Before learning more about your child’s literacy development, it helps to understand the general progression of literacy from birth to proficiency.  Different sources label the stages differently.  I have chosen to categorize the stages of literacy development into four stages: PRE-EMERGENT, EMERGENT READER, BEGINNING READER and INDEPENDENT READER.  Each stage can last for several years or a child can cruise through it in a year’s time.  I will offer ages that are associated with each stage of development as well, but keep in mind that there is a wide range of normal or typical development.



PRE-EMERGENT (Birth – Age 3)

– Handles books, turns pages, examines illustrations

– Asks to be read to

– “Reads” aloud and silently to self

– Memorizes passages or phrases in books

– Scribbles, imitates writing even if it isn’t legible


– Understands that the print in the book carries meaning (along with the illustrations)

– Notices environmental print (writing on toys, signs, food containers)

– Recognizes letters

Think of letter recognition as working in two directions:

1) The child looks at a letter A and names it.  This starts with a visual (the letter A) and ends with the oral representation (the spoken A).

2) The child is asked to find the letter A among many letters.  This starts with the oral representation (the spoken A) and ends with a visual (the letter A).

– Reads meaningful words such as name, mom, dad, etc.

– Writes meaningful words, such as name, may be inaccurately spelled or illegible

– Begins to match spoken words to written words

– Understands directionality of print (that we read left to right and top to bottom)

– Begins to understand that spoken words are made up of sounds, like hearing the sound /b/ at the beginning of boy

– Hears and produces rhyming language

– Knows some letter-sound relationships

Again, think of letter-sound relationships working in two directions:

1) Upon seeing the letter b, the child makes the /b/ sound.

2) Upon hearing the /b/ sound, the child states that the letter b represents that sound.


– Able to hear, count and manipulate sounds and syllables within words (Phonological awareness)


How many sounds are in the word luck?

What is the middle sound in the word bed?

What is the last syllable in the word buckle?

What are the individual sounds in the word blank?

What word do you have if you remove the sound /l/ from the word blank?

– Has mastered the letter-sound relationships

– Uses letter-sound relationships to decode (sound out) words

– Uses letter-sound relationships to spell phonetically-regular words

– Increases sight word vocabulary for both reading and writing

– Begins to write simple sentences

– Can read and understand simple texts, which are often composed of repetitive language, phonetically-regular words and high-frequency sight words

– Begins to self-monitor reading, making self-corrections when the error does not make sense or fit visual cues

– Starts to develop comprehension strategies such as predicting, using context, and rereading

INDEPENDENT READER (Ages 8 and upward)

– Develops greater reading fluency

– Reads independently in a variety of genres and for many purposes

– Uses word-identification strategies to read most unknown words

– Uses knowledge of roots, prefixes and suffixes to decode and understand the meaning of words

– Sight word vocabulary continues to grow

– Asks and answers (orally and in writing) explicit and open-ended questions related to text

– Written work is organized and coherent

– Uses reading skills to acquire new information **

** Third grade is considered the transition year from learning to read TO reading to learn.  If your literacy skills are delayed in grades kindergarten through second grade, you are still learning content through a variety of other mediums (teacher read alouds, discussions, investigations, creative play, visuals).  In third grade, the majority of content is presented in text format.  If you are not reading on grade-level and cannot read classroom materials well, you will miss out on a lot of instruction.  Thus, it is essential to be reading on grade level by third grade.

Information adapted from the following resources:

All Children Can Read, Literacy for Children with Combined Vision and Hearing Loss, National Consortium on Deaf-Blindness (NCDB) Literacy Practice Partnership (2006).  Literacy Development.

FIRST YEARS, Division of Speech and Hearing Sciences, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (2009). Literacy Development: Ages & Stages.

School of Education, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (2014).  Emergent Literacy (Early Childhood). Language Arts Standard 1, Literacy Development.



  1. […] of them are likely still pre-emergent or emergent readers.  A few are beginning readers.  See Developmental Stages of Literacy for more information.  That means that the majority of the students are only reading a few […]

  2. […] grade.  While these activities can be used with beginning readers, they are really designed for pre-emergent and emergent readers who are not reading at all or reading only a few […]

  3. […] For an explanation of the different stages of literacy development, including the emergent reader, read my post, Developmental Stages of Literacy. […]

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