When Should My Child Read Independently? Average Reading Age

Reading & Phonics

Reading might be the most important academic skill a child acquires in primary school, and the “key” to opening any number of academic and career opportunities. It’s no wonder average reading age is a much-googled topic; success in reading is known to predict academic success in general.

Should a child be able to read by the time they finish kindergarten and enter grade one? What if they’re not interested or – worse – you’re struggling to have them cooperate with reading practice at all?

It’s important to understand that reading is a learned skill which must be taught over time. Identifying which stage your child is currently at in their reading journey can help you support them appropriately and lower expectations that they should be reading independently by the time they enter grade 1, or even grade 2. 

On the other hand, acknowledging that your child’s reading is not progressing at an appropriate pace can be the first step in seeking the literacy support your child needs to get their academic trajectory back on track.

When Do Most Children Learn to Read?

The average age of reading fluency isn’t an age at all but a range. By around grades 2 to 3, most children are beginning to read independently and acquiring fluency.

What’s important to understand is that reading fluently is a stage of skill development which must be preceded by earlier stages of pre-reading and learning to decode language. A child does not simply learn to read at a pre-determined developmental stage like they might learn to walk or learn to grip a crayon.

The 6 Stages of Reading Development

Renowned reading expert Jeanne Chall was a pioneering researcher and phonics advocate, who founded and led the Harvard Reading Laboratory from 1967 to 1991. In 1995, Chall defined six stages of development in a child’s reading journey:

1. Pre-reading (Infancy to Preschool) 

Children in this stage are working on oral language development and listening skills. 

2. Reading and Decoding (Grades 1-2)

Children in this stage are learning that letters represent sounds and becoming familiar with sound-spelling relationships.

3. Fluency (Grades 2-3)

Children are cementing their decoding skills and additional strategies to read well. Fluency is improving.

4. Reading for New Learning (Grades 4-8)

Children in this stage can now begin reading for enjoyment. They are developing strategic reading habits and using reading as a tool to expand vocabularies and build background and world knowledge.

5. Develop Multiple Viewpoints (High school)

At this stage, the reader can analyze texts critically and understand multiple points of view in a narrative or text. Reading for education and enjoyment are both pursued.

6. Construction and Reconstruction (Post-secondary to adulthood)

At this highest stage, a reader can take in a large amount of information by reading and then construct their own understanding through analysis and synthesis of what’s read.

Should I Worry if My Child’s Reading Is Delayed? 

Unlike speech and listening skills, children must be taught to read. As parents of multiple kids will know, this can happen anywhere between about ages 4 through 7 for most kids. Some may be a bit earlier or later. Some children seem to be natural readers who pick up the mechanics of decoding language easily and begin reading for pleasure at a young age.

Other children might struggle with reading and feel frustrated if they’re not “measuring up.” It’s understandable that a parent might worry about a child being left behind when reading fundamentals don’t seem to be progressing as quickly as they are for their peers. Academic and even behavioural complications can arise when reading expectations seem out of reach. 

According to Carol Leroy, director of the Reading and Language Centre at the University of Alberta: “Around grade two or three, they start to become really conscious of their reading—they can lose their confidence, stop taking risks, become afraid of being teased… That’s where we start to get behaviour issues; some kids will withdraw or stir up trouble to avoid reading, because it’s so painful for them.” 

The Matthew Effect in Reading and Academics 

As your child grows and encounters more complex academic matter and a greater variety of subjects and vocabulary, reading skills are not just essential, they may be predictive of future academic success.

Reading researcher Keith Stanovich first used the term “Matthew Effect” in 1986 to refer to the tendency of poor readers to continue struggling academically over time. This “rich get richer, poor get poorer” reference to the biblical book of Matthew sums up the evidence of reading research: competent early readers will tend to accumulate more and superior reading and academic knowledge than peers who struggle to read in primary grades.

Whether it’s a novel, a history textbook or a set of instructions for a science project, reading is a fundamental requisite for any number of academic and career paths.

The best possible start in reading can make a world of difference for your child’s relationship with reading and attitudes toward school. Give young readers the skills and time they need to acquire the building blocks of successful reading. At the same time, stay alert for behavioural resistance which might indicate your child is feeling stressed about reading and requiring some support. 

If you’re concerned your child may be falling behind due to difficulty reading, our in-depth Functional Literacy Assessments can help you advocate for your child’s unique needs at school.⁠


At what age did your child finally learn to read independently? Did your children learn to read at different ages? Share below!

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