Guest post: How to identify your child’s reading stage and help them progress

How to identify your child's reading stage and help them progress - Ever-changing Life of a Mum

I was a real bookworm when I was a child, devouring book after book after book. While my parents weren’t book lovers themselves, it was still something they encouraged me to do, buying me countless books and making endless trips to the library.

I have always enjoyed reading with my children and it appears that the apple really doesn’t fall far from the tree with my girls. Just before bedtime, they are always more than willing to read with me at the end of each night. It’s such a great way to finish the day.

So I jumped at the chance when Dymocks contacted me to see if I was interested in running a guest post and offered the opportunity to ask Dymocks Literacy Expert and State Director of the Australian Literacy Educator’s Association, Ryan Spencer a few questions of my own.

At my request, this post helps parents to identify children’s reading stages so they can progress. I also asked Dymocks to provide a few book recommendations for various age groups – I’ll be reviewing a few of these books in a later blog post.

I learned a great deal from this guest post and was pleasantly surprised when I realised I already had in place a few of the reading tips and strategies mentioned. I hope you also find it useful and informative for you and your children.

{Guest post} How to identify your child’s reading stage and help them progress

By Ryan Spencer, Dymocks Literacy Expert and State Director of the Australian Literacy Educator’s Association

When it comes to identifying a child’s reading stage, parents are often tempted to compare children of the same age to determine progression. However, this is by no means the best or most reliable indicator. Just like writing, reading is a complicated, developmental process and naturally, different children will advance in their reading ability at different paces.

Rather than determining reading progression by age, it’s best to view learning to read as occurring in three stages.


In this early stage, children are just starting to gain an understanding of how a text works and will display good book handling behaviours. They will know where the book begins and ends, and that text and pictures communicate a message. They can usually recognise a small number of high-frequency words (5-20 words) that occur regularly throughout a text.

How can parents help emerging readers progress:

  • Use environmental print to help your emerging reader to progress. Point out words on signs, around the home or at the supermarket.
  • Make reading and buying books a fun and exciting activity to encourage interest. Make frequent trips to the bookstore and let your kids pick out a book or two to take home.
  • Explore the meaning of text by talking about your child’s favourite books at bedtime and making links between these stories and the child’s own experiences.


In this secondary stage, children are becoming much more familiar with different texts and are displaying more confidence with reading. They will also start to read much more widely and independently. They can identify many more high-frequency words (20-50 words) and they also begin to self-correct words as they are reading. However, it’s still common for readers in this stage of development to read slowly and word by word, as they are still gaining valuable information from the text by which to make meaning.

How can parents help beginner readers progress:

  • Delve deeper into exploring the meaning behind texts, by encouraging comprehensive discussions about the book, the characters and storyline.
  • Make it a family activity whereby everyone shares their thoughts on what could potentially happen next after the book is finished.
  • Encourage your child to explore and read different texts that the author has written.


In this stage, readers are much more fluent in their reading capabilities. Often, they can read from a wide variety of different texts with minimal or no guidance. Additionally, they tend to use a range of different strategies to figure out unknown words, whether it’s skipping the word and allowing the meaning of the story to convey the message, reading on for more clues or substituting the word with another term that would also make sense.

How can parents help older readers progress:

  • Branch out to different types of texts and explore new discussions about their purposes and the characteristics of how these texts are made up.
  • Let your children choose what they want to read. By encouraging them to be adventurous and creative with book choice, you are establishing reading habits that will stay with them for a lifetime and will assist in their future academic development.

Q&A with Ryan Spencer

How to identify your child's reading stage and help them progress 2 - Ever-changing Life of a Mum

When should parents start reading with their children?

Reading from an early age provides a wealth of benefits for children including improved self-esteem and better language and communication skills.

It’s really never too early to start reading with your child. Sharing a story with your child from birth establishes a routine for reading and provides a peaceful, relaxing atmosphere for both baby and parents. Renowned and celebrated Australian author, and university academic, Mem Fox advocates the benefits that reading a child can provide at any age.

By sharing this important reading time together, children feel a valued part of the reading process. As they get older, they then feel welcomed and encouraged to join into predictable parts of the story.

How can parents continue to encourage their children to read so it continues throughout their school years and beyond?

To foster a genuine interest and love for reading, parents should resist teaching the book to children and treating every reading session as a learning exercise. Make reading an enjoyable and entertaining activity, rather than a tedious chore whereby children feel stressed or anxious about how they ‘should’ be progressing. Parents can employ creative tactics, such as changing up the physically reading location to keep things interesting, or reading together as a family with funny voices. Celebrating book choice is equally important. When parents remove restrictions, this increases a child’s self-efficacy towards reading, thus leading to an increase in their reading ability.

What tips can you provide for parents of children with advanced reading skills for their age group?

When parents are reading with a fluent reader, consider taking the post-reading discussions to a deeper level. Encourage your child to read different types of texts, explore their purposes and the unique characteristics of how these texts are made up. For example, with graphic novels, you could discuss how the author uses imagery to convey different elements of the story. Ultimately, this approach can help broaden your child’s exposure to different types of books, and encourage new topics for discussion.

How can parents help if their child is struggling or reluctant to read?

For reluctant readers, parents can adopt the following supportive strategies to help them progress.

  • Be patient and ask questions – Avoid being frustrated at your child every time they’re stuck on a word. Rather, guide them through the process patiently. Ask questions like: Does that make sense? Does the picture give you a clue? Could you read on for more information? These questions will remind your child of the different strategies they can use to figure out the broader meaning of the text.
  • Keep it interactive – One way to engage reluctant readers is to opt for novelty books with interactive features like pop-up displays, lift-up flaps and tactile elements. These books are much more likely to immerse children and encourage them to read for pleasure.
  • Mix movies with books – For older reluctant readers, parents can encourage children to engage with reading by seeking out books based on popular movies and television programs. This is a great way to extend their interests beyond watching the screen alone. Then discuss as a family how the story varies between the visual and print versions, and ask them which they prefer and why.

 What are some tips for selecting the right kind and level of book for your child?

There are no rules when it comes to choosing books to practise reading, as long as the book is enjoyable, and chosen by children. Parents are often misled into thinking that children need to focus on certain types of books to match their reading levels. However, this narrowly-focused approach to reading instruction can lead to unwanted effects, such as turning kids off reading altogether.

Children need to be engaged in reading material in order to enjoy practising reading skills. Instead of restricting book choice, encourage your kids to access different types of reading material in varying text formats, from nonfiction titles to graphic novels, biographies and even casual literature (e.g.  newspapers and magazines) or blogs.

If your child selects a book that is too hard for them to read independently, don’t dismiss their choice straight away. Rather, read that book together first, before suggesting other easier options.

Book recommendations from Dymocks

Dymocks children's book recommendations - Ever-changing Life of a Mum

 For emerging readers (aged under five years)

For beginner readers (aged five to six years)

For older readers (aged 10-11 years)

For more, choose from a wide selection of children’s books from Dymocks.

*This is not a sponsored post, I simply want to share my love of books and reading with others. However, I was gifted three books from Dymocks (Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes by Mem Fox $16.95, Friday Barnes Girl Detective by RA Spratt $5 and Billie B Brown Collection 1 by Lauren Child $24.99) for the purpose of a future book review on the blog.

10 thoughts on “Guest post: How to identify your child’s reading stage and help them progress

  1. This is great advice. My little Preppie is so keen to learn to read and I find the number of words she can recognise is growing daily. Thanks for the book selections. I might have to try some of them with her.

  2. My 4 year old is just now starting to recognise some words and I’m so freaking excited for her! I can’t wait until she can read, I used to get so much pleasure from hiding under my doona reading a book from cover to cover with my torch, I really hope she does too :).

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