When it comes to sight words, memorization is key, since using phonics or decoding skills don't often work for these short, common, but often oddly spelled words. (How does one sound out “the” anyway?) Tip: Word lists are perfect for the refrigerator, where you can playfully quiz your kindergartner before dinnertime.

Exploring fiction and nonfiction

While reading with your child, start asking: is this real or imaginary? A priority under the Common Core Standards is to make sure children — even kindergartners — get equally comfortable reading fiction and nonfiction. This doesn’t mean kindergarten classics like Where the Wild Things Are and Curious George are being shelved, just that your child should encounter nonfiction, too.

According to the Common Core, the goal is for kindergartners to split their time between stories and information (think dinosaurs, trees, and starfish) while learning the differences between the two types of text. By the end of kindergarten, your child should be able to recognize stories and poems, and find the name of a book’s author and illustrator with the understanding that the author wrote the words and the illustrator drew the pictures — whether the book is a true story or a truly wonderful tale.

Building a knowledge bank

We read to spark our imaginations, to experience new adventures, to learn about the world. All are synonymous with reading to gain knowledge. Common Core emphasizes the idea that being a good reader is more than reading the text in front of them; even kindergartners need grow their understanding of the world by integrating new information into what they already know. Think of it as your kindergartner opening a knowledge bank account and filling it with accumulated information.

Key skills that will help your kindergartner build knowledge include being able to retell familiar stories; identify characters, setting, and major events in a story; compare and contrast characters and events in different stories; describe how two people, events, ideas, or facts are connected; talk about the similarities and differences between two books on the same topic; and engage in group reading activities by listening and asking and answering questions.

What does this sound like? It’s your 5-year-old explaining that Harold in Harold and the Purple Crayon had an amazing adventure because of what he imagined. It’s your T-rex lover understanding dinosaurs were real, but now don’t exist. The key is getting kindergartners understanding and thinking about the big ideas they learn when they read — and taking that information with them as they grow.

Show me the evidence!

“Read like a detective, write like an investigative reporter” is how David Coleman, one of the principal architects of the Common Core, explains the emphasis on evidence. In kindergarten, this really just means finding — and literally pointing to — answers to questions. To answer "How did The Man with the Yellow Hat first spot Curious George?", your child could show evidence by flipping through the pages and finding the words — or the picture of the scene. (Tip: "Reading" pictures is a great sign of your kindergartner's reading progress).

Your child’s teacher will emphasize evidence in different ways this year, but the main skills are:

Asking and answering questions about details in books and showing exactly where those answers show up in the text or illustrations;
Being able to discern a book's main point and using the text or images to show how the author makes this point;
Connect a book's illustrations to the exact words they illustrate.

Want to make this kinder-friendly and fun? Put on a police officer hat when you and your child are searching for evidence.

is a senior editor at

is a senior editor at GreatSchools.

Comments from readers

"Today, our daughter's teacher(private school) told us that she wasn't forming sentences well and doesn't seem to focus well in class sometimes. She can read phonics books at home that we got her for her age group. She's doing A LOT more in kindergarten than we were ever taught back in our day. The teacher asked us if we would like for her retake kindergarten today! VERY upset! How can a teacher ask us this when there's 2 1/2 months left of school?? We will get our daughter tested, but we are not having her retake kindergarten because she's not "forming sentences well" and has 2 1/2 months left of school. Any thoughts would be appreciated. Thank you. "
"Thank you!!! I taught 2 years in 1st grade but this is my first year teaching kindergarten so this article makes me feel better about what I am teaching and what I expect from my students! Thanks again! "
"Books are leveled in Public School and kids are to read in certain level books. My question is: How are parents suppost to know all book level, are there clues or something on the book, that states this, is there a website or tool we can use to determine the level? Please help. Thank You"
"This information is very helpful, my son is in Kindergarten and my next older child is now 22, big gap in having to relearn all about children and school. Tough job. "
"I would like to comment that any preschool worth their money should already be teaching the children most of the skills mentioned above. I think the exception would be children who do not attend a preschool. Kids are way more capable than we are giving them credit for. "
"My daughter is at the end of the kindergarten year she is not up to par , by what the teacher says but I feel she could be by the beginning of the 1st grade yr. with the help of reading and working with her over the summer everyday. Do I have a say so in whether she goes on to the 1st grade if the teacher thinks she is not ready.. HELP"
"I had concerns about my kindergartener until I read this article. He is at the level of most criteria. He still misses some sight words. One concern I have though is when he is reading, I'm not sure the comprehension is there. Any homework ideas I can practice with him?"
"My child attends an all-day kindergarten, and he is currently reading. By the end of the year, they have a list of 30 words that they must be able to identify and say by sight, with no hesitation or 'sounding' out. His class (and all the kindergarteners at his school) regularly write sentences as well. They know to capitalize the beginning word and proper names. They use punctuation properly. They know what a 'descriptive' sentence is! I am amazed at the progress of kindergarteners...they no longer focus on colors and shapes!"
"My son is in Kindergarden and is already learning blend words. I have forgot everything about blend words. Can you help refresh my memory so that I can help my son. Thanks"
"this is great that you have these informative reviews. I was concerned about the mathematics for kindergarteners. Can you point me to the guidelines for that? I'd appreciate it. Thank you"
"I am currently doing some hours for one of my college courses at an Elementary here in Texas. I work with pre-k students and I am very surprised to see that they already know how to spell words and read. I can't even remember learning those sorts of things when I was in pre-k."
"Hello. My daughter goes to kindergarten in Oceanside New York School 6. I am very concerned that she is not reading because the teachers do not seem to be teaching her. She tells me that they told her that they don't have the magic book??? I read with her at home and she recognizes small words. My biggest concern is that she will go to first grade without having developed her reading skills. I want to approach the teachers about this but am afraid that she will be rejected. What should I do? "
">From my experience as a kindergartener's mom, I have to say that it is tough for teachers to deal with all the different levels of instruction the kids are when they reach K. Some kids had gone through preschool, some just pre-k, and some just come right out of their homes for the first time. So their levels of readiness are very different. It is the job of kindergarten teachers to identify and develop everyone's learning and social abilities, and to try to get their classroom to a more even level by the time the kids are ready for 1st grade. In my daughters' case, she had been attending an excellent preschool for a couple years before she entered K, and she had mastered most of the kindergarten basics before she even got there. She now reads like a 3rd grader, and the teachers are doing every effort to challenge her to improve her reading and writing skills, and to keep her interested and challenged. It takes a lot from the teachers to do this, since they have to deve! lop different plans and activities for her, without making her feel too 'different'. Our help as family is always a must, as it should be in every household, by encouraging our kids to practice, to get better, and to develop a love for learning. It is not just the job of the teachers to teach our kids, but a way of family life to support their efforts and help our kids to thrive. "
"This is typical of my sons classroom. He could read and write all letters and numbers to 20 and beyond before entering kindergarten and has really advanced beyond that; reading fluently now and can count past 1000. He went through a phase of flipping some letters and numbers which is totally normal because they are learning to form their letters correctly. They don't have advanced class for kindergarteners, however, they do watch them and give them things to do to test for giftedness. The teacher does expect more from him than the other kids because he is so bright. I don't believe we have 'dumbed down.' When I was young, we didn't learn these things until first grade. Many of the kids in his class are not at his level yet and it is a challenge for the teachers to customize teaching for the different learning levels but they do try. Kids are also learning social skills. Some went to preschool, some went to daycare, some went to home preschools and some were home wit! h their parents. This too is challenging for the teacher to coordinate all these different skills that they must learn this year as more is expected in first grade. Right now, homework everynight except Friday and expected reading every night as well, to me is enough for kindergarteners. There has been much concern about the homework load which only increases with grade level. "
"My son reads in kindergarten. The public schools don't do enough to help the already reading. What do you do when your kindergartener reads at first and second grade level already, and can already add and subtract. What are they really learning?"
"It concerns me that more isn't being expected at such a time when children are capable of learning to much more so quickly. Why have we dumbed down? "
"i'm finding it hard to do homework with my daughter who will be starting first grade. it's like over the summer she forgot simple words or what sounds certain letters make. what can i do to reinforce what she's learned and also try to give her a head start?"
"My son was able to read and relate to the stories in all of the Dick and Jane books before entering kindergarten. He can still do it of course, but I am very disappointed with the instruction he has received in kindergarten. Except for the books he has learned to read with my wife or I, he has not advanced beyond that level at all in school. I informed the teacher of his abilities, but apparently no programs for advanced readers are available in kindergarten. Even worse is his ability to write. He could neatly write things like: I love Mommy (or Daddy), and I am tired, and I am hungry. Now his handwriting has become hideous, to include backwards letters and numbers, and grossly misshapen writing as well. It's very frustrating."
"This article siginifies that my sons' teacher is on the right path. I had concerns because my son never lasted to long in the 'attention mode' I had him tested and he was not ADD but LAZY (my diagnosis). He has really been excited about school and comes home with his rhymes for the day. I purchased some cards (Go Fish) with alphabet so that he can learn to identify the Lower/Capital alphabet, He was so excited, he wanted to take the cards to school to share with friends. Thanks for the information that confirms that I am on the right path with my children. "