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Phonics Programs for Kindergartners: How to Choose the Best One!

Phonics Programs for Kindergartners: How to Choose the Best One!

Kindergarten is a foundational year for a child’s academic career and reading success. At Reading Teacher, we understand the importance of this year - and as educators ourselves, we also recognize how difficult it can be to find a reliable phonics curriculum for a kindergarten classroom.


In the age of Google, finding quality resources takes a bit of time, patience, and research savvy. Fortunately, we’re here to do some of the hefty work for you. With a quality program and the principles of phonics in mind, you’ll be ready to embark on a year of phonics-filled fun, learning, and literary growth with your kindergarteners.

Phonics Programs for Kindergartners

What Phonics Should Be Taught In Kindergarten?


Whether you’re working in the classroom or creating a homeschool phonics program, kindergarten reading curricula should cover similar core topics. For kindergarten-age readers, a comprehensive phonics curriculum often addresses:


1.   Letter-Sound Awareness

This refers to activities that improve kindergartners’ phonemic awareness, or their understanding of the connection between written letters and their corresponding sounds.


2.   Short Vowel Patterns

After your reader masters those pesky letter sounds, they’re usually ready to move on to simple vowel patterns. A solid reading curriculum will help kindergartners learn the most common ways to spell short vowel sounds as well as CVC words, or “consonant-vowel-consonant” words. Think “cat,”, “hot,” and other common (and fun!) words sprinkled throughout your reader’s favorite book.


3.   R-Controlled Vowels

Also called “r-influenced vowels,” these occur when the letter “r” follows a vowel and impacts the vowel sound - which also makes it “Bossy R”!


4.   Blends and Digraphs

The ability to blend letters together complements kindergartners’ growing understanding of short vowels and digraphs. Digraphs are a bit trickier, as they combine two letters to represent one sound: for example, ph or ch.


5.   Long Vowels

Move over, short vowels! For long vowels, educators sometimes start with CVCe words: ones with a silent e. This makes for easy comparisons to short vowels, before readers learn the three other ways to form long vowel sounds.

Phonics Programs for Kids

What Are the 5 Principles of Phonics?


You may have heard of them already: those 5 principles that *should* be in any phonics curriculum for kindergarten. Whenever we encounter a “should” in the phonics discussion, it’s important to remember every kindergartner’s approach to reading will differ slightly.


Now, for the five principles of a phonics-based curriculum:


1.   Focus on written and spoken words!

In any kindergarten phonics program, a combination of phonemic awareness and phonics is key. For students to solidify their phonemic awareness, they must understand the relationship between sounds and letters (phonics), and be able to differentiate those sounds in speech (phonemic awareness).


2.   Explicit, systematic teaching.

We say it all the time, but this is an essential characteristic of any science-based phonics program.


3.   Practice reading and writing.

Writing is a fun, creative, and necessary component of learning how to read, even in kindergarten. Start early and encourage students to apply their phonics skills in writing activities.


4.   Be flexible.

Again, all students are different. Ultimately, educators should feel empowered to adapt their curricula to suit the needs of their students.


5.   Teach reading as a holistic subject.

Phonics is essential, but it’s not all about phonics! Kindergartners also need to develop their vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension skills.


Before selecting a phonics curriculum for kindergarten readers, ask yourself: is the program age-appropriate, and does it include activities that address these five principles? If the answer is “no” or “maybe,” it’s helpful to consider any scientific literature or research on the program.


A phonics program grounded in the science of reading will include explicit, systematic instruction. Ideally, it will also use silly, accessible stories like the I See Sam series, which will engage young readers, teach them phonics in bite-sized passages, and keep them reading far beyond kindergarten.

Phonics Programs for Kids



  • When looking for a phonics curriculum for kindergartners, parents and educators should assess whether they include activities for the following skills:
    • Letter-sound connections
    • Short and long vowels
    • R-controlled vowels
    • Blends and digraphs
  • Regardless of the curriculum, it’s important for kindergarten educators to keep these five principles in mind as they teach phonics:
    • Kindergartners need to practice both reading and speaking new sounds.
    • Explicit, systematic instruction is essential.
    • Reading and writing are a pair!
    • Flexibility is paramount.

Start Teaching Reading for Free Now!

Access Level 1’s four interactive stories and the accompanying supplemental resources to teach elementary students how to read. No credit card is needed. Join the 42,635 teachers and students using our reading program.

I See Sam Books: Fun-Filled Stories Lead to Phonics Success

I See Sam Books: Fun-Filled Stories Lead to Phonics Success

Finding books that engage and excite young readers is no small task. For parents and educators looking to upgrade their bookshelves, the I See Sam book series will quickly become a staple in their collection of phonics- and fun-filled books.


Reading Teacher is partially based on the I See Sam series, which has been downloaded from the Apple Bookstore over 1 million times since its inception. Today, we’ll explain how these simple books help young readers make big strides, and how Reading Teacher uses the same principles to ensure a strong reading foundation in preschool, kindergarten, and elementary school.


The Science Behind I See Sam Books


The I See Sam Readers use the Reading for All Learners (RALP) curriculum, which is appropriate for K-3. Like other science-based curricula, this program provides systematic, explicit approaches to early phonics instruction. Of course, most kids don’t just volunteer to do phonics worksheets: they need engaging, colorful stories to develop a positive attitude toward reading while learning the basic skills for success.


Using small, skill-based books, the I See Sam accomplishes just that. Each book is based on RALP, which is supported by over 30 years of research. The books are well aligned with the views of the National Reading Panel (NRP) as well as the Institute of Education Sciences, both of which address reading instruction research and practice.

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How Do the I See Sam Books Work?


Each book includes wacky stories and silly characters, which motivate children to read for pleasure - not just to work on their phonics skills. The underlying RALP curriculum touches on the Five Big Ideas of Reading, which we practice here at Reading Teacher. If you’re looking for new phonics readers, keep these five building blocks in mind as you read and work with your student.


1. Phonemic Awareness


Blending, segmenting, isolating, and recognizing: believe it or not, your student will develop all of these skills (and more!) as they learn to manipulate various units of sound. In 2006, the National Institute for Literacy highlighted these skills as predictive of long-term reading success. Together, they form the basis of phonemic awareness, which is the ability to manipulate sounds spoken words.


2. Phonics


At Reading Teacher, we talk about phonics all the time, but it’s heartfelt: we love phonics. In Put Reading First (2006), the authors write that phonics teaches children “that there are systematic and predictable relationships between written letters and spoken sounds.” Especially when read with another person, the I See Sam books reinforce the connection between speaking, reading, and listening.


3. Reading Fluency


Fluency is the ability to read smoothly and accurately with the appropriate expression. The RALP curriculum directly addresses text fluency: each RALP assessment specifies the criteria for “mastery,” which measures how quickly and accurately readers progress through the book.


4. Vocabulary


Vocabulary is a marker of reading fluency, The NRP acknowledges the connection between oral and written vocabulary and comprehension: in short, the more words that readers know, the more clues they have available to decode less-familiar words and phrases.


5. Comprehension


Comprehension relies on the previous four skills. When readers comprehend what they’re reading, they’re able to discuss it with others, which further deepens their understanding of the story.

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Where to Find I See Sam Books


You can find I See Sam books online, in most bookstores, or even in your local library. Students will encounter similar stories and reading exercises through Reading Teacher, which includes 100 animated stories across 25 different skill levels.


With 141 books and more than 300 reading lessons, you’re bound to find an I See Sam story that engages and motivates your reader. Each book gradually introduces new sounds and words, which are embedded in easy-to-follow narratives.


Decodable readers, science-backed lessons, and kid-friendly stories: these three elements will help kids find success and joy in every book.




  • Reading Teacher is based on the I See Sam book series, which uses short, engaging stories to reinforce five building blocks of reading:
    • Phonemic Awareness
    • Phonics
    • Fluency
    • Vocabulary
    • Comprehension
  • The efficacy of these books is supported by over 30 years of reading science. I See Sam continues to inform the stories and exercises used by Reading Teacher and other major literacy programs.

Start Teaching Reading for Free Now!

Access Level 1’s four interactive stories and the accompanying supplemental resources to teach elementary students how to read. No credit card is needed. Join the 42,635 teachers and students using our reading program.

10 Free Ways to Help Struggling Readers

10 Free Ways to Help Struggling Readers

You’re staring at your computer screen, researching activities for your struggling reader. You click on something promising, only to find yourself - yet again - staring at a paywall.

Where are the free activities for struggling readers? you ask yourself.


It’s a question as old as the Internet. But over the years, teachers and parents have banded together to compile some of the best - and 100% free - resources and activities for early readers, many of which are available to anyone with internet access.


Today, we discuss some of the most common reading challenges that kids face, followed by 10 free ways to help struggling readers reach the next level of reading achievement.

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Reasons Why Kids Might Struggle With Reading


With any new skill, there are bound to be moments of challenge and frustration. Some of the most common reasons why your child might struggle with reading include:


  • Poor phonemic awareness, meaning that it’s especially hard for the child to recognize the sound units (phonemes) in spoken words
  • Challenges with decoding
  • Learning disabilities, such as dyslexia
  • Lack of time or motivation to read


These are just a few potential culprits for reading challenges, but of course, every child is different. It’s important to connect with your reader and their teacher to identify common patterns of struggle, as well as any social or developmental factors that may shape their reading journey.


Free Resources to Help Struggling Readers

1. Phonological and Phonemic Awareness Cheat Sheet


Reading teachers love these fun and free “cheat sheet,” courtesy of Teachers Pay Teachers. The worksheet keeps 34 of the essential phonological and phonemic skills in one place, and helps teachers track their students’ phonics development.


2. Teach Your Monster to Read


Inspire a struggling reader with the power of magical literacy games. In a single game, kids will cover everything from letters and sounds to reading full sentences. They’ll mingle with monsters while developing invaluable reading skills; and best of all, the computer version is completely free.


3. Free Children’s Stories


This website is committed to providing free E-books and audio stories for kids. When they’re practicing those pesky phonemes, audio stories are especially helpful for young ears to hear. You’ll find tales for kids ages 3-10, as well as middle school novels and rhyming stories.


4. Free Phonics Games and Activities


Due to COVID-19, many educators have generously shared their classroom reading resources online. This comprehensive E-book is an aid for any classroom or parent working with readers at home. You’ll find a unit’s worth of spelling activities, phonics games, and writing practices to engage readers of all skill levels.


5. Letterland Activity Bank


Letterland offers loads of free resources for readers and parents on their website. If you’re looking for no-fuss reading activities for home, simply pull a game from their handy activity bank. There’s Short Vowels Bingo, a Letter Hunt, and lots more, and each activity has a specific reading objective.

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Other Ways to Support Struggling Readers

1. Offer Specific and Positive Encouragement!


Sometimes, kind words and clear directions are the best way to support a struggling reader. Both parents and teachers can celebrate the small wins: while reading with your student, focus on what they do well, and observe what you like about their reading or spelling. For example: “You spelled the word like it sounds. Awesome listening!”


2. Share Your Reading Mistakes


Adult readers make mistakes, too. When you’re reading with a child, you can model good reading comprehension strategies, like re-reading a confusing sentence or looking up the definition of a tricky word.


If a young reader sees an adult encounter and overcome a reading challenge, they’ll feel more confident to navigate their own. And yes, reading together is almost always free - not to mention, lots of fun.


3. Be a Homework Helper


If you know your child is struggling with reading or any other academic areas, check in about their homework every day. For older students, it can help to sit down together and “chunk” their workload into manageable parts. As a parent, homework offers an easy way to support your child, track their progress, and communicate any concerns to teachers.


4. Celebrate Their Interests


If your child refuses to read a certain genre of book, it’s important to remember that all reading counts: comics, magazines, and dinosaur encyclopedias included. The more children enjoy the book they’re reading, the more excited they’ll be for the next one.


5. Visit the Library


Your local library is a treasure trove. Many libraries host children’s reading clubs, author visits, and other exciting activities that will push struggling readers beyond their regular routines. Get out of the house or the classroom and support your local library: it’s a win-win for your student and your community.

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  • It can be difficult to find effective resources for struggling readers, but some of the best reading resources are already online - and they’re 100% free.
  • Being a supportive and proactive adult is also free of charge. By taking time to connect with your child and their educators, you’ll be ready to help them navigate all of life’s challenges: reading included.

Start Teaching Reading for Free Now!

Access Level 1’s four interactive stories and the accompanying supplemental resources to teach elementary students how to read. No credit card is needed. Join the 42,635 teachers and students using our reading program.

Phonemic Awareness Activities in Kindergarten

Phonemic Awareness Activities in Kindergarten

Kindergarten is a big year. It sets the foundation for a child’s social life, academic career, and reading success. Along with their early literacy skills, many kindergartners will also develop their phonemic awareness.


What do kindergartners’ grown-ups need to know about this essential skill? If you need a refresher (it never hurts!), we’ve got you covered.


Phonemic Awareness


Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear, recognize, and manipulate the individual sound units, or phonemes, in spoken words. “Manipulation” includes blending and segmenting words into their phonemes or substituting one sound for another: for example, swapping /c/ in “cat” with /r/ to make “rat.”

Phonemic Awareness Activities in Kindergarten

Why is Phonemic Awareness Important?


Phonemic awareness is important for one major reason: it’s the last skill to develop before students achieve full reading fluency, and it’s a major predictor of long-term reading success.


Before moving onto bigger and better things in first grade, it’s crucial for kindergartners to have strong phonemic awareness. The best methods for teaching reading in kindergarten involve daily practice, lots of patience, and plenty of phonics. With the support of an adult and the following activities, your kindergartner will become a phonics wizard in no time.


What Are Some Phonemic Awareness Activities for Kindergarten?


You asked: we answered! Here are some teacher-approved phonemic awareness activities for kindergartners, which can be easily implemented at school or home.


Rhyme Time


Stop: it’s rhyme time! Turn any moment into an opportunity to play with a simple rhyming phonics game. Throughout the day or at the dinner table, present a word to your child - for example, bat - and ask them to list as many rhyming words as possible (rat, sat, cat, bat, etc.).


Turn up the fun by adding a timer, or pose the rhyme in a 20-Questions-style format. For example: “I’m thinking of a food that rhymes with leg. What is it?” Answer: egg.

Phonemic Awareness Activities for Kindergartener

Beginning Sounds Bonanza


Grab some stuffed animals and toy foods (or real foods, if you’re careful!). Your kindergartner’s goal is to match the beginning sounds of the foods and the animals: for example, popcorn with a pony. This is an easy way to practice phonemic awareness at home; if you’re playing at school, each student can bring in a stuffed animal for some reading-friendly show-and-tell.


By mastering this skill (also known as sound discrimination), kindergartners will become better listeners - and over time, better readers. By paying attention to the beginning sound of each word, students pick up new words faster and master more complicated words in first grade and beyond.

Phonemic Awareness Activities for Kids

Silly Singing: The Nonsense Game


If you’re searching for phonemic awareness activities for groups, we’ve got you covered. Invite students to sit around you and ask them to close or cover their eyes. Then read or sing a familiar song or poem to them. The trick is to alter some of the wording: if you’re singing “Five Little Speckled Frogs,” for example, you might change sat on a speckled log to sat on a log speckled.


Whenever students notice a misphrased sentence, then can raise their hand and correct the mistake. While this is a more advanced activity, the teacher can modify difficulty based on skill level. Using a variety of songs and nursery rhymes, teachers can document students’ progress throughout the year: over time, your emergent readers will become serious sentence detectives!


Snail Speak


You and your kindergartner will “speak like snails” by taking simple words and stretching them out. For example, the word lamp becomes /llllaaaaammmmp/, so little ones can hear and feel each sound in the word. Start with shorter words, and then add more syllables as your child improves their snail speech!


Pro Tip: Phonemic awareness activities are focused on the sounds that words make, not their visual components (i.e. letters). With these suggested games, we’re working on sounding out words, not writing them down - but your kindergartner will get there soon!


What does phonemic awareness look like in kindergarten?


At the kindergarten level, phonemic awareness looks like learning how to manipulate sounds. In addition to blending and segmenting words, kindergartners will become “sound detectives” and learn how to isolate and identify the beginning, middle, and ending sounds of short words, ranging from two to three syllables in length.


By creating games and activities that focus on spoken and written words, adults help their youngsters become better readers and listeners.

Phonemic Awareness Activities


  • Phonemic awareness - the ability to hear, recognize, and manipulate phonemes in spoken words - is an essential reading skill.
  • Phonemic awareness activities in kindergarten should be fun and conversational, but also provide an appropriate challenge! Some of our favorite games involve rhyming, stuffed animals, silly songs, and speaking in funny voices.
  • These activities help young readers become better manipulators of sound, and challenge them to identify the beginning, middle, and ending sounds of increasingly complicated words.

Start Teaching Reading for Free Now!

Access Level 1’s four interactive stories and the accompanying supplemental resources to teach elementary students how to read. No credit card is needed. Join the 42,635 teachers and students using our reading program.

What Children Really Need to Learn: Reading Edition

What Children Really Need to Learn: Reading Edition

If your heart rate spikes after a quick glance at your child’s “learning objectives,” you’re not alone. The list of “things to know” by first grade, second grade, and so on can strike fear in the hearts of parents, educators, and especially young readers.


What does your child really need to learn to become a confident and fluent reader? Today, we’ll unpack this question and identify the key learning objectives for early readers. Then, we’ll discuss how reading programs for kids can support their grade-specific learning goals and your resting heart rate.

What Children Really Need to Learn

How do kids actually learn how to read?


Most kids learn to read by establishing a strong foundation in phonics. According to the science of reading, children need to learn how to identify letters, letter combinations (also known as “graphemes”), and their corresponding sound units, or “phonemes.” If you’re looking for more detailed information on phonics, check out our in-depth guide on how phonics helps kids learn to read.


What does a brain-on-books look like? A foundational study set out to answer this question by comparing the brain imaging of two different sets of readers. One group of children learned how to identify and segment words into letters and sounds, while the other group never received this explicit training. The researchers found that children had more long-term success if they first learned which letters corresponded to specific sounds, instead of trying to memorize words as wholes.


Fascinatingly, brain scans of both groups showed that the two instructional methods triggered different neural pathways. Those who learned how to read via phonics-based instruction could read aloud more quickly and accurately and were better able to recall the meanings of words. In short: they were better readers!


Best reading programs for kids


The best reading programs for kids are heavy on phonics and light on guesswork. They produce efficient decoders and critical thinkers.

How do kids actually learn how to read

In lieu of brain scans, there are other ways to determine the success of a reading program. Here’s our checklist for choosing a high-quality reading program


1. Phonics-based

In tune with current research, reading programs should emphasize phonics, decoding, and phonemic awareness: the ability to identify and manipulate sounds in words.


Of course, no emergent reader is entirely alike, so some kids may need more explicit phonics instruction than others. But to help youngsters build a strong foundation for lifelong reading, experts recommend explicit and consistent phonics instruction for young children and struggling readers.


2. Aligns with the science of reading

Is the program research-based? Ask yourself this question before making a decision on a supplemental reading curriculum. Any established reading program should be transparent about the scientific basis of its curriculum. Reading Teacher, for instance, uses the Orton-Gillingham Approach as a guide for its materials.


3. Provides tools for all kinds of learners.

Assess the depth and breadth of the program. A well-rounded reading program or intervention will offer a variety of tools for different kinds of learners: visual, kinesthetic, auditory, you name it. Some of our favorite tools at Reading Teacher include:

  • Printable books
  • Songs
  • Videos
  • Words cards
  • Printable worksheets

…And any other simple, engaging activities that are accessible to parents and educators.

reading programs for kids

4. Offers tools to track and celebrate progress.

Reading programs should be fun, challenging, and rewarding. Any young reader deserves to see and celebrate each milestone along their journey.


A well-structured program will include a tracking tool for parents and teachers to measure their students’ progress over time. Adults can offer small incentives along the way: with each new skill, readers might unlock a new story, literacy game, or physical prizes like bookmarks or “vouchers” that can be used to purchase new books.


Oftentimes, the best reading programs for kids are also the simplest. With a strong foundation in phonics, decoding, and phonemic awareness (as well as opportunities to celebrate the little wins!), your child will learn to read with confidence, enthusiasm, and scientific integrity.



  • Successful reading programs should adhere to the science of reading. This growing body of research illuminates the role of explicit phonics instruction, decoding, and phonemic awareness in any literacy curriculum.
  • When looking for reading programs, parents and teachers should consider the following:
    • Is the program phonics-based?
    • Does it align with the science of reading?
    • Does it provide tools for different kinds of readers?
    • Are there ways to track and celebrate students’ progress?
  • If you’re interested in the Reading Teacher program, we recommend using our reading placement assessment to identify your child’s starting level.

Start Teaching Reading for Free Now!

Access Level 1’s four interactive stories and the accompanying supplemental resources to teach elementary students how to read. No credit card is needed. Join the 42,635 teachers and students using our reading program.

What Are Early Literacy Skills

What Are Early Literacy Skills

best reading programs for kids

What counts as an early reader?


If you’re pals with a preschooler, you probably know one! Early readers, also called early emergent readers, are in the earliest stage of their reading journeys. They’re learning about reading and writing before they’ve actually learned to read and write. Parents and educators can expect lots of scribbling, pointing at familiar sight words, and a growing interest in characters and objects in books.


Youngsters will develop their early literacy skills until around age four or five, when many start to receive formal literacy instruction at school. Until then, it’s important to understand the basics of early reading and ignite your child’s interest in the vast world of books, stories, and characters.


Let’s get to it! We’ll outline the basic early literacy skills and help you feel prepared for this foundational stage of literacy development.


What Are the Basic Early Literacy Skills


By the time your child is showing an active interest in books and an ability to draw and “write” (well, scribble) on their own, they’re in the classic stage of early literacy.


Whenever we’re talking about stages of literacy development, it’s important to remember that children learn to read at different rates! Your child might start to read confidently in kindergarten, first grade, third grade, or later. As long as they have a supportive adult and educator by their side, there is no “correct” or expected time to transition from an early reader to a fluent reader.


With this in mind, here are six basic early literacy skills most commonly identified by reading experts.


1.    Print Motivation

This is a fancy way to describe a child’s early interest in books. The earlier you can encourage a child to engage with books, the better. Once they discover that listening to an adult read their favorite book is FUN, they’ll be more motivated to listen to and eventually read books on their own.

kids learning

2.    Print Awareness

Children have to be aware of words before they read them! This skill requires children to learn the basic “anatomy” of a book: its front and back covers, the first page, and how to read from left to right - and right side up!


Like any skill, print awareness grows with exposure to books. As you’re reading with your child, hold the book together and allow them to turn the pages. This familiarizes them with the look and feel of a traditional book.


3.    Narrative Skills

If your child is fond of describing or retelling stories from books, they’re practicing their narrative skills, meaning that they’ve comprehended what they read. These skills often develop alongside print motivation: after all, the better we comprehend a story, the more likely we’ll finish it and pick up a new book.


To help build narrative skills, don’t limit the magic of storytelling to books alone: you can also encourage kids to talk about a silly story from their day, and take time throughout the week to talk about repeated events or objects.


By helping children understand the connections between people, places, and feelings, they’ll discover that stories exist everywhere: both in and outside of books.

reading programs for kids

4.    Vocabulary

If you’ve ever caught your four year-old copying your adult-level vocabulary, you’re familiar with this early reading skill!


Sure, they’ll learn new vocab by simply spending time with their favorite grown-ups. But how can adults actively support early childhood vocab development?


In addition to reading books together, experts recommend that parents and educators speak to children in a conversational, positive tone. Giving commands and simple “yes”/”no” answers do not support the development of more nuanced, complex vocabulary.


5.    Letter Knowledge

Any fluent reader knows that a word is made up of individual letters. But in our early reading days, this was a major breakthrough.


To develop this simple skill, we can’t just sing the Alphabet Song. Children should also be encouraged to look and talk about different letters in ABC books and “I Spy” games. It’s equally important for children to learn about shapes during the early reading stage, since letters are made up of circles, squares, and other basic forms.

tools to improve literacy skills

6.    Phonological Awareness

One of our favorite early reading skills at Reading Teacher is phonological awareness: the ability to hear and manipulate sounds in spoken language. Children will start to develop this skill simply by hearing YOU, a supportive adult, read books to them.


Over time, early readers will learn to recognize when words rhyme and share the same starting or ending sounds. When reading a book aloud to an early reader, you can focus on this skill by “zooming in” on a new word, repeating it, and asking them to break the syllables apart by clapping: for example, “Oc/to/ber” or “Su/per/man” each require three claps.


It will take time, motivation, and patience to move from these early literacy skills to fluent reading. Yet as any adult reader can attest, this early investment is well worth a lifetime supply of books - and the joy they bring. Happy early reading!




  • Early reading skills, often used interchangeably with emergent reading skills, are developed from birth until a child gains the tools to actually read and write. These skills include:
    • Print motivation
    • Print awareness
    • Narrative skills
    • Vocabulary
    • Letter knowledge
    • Phonological awareness
  • These six skills are developed at home and/or in the classroom, through both regular exposure to books and in conversation with supportive adults.

Start Teaching Reading for Free Now!

Access Level 1’s four interactive stories and the accompanying supplemental resources to teach elementary students how to read. No credit card is needed. Join the 42,635 teachers and students using our reading program.

Fluency Practice Games

Fluency Practice Games

Imagine a robot reading a classic children’s book: perhaps Where the Wild Things Are or The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog. The robot’s voice sounds choppy, slow, and expressionless; and oddly enough, it reminds you of the way your first grader reads!


Many early readers are stuck in the “robot stage.” They can recognize and read many words, but their pace is slow and the expression isn’t quite right. In short: they haven’t developed reading fluency.


Today, we’re rescuing you from the robots. We’ll explain reading fluency, outline why it’s important, and offer five reading games that help youngsters practice this essential reading skill.

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What does reading fluency mean?


Reading fluency means the ability to read smoothly and accurately with speed, expression, and confidence. If you compare a kindergartner to a literate adult, you’ll probably notice that the kindergartner reads choppily and slowly.


Why is reading fluency important?


Reading fluency is important because it’s essential for comprehension. If children are slowed down by decoding each word, they have less brain power to focus on the meaning of the words and story.


As they build their vocabulary of sight words, learn to decode, and explore more book genres, young book lovers will blossom into fluent readers.


But how do we get there? The answer is lots of practice, lots of reading, and plenty of games.


Yes, you heard that right. Fun reading games are not only helpful, but 100% necessary when working toward the goal of reading fluency. Here are five reading fluency activities to introduce at-home, in the classroom, or even during the drive to soccer practice.


1.   Speed Read


When it comes to any educational activity, it’s important to remember that accuracy is always more important than speed. To achieve fluency, however, students need to gradually increasing their reading pace. Even as adults, some people read slower than others: the goal is to become a smoother, more confident reader.


For this reading game, you’ll just need a set of flashcards with decodable words. Lay one or a few cards out and have the student(s) read as many words as they can in a minute. This can be done in groups and doesn’t need to be competitive! Simply document the student’s word count each day so they can see their progress over time.

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2.   Echo Reading


Echo… echo! Many youngsters find it challenging to read with the correct expression or emotion. In this reading game, an adult reads a passage aloud with lots of expression; then, the student echoes their reading and tries to match the expression used.


3.   Poetry Party


Poems are a sneaky way to incorporate creativity and reading fluency practice into a standard lesson. Rhyming poems are perfect for building fluency: they help students see and hear the relationships between words in a sentence.


Similar to echo reading, have students read poems aloud after a teacher recites them; and in older classrooms, they can write and read their own!


4.   Look Ahead


It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a WORD! Teach students to “look ahead” or preview the next word in the sentence with this simple reading game. To gamify this concept, you can create a silly worksheet or have kids draw arrows to the words they’ll need to preview. See below for an example!

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5.   Read Like You Speak


This is a simple strategy to avoid robot reading. Encourage kids to read like they are talking to a friend or loved one. To create the right “atmosphere” for reading, they can practice in a familiar space at home in front of a parent, sibling, or even stuffed animals. As an audience member, encourage the student to speak in phrases and stop for breaths - just like they would in an everyday conversation.


With these five reading games at your disposal, you can help your students increase their reading fluency - and bid goodbye to robot reading.

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  • Reading fluency is the ability to read with expression, speed, and accuracy. Fluency is essential for reading comprehension, and both are building blocks for lifelong literacy.
  • There are a variety of reading games to help kids stretch their reading muscles and improve reading fluency, including:
    • Speed Reading
    • Echo Reading (to practice emotion)
    • Poetry Party (to practice rhyming!)
    • Looking Ahead (at the next word)
    • Read Like You Speak

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Heart Word Mapping: A Magic Method to Teach Sight Words

Heart Word Mapping: A Magic Method to Teach Sight Words

In every reading lesson, there’s always room for fun, creativity, and maybe even magic.


If you’re planning to teach high-frequency or sight words, it’s time to add some heart word magic to your lesson plan.


Let’s uncover the difference between sight and high-frequency words, dive into the details of the heart word method, and help early readers learn those tricky heart words with a sprinkle of magic.

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Sight Words vs. High-Frequency Words


Simply put, high-frequency words are the ones most commonly seen and used in a child’s native language. In the English language, there are hundreds of recurring words: some examples include “said,” “it,” “was,” “for,” and “with.”


Sight words are more specifically defined as simple words that a reader can “see” and pronounce without sounding out or guessing. Examples include “the,” “a,”, “I,” “to,” and other words that can’t be sounded out easily out but appear regularly in decodable books.


There is some debate among reading experts regarding the difference between sight words vs. high-frequency words: we’re talking about the science of reading, after all! Some researchers argue that some sight words are phonetically regular  - and, therefore, decodable.


For the sake of simplicity, just remember that heart word mapping can be used to help readers learn both sight words and high-frequency words. The goal is to turn high-frequency words into sight words so that students can read them effortlessly.

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What are heart words?


Heart words are high-frequency irregular words that don’t follow the standard rules of spelling. These words are often compared to flash words: high-frequency and regularly-spelled words that many students learn “in a flash.”


Some common heart words include:

  • said
  • were
  • where
  • do
  • one
  • very


…and plenty more! The “magic key” to learning heart words is focusing on what can be sounded out. Even in these sneaky irregular words, students can put their decoding skills to action using the heart word method.

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How To Teach Heart Words


Once you’ve defined and created a list of heart words, it’s time to witness the magic of heart word mapping. Here are the main steps for teaching heart words to early readers:


1) Introduce the words and have students practice saying it aloud.


2) Together, tap out each sound you hear in the word. Students can use their fingers to tap and count the sounds. Tally the taps to determine how many sounds they hear in the word!


3) Identify the sounds in the word that can be sounded out phonetically. Once students have identified the regular sounds, they can place a colored box under each corresponding letter. Here’s a quick example.


a) In the word was, the /w/ sound is phonetically regular. However, the /as/ sound is irregular in this context - which can be tricky for little ears to hear!

b) Readers will place a colored box under “w”: the only letter that can be sounded out regularly.


4) Here come the irregular sounds! Students will place a heart under the letters that correspond to the irregular sound.

a) Again using the word was as an example, students would draw a heart below the /as/.


5) Educators should explicitly teach the irregular sound formed by the heart letters. The goal is to learn this sound “by heart” so that students can effortlessly read the entire heart word.


Heart Word Activities


The learning doesn’t stop here! After students create their heart word maps, they’re ready to jump into some heart-filled activities. Here are some ideas to get hearts beatin’ and youngsters reading with confidence.

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1.    Heart Word Hot Seat


Put heart words in the hot seat! Ask students a variety of interview-style questions about a given heart word:


a) What is its first/ last letter?

b) What are the heart letters?

c) Can you use the word in a sentence?

d) Can you think of a word that rhymes with the heart word?


Encourage students to think aloud and brainstorm with each other to answer these questions and get to know their heart words better!


2.     Heart Word Flashcards


Move over, store-bought flashcards! Students can create their own colorful flashcards and put a heart around or under the heart letters in each word. Students will learn more about each word by creating their own flashcards - and they’ll end up with a homemade resource to continue practicing their heart words.


3.     Air Writing


If students are struggling to look away from their flashcards, encourage them to snap a mental photograph of a heart word, then cover it up and write it in the air with their finger. This simple activity helps students exercise their writing muscles and encourages long-term memorization of heart words.

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Heart word mapping helps students visualize and memorize those pesky irregular words. Create a list of heart words, get out your pens and paper, and prepare yourself for some heart word magic.




  • Heart words are phonetically irregular words that occur frequently in text and spoken language.
  • Heart word mapping can help students read sight words and high-frequency words more fluently.
  • After students learn how to create heart word maps, educators can lead them through a variety of related activities, including:
    • Heart Word Hot Seat
    • Heart Word Flashcards

Start Teaching Reading for Free Now!

Access Level 1’s four interactive stories and the accompanying supplemental resources to teach elementary students how to read. No credit card is needed. Join the 42,635 teachers and students using our reading program.

When Do Emergent Literacy Skills Begin to Develop?

When Do Emergent Literacy Skills Begin to Develop?

Ah, literacy lingo: it’s loved by researchers and tolerated (begrudgingly!) by parents and teachers.


If you’re a teacher or parent of an emergent reader, you’ve likely encountered your fair share of reading-related lingo. While language evolves with our understanding of how young people learn to read, it can be taxing to keep up!


Today, we’re unpacking the lingo of emergent literacy. We’ll discuss what emergent literacy means and when these skills develop; as always, we’ll follow with research-backed strategies to encourage emergent readers when words get tough.

Emergent Literacy Skills Begin to Develop

What is an Emergent Reader?


First, a quick recap: an emergent reader is literally “emerging” into a new phase of reading potential. You’ll notice that an emergent reader displays some - or all - of the following behaviors:

  • Points out high-frequency words in books and in everyday contexts (for example, on signs or menus)
  • Writes in scribbles or incoherent strings of letters
  • Expresses excitement about reading and listening to others read


There’s no “correct” timing or sequence for the development of emergent literacy skills. That said, many researchers argue that literacy skills begin to develop from birth. As soon as children begin to see and interact with print at home, in public settings like the store or daycare, and eventually at school, they’ll begin to recognize and point out familiar words and symbols.


Why Emergent Literacy is Important


Compared to other stages of literacy development, researchers emphasize emergent literacy as the foundation of lifelong learning. From birth to the preschool years, children absorb a remarkable amount of information. As a supportive adult, it’s less important to follow and perfect the lingo of literacy, as it’s always changing! Instead, we encourage parents and educators to concentrate on and encourage children’s natural interests in words, stories, and images.


The importance of emergent literacy can also be explained using the relationship between written and spoken language. As fluent readers, we don’t just read in silence: frequently, we also read aloud and speak to others about what we’ve just read! When surrounded by fluent adult readers, emergent readers will gradually develop their sound awareness - the ability to hear phonemes - and their confidence.


In this way, you can think of emergent literacy as a 24/7 Book Club. Emergent readers are seeing and sounding out new words on a daily basis; ideally, they’re given ample opportunities to talk about the new words and stories they hear or see hear.

Emergent Literacy Skills

Emergent Literacy Activities


Even before children begin school, they’re considered emergent readers. Using the following activities, you can engage your reader in the joy of reading, writing, and sharing books with others.


Before Preschool:


1.     Talk, talk, talk!

Talk to your child. Name objects, people, and events in your everyday world.


2.     Sound repetition

Young children will often string together series of sounds. Those sound strings might be incomprehensible now, but they’re worth repeating! Hearing am adult speak the same sounds back to them will enhance a child’s sound awareness - and, over time, their ability to hear and speak new words.


3.     Point!

When it comes to reading, pointing isn’t considered poor manners! For emergent readers, pointing out signs and logos will improve their recognition of print in everyday contexts.


During Preschool:


1.     Singing and rhyming

Sing it out! Many songs incorporate rhymes and short words that are easy for little ears to hear and sound out on their own. A rhyming song structure also demonstrates how different words can sound and feel similar when spoken aloud.


2.     Drawing

Take a break from the daily reading lesson: it’s time to unlock your child’s creative side. Drawing can help emergent readers communicate more complicated stories and ideas, even before they have the writing skills to do so.

emergent literacy

After Preschool:


1.     Popcorn reading:

As your child becomes more comfortable with reading, you can play “popcorn” and take turns reading parts of a book. Your child gets to hear proper pronunciation, practice their own, and enjoy some quality time with one of their favorite adults!


2.     Games

Emergent literacy is a time of exploration and play - so games are a natural addition to the learning process! Some of our favorite games for this age group emphasize pretend play. Any emergent reader can design a fantasy world inspired by their favorite book or story.

Adults can even create a “mystery box” filled with creative and educational materials, such as a notepad for writing secret messages or an object related to a story the child just read.

emergent reader



  • Emergent literacy spans from birth to the preschool years, although the timeframe varies depending on the child and other situational factors.
  • The emergent phase of reading development sets the foundation for a child’s reading journey.
    • As emergent readers, children develop their sound awareness and begin to recognize the relationship between words and spoken language.
  • To support emergent readers through preschool and beyond, adults can use a variety of low-cost activities that focus on sound awareness, pronunciation, and play!

Start Teaching Reading for Free Now!

Access Level 1’s four interactive stories and the accompanying supplemental resources to teach elementary students how to read. No credit card is needed. Join the 42,635 teachers and students using our reading program.

What Age Should a Child Be Able to Read?

What Age Should a Child Be Able to Read?

Certainly, it’s rare to see a baby reading. But by the time your Baby Einstein reaches first or second grade, should they be able to read?


Whether you’re a parent, educator, or just a curious reader, this question is both incredibly common and highly contested. Like any other developmental skill, reading is a process: one that can vary dramatically based on a student’s environment, personal interests, and their reading curriculum.


After months of virtual reading instruction, the expected timeframe to reach reading fluency has changed significantly. Whether your 1st grader is struggling to read or your high schooler chooses TikTok over books, just remember: you’re not alone in the struggle!


Today, we’re addressing one of the biggest FAQs in the science of reading - and dispelling some common myths stirred up by this debate.

Age of a Child Be Able to Read

When Do Kids Learn to Read?

According to U.S. News, reading experts say that most children learn to read by age 6 or 7, when they’re typically in first or second grade.


While this is an average, there is no “normal” age for learning how to read. As with any developmental milestone, rates of reading progress will vary: some parents report that their children are reading competently at age 3, while other readers don’t achieve full fluency (and confidence!) until age 12 or 13.


The main takeaway? Regardless of when students learn how to read, the’re most likely to succeed when they have access to high-quality literacy instruction with an emphasis on phonemic awareness and decoding. In particular, past studies have illuminated phonemic awareness as the key differentiator between good readers and “late bloomers.”

Teach your child learn to read

Without early reading intervention, researchers found that average and below-average readers developed significant skill deficits that perpetuated reading gaps, even through high school.


Reading Milestones by Grade

If you’re trying to determine where your student falls along the path to reading fluency, experts suggest the following reading milestones:


Most toddlers are emergent readers. They may not know how to read, but many look forward to Story Time. If you’re the parent of a toddler (or any emergent reader), you’ve probably committed their favorite book to memory. Many toddlers also write in scribbles: if anything, they understand that reading and writing are powerful tools of communication.


Similar to toddlers, most preschoolers are still in the emergent stage of reading! Preschoolers may also learn the alphabet song and even recognize the first letter of their name. You might see them pretending to read and/or pointing out high-frequency words in everyday life, like “STOP” on a stop sign.


When kids hit kindergarten, it’s usually time to zoom in on the foundations of reading. Not every child has regular opportunities to read at home, so it’s important for educators to teach the basic structure of a book: the front, back, title, author, and the sentences that make up a story! Many kindergartners also learn about rhyming, one-syllable words, and sight words.

First and Second Graders:

Many first and second graders are still developing readers. They’re solidifying the basics of reading: the alphabet, decoding, phonics, and sight words, all of which are essential for long-term reading fluency.

Third Grade and Beyond:

Realistically, many older elementary students are still developing their reading skills! By third grade, they’re often transitioning to longer books. Even as the texts become more complicated, they’ll persevere with their decoding skills. Eventually, picture books will be in the rear-view mirror, and they’ll advance to both reading and writing in paragraphs.

How To Support a Struggling First Grader


Parents may begin to notice early literacy issues in first grade, when learning to read is often a main focus in the classroom.

While most kids won’t achieve full reading competency until they’re in elementary school, starting their reading journey early is often beneficial. Here are some simple-yet-powerful tips to support a first grader who’s struggling to read:

Read aloud - and together.

The power of simply reading words aloud should not be overlooked. Reading aloud is helpful for first graders who are just grasping their phonemes, as well as older readers who may want to practice new vocabulary words in the presence of a supportive adult.


Get playful! Hands-on, creative reading lessons are the best for struggling readers and kinesthetic learners. Incorporate word maps, phoneme poppers, and any other lesson format that gets your reader thinking and moving.


An important disclaimer: these tips aren’t exclusively for first graders! There’s no cut-off for learning how to read. As schools continue to recover from learning loss, a combination of phonics, playfulness, and patience is needed to help students to reach - and then surpass - their next reading milestone.

learn to read


  • While there’s no “normal” age for a student to learn how to read, many U.S. classrooms teach the foundations of reading in first and second grade, when students are typically 6 or 7 years old.
  • Most literacy experts agree on general reading milestones based on grade; but these vary depending on the reading curriculum and students’ unique skills, needs, and experiences.
  • As classrooms recover from the pandemic, supportive adults are encouraged to adopt a playful, patient approach with any young reader - regardless of the student’s age!

Start Teaching Reading for Free Now!

Access Level 1’s four interactive stories and the accompanying supplemental resources to teach elementary students how to read. No credit card is needed. Join the 42,635 teachers and students using our reading program.