If learning to read is like building a skyscraper, then kindergarten is the year to construct the most solid foundation possible. As part of that foundation, kindergartners will be working on the five pillars of kindergarten 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

All about the alphabet

This year, your kindergartner will be expected to recognize all 26 lowercase and uppercase letters — as well as their sounds. 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

Kindergartners need to learn the reading rules: that you start at the top of the page and going downwards, you read from left to right, and page by page. 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.

Related: Learn one simple way to boost your child’s reading skills.

Word sense and rhymes

Word play helps kindergartners understand how words are broken into individual syllables and how words with similar endings rhyme. The more exposure kindergartners get to how syllables and words work together, the more they’ll build their word knowledge.

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 their favorite book over and over (and over) again? Take heart! Your clever kindergartner is practicing decoding without even knowing it!

Related: Watch our Milestone video Does your kindergartner “decode” like this?

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? 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 fantastic tale.

Related: Check out our lists of classic childhood favorites and history books for kindergartners.

Building a knowledge bank

Kindergartners need to 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.

Related: Watch our Milestones video Does your kindergartner read to learn like this?

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; and compare and contrast characters and events in different stories.

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!

In kindergarten, this really just means finding — and literally pointing to — answers to questions. Your child could show evidence by flipping through the pages and finding the words — or the picture of the scene you asked about.

Related: Watch our Milestones video Does your kindergartner show understanding like this?

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.