Unlike speaking, both reading and writing are not innate human skills. What your child learns will depend greatly on what they have been exposed to and taught.
Think of the reading and writing milestones below more as developmental trajectories, meaning that students tend to acquire these skills in this order, if not necessarily at these ages.
This article will deal with the nitty gritty of reading and writing, that is to say “decoding" and “encoding." Decoding is the process of translating symbols to sounds, what we think of as “reading," but without paying attention to the comprehension part. Encoding, on the other hand, is the process of translating sounds into symbols, or what we casually call “spelling." These milestones are intended to help you know what skills to support your child with at various ages, and to reflect on whether or not your child may benefit from additional support or a different teaching style.
Children’s ability to read types of words will always precede their ability to write those words, so the stages are purposefully a little bit misaligned that way. Here is a breakdown of the four major development stages from age three to age 14 and beyond, and what to look for as your child develops her reading and writing skills.
Before the age of three, there usually isn’t any explicit reading or writing instruction. However, it is helpful to expose children to books and texts to teach them early literacy concepts, such as which way a book goes, that you read top to bottom and left to right in English. (They do not need to know the words yet, but when they look at pictures on a page, they learn to look at the left one first.)
In the Emergent Reading stage, children:
In the Emergent Writing stage, children:
In the Partial Alphabetic (also known as “Initial") reading stage, children:
In the Letter-Alphabetic writing stage, children:
In the Full Alphabetic reading stage, children:
In the Within-Word writing stage, children learn a lot! There is a great deal of development that happens over these three years. Children:
In the Reading for Learning reading stage, children:
In the Affixes writing stage, from 9-11 children:
From 11-14 (and beyond), children:
After this stage, reading and writing become more about the content of the writing and the comprehension of the reading. By now, children can typically decode or encode most words except for tricky content-specific vocabulary, which relies more on vocabulary than decoding or encoding ability (although vocabulary plays a role in all reading).
If you are concerned about your child’s reading, speak to her teacher. If she has not met these milestones, it may be because she has not been taught a particular skill yet, in which case, her development is appropriate. If children are missing some of these developmental stages or milestones, a further follow-up or screening may be appropriate to ensure they receive the right education for their learning needs. Getting additional help is nothing to be ashamed of; many successful people have struggled with reading and writing. It is better to address any potential issues at a younger age, so that your child may hit these milestones at her own rate and with confidence.