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When Should Kids Learn to Read, Write, and Do Math?

Your child starting to read is just one of many educational milestones to watch for as a parent
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WebMD Feature

At one time or another, most parents wonder how their child is stacking up in school. Part of answering that is knowing when kids should learn to read, write, and do different kinds of math?

Ross A. Thompson, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of California at Davis tells WebMD there is a wide range of normal variation in many areas for young children. This can make it difficult, he says, to tell if a delay is really a problem. Thompson also says that measuring children against defined age benchmarks sometimes raises undue anxiety in parents.

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Still, general milestones can be helpful to parents as a guide. Missing a milestone doesn't always mean a child has a learning deficit or disability. It may simply mean that you need to make some changes in the classroom or at home to help your child learn and reach his or her full potential.

When kids learn reading: Milestones that matter

Pat Wolfe, EdD, education consultant, former teacher, and author of Building the Reading Brain, says you can tell by kindergarten-age whether children are likely to have trouble with reading. "Can they hear rhyming words? Do they know that squiggles on a page stand for sounds when they talk?" These are key pre-reading skills that lay the foundation for reading.

Often children start reading in the first grade. During that school year, watch for these signs of reading difficulty:

  • confusing letters
  • connecting the wrong sounds with letters
  • skipping words, not remembering words, or frequently guessing at unknown words, rather than sounding them out

If your child is having trouble reading by the end of first grade, begin by talking with her teacher to find ways to resolve the problem.

Ages 4-5: learning pre-reading skills

Kids learn to:

  • substitute words in rhyming patterns
  • write some letters
  • pronounce simple words
  • develop vocabulary

Ages 6-10: learning to read

Kids learn to:

  • read simple books by mid-first grade and know about 100 common words
  • understand that letters represent sounds, which form words, by mid-first grade
  • enjoy a variety of types of stories and talk about characters, settings and events
  • remember the names and sounds of all letters and recognize upper- and lowercase by second grade
  • read independently and fluently by third grade
  • sound out unfamiliar words when reading

Ages 11-13: "reading to learn"

Kids learn to:

  • read to learn about their hobbies and other interests and to study for school
  • comprehend more fully what they've read
  • read fiction, including chapter books, and nonfiction, including magazines and newspapers

When kids learn writing: Milestones that matter

Sheldon H. Horowitz, EdD, director of professional services for the National Center for Learning Disabilities, says, "Writing is a high-level skill, not as simple as sitting down with pencil on paper." It requires:

  • fine-motor skills to use a pencil or pen
  • understanding that letters make up words, and words represent things or ideas
  • organizational skills
  • grammar, spelling and punctuation skills
  • different kinds of memory

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