Reading Checkup Guide

Helping Your Children Become Better Readers

Dear Parents and Caregivers:

America needs every child to read. Yet as we step forward into a new century, millions of our children are falling behind.

  • More than 40% of fourth-graders read below their grade level.*
  • An alarming 6.4 million children between kindergarten and third grade now face an illiterate future.**

That's why Reading Is Fundamental® (RIF®) is taking action to ensure that every child has a literate future. RIF is the nation's oldest and largest children's literacy organization and the leader in motivating children to read. Last year alone, more than 240,000 RIF volunteers brought new books to 3.5 million children utilizing a national network of community-based programs.

RIF developed this Reading Checkup Guide in consultation with some of America's leading educators and researchers. The guide is packed with practical advice about what you can do to nurture your children's emerging literacy skills and interest in reading.

A special thanks to Visa U.S.A. for reissuing this guide and continuing the "Read Me a Story" program—focusing national attention on the critical state of reading in America and helping to ensure that all our children become readers.  

William E. Trueheart, Ed.D.
President & CEO
Reading Is Fundamental, Inc.

* NAEP 1994 Reading Report Card for the Nation and the States, U.S. Department of Education, 1996.
** McKinsey & Company, Inc. Prepared for the Presidents' Summit for America's Future, 1996-7.

"Read Me a Story" Helps Inspire Children to Read

In the past, Visa's "Read Me a Story" national donation program has benefited Reading Is Fundamental (RIF). Dedicated to inspiring children to read, the program has raised more than $2 million—through Visa® card usage—to support children's literacy programs nationwide. And with the additional help of RIF volunteers, more than 4 million stories have been read to children as part of this worthy cause.

  1. A Note from from the American Academy of Pediatrics
  2. Babies and Toddlers
  3. Preschoolers - 3 to 5 years old
  4. Soon to Be Readers - Pre-Kinder to Grade 1
  5. Beginning Readers - Kindergarten to Grade 2
  6. Developing Readers - Grades 2 and 3
  7. Independent Readers - Age 3 and Up
  8. How to Nurture Readers
  9. How to Use Reading Check-Up

A Special Note from the American Academy of Pediatrics

As president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, I can tell you that you can make a difference by reading to your child.

Pediatricians are acutely aware of the role that reading plays in infant brain and child development. We strongly recommend that parents read to their children daily from six months of age.

Reading aloud to children helps stimulate brain development, yet only 50% of infants and toddlers are routinely read to by their parents.*

Make reading an important and pleasurable experience in your home. Reading with your child not only stimulates development of your child's brain, but also fuels a close emotional relationship between you and your child.

This "Read Me a Story" Reading Checkup Guide covers six stages of early reading development. It is designed to give you and other caring adults practical information about how to help your child grow up reading.

We applaud RIF for developing this guide and Visa for making it available again this year.

Joseph R. Zanga, M.D., F.A.A.P.
1997-98 President
American Academy of Pediatrics

* Starting Points, the 1994 report of the Carnegie Corporation.


Reading CheckUp for Babies & Toddlers


Newborn to age 2
It's never too soon to begin reading to your child. Babies enjoy hearing a parent's voice, even if they can't understand the words. They soak up the language and attention. Toddlers and twos can listen longer and follow a simple story. They focus on the pictures, but they are learning some of "the basics" about reading, such as how to hold a book and turn the pages. They are also learning to love it.

Does your child...

1. Respond happily to reading by waving hands or batting the pages?
a. not yet b. sometimes c. often

2. Treat books differently than other playthings?
a. not yet b. sometimes c. often

3. Join in when you read rhymes, sounds or lines that repeat?
a. not yet b. sometimes c. often

4. Want you to read the same book again and again?
a. not yet b. sometimes c. often

Can your child...

1. Hold a book right-side up and turn the pages one at a time?
a. not yet b. sometimes c. often

2. Point to something in a picture and say its name?
a. not yet b. sometimes c. often

3. Retell something that happened during the day?
a. not yet b. some words c. often

4. Hold a crayon in a fist and scribble?
a. not yet b. without control c. with control

Not to worry! It's okay if your child...

  • Teethes on books or handles them roughly at first. Babies treat books like toys.
  • Quickly loses interest or is easily distracted when you read. Skip to a favorite page.
  • Wants to read the same story over and over again. Children learn through repetition.
  • Shows little interest in reading. Put the book down and try again later.

How you can help...

  • Read aloud to a young baby for only a few minutes at a time. Read a little longer as your older baby or toddler is willing to listen.
  • Point to things in picture books and name them. As your children learn to talk, ask them to "point and say."
  • Set aside at least one regularly-scheduled time each day for reading. Make it part of your toddler's routine. Also take toddlers to the library or book store for story hour.
  • Recite nursery rhymes and sing songs. Rhymes help develop a young child's ear for language.

Book shelf

  • Cloth, vinyl and board books that are durable for babies
  • Books with familiar objects for naming
  • Simple stories about a toddler's everyday experiences
  • A collection of Mother Goose or other nursery rhymes

Ages 3 to 5 years

Preschoolers are aware of print in the world around them and on the page. They may pretend to read favorite books. This "pretend reading" helps set the stage for real reading, and helps children begin to think of themselves as readers.

Does your child...

1. Retell a story by looking at the pictures?
a. not yet b. sometimes c. often

2. Pretend to read a book by memorizing the words?
a. not yet b. sometimes c. often

3. Ask questions while you are reading?
a. not yet b. sometimes c. often

4. Make marks that look like letters?
a. not yet b. makes marks c. prints letters

Can your child...

1. Recite nursery rhymes and sing songs?
a. not yet b. sometimes c. often

2. Predict what will happen next in the story?
a. not yet b. sometimes c. often

3. Read or recognize "Stop" on a stop sign, brand names, and other familiar print?
a. not yet b. sometimes c. often

4. Identify and name the letters of the alphabet?
a. not yet b. some letters c. most letters

Not to worry! It's okay if your child...

  • Asks a lot of questions while you read. Children learn through talking about books.
  • Can't sit still for a story. Some children listen better while drawing or playing with a toy.
  • Writes letters or words backwards. Preschoolers are still getting oriented.
  • Prefers information to storybooks. Some children do!

How you can help...

  • Encourage your children to join in while you read. Pause to let them fill in a rhyming word or repeating line: "I'll huff and I'll puff...."
  • Ask open-ended questions, such as, "What do you think is going to happen next?" or "Why do you think he did that?"
  • Move your finger under the words as you read aloud. This helps preschoolers connect printed words to spoken words.
  • Begin teaching the letters of the alphabet, starting with the ones in your child's own name. Make letter- learning fun with markers, magnets, glue and glitter.

Book shelf

  • Concept books, such as counting books and A-B-C books
  • "Pattern books" with rhymes and repetition
  • Simple stories with predictable plots
  • Information picture books

Pre-kindergarten through grade 1

Children are "soon-to-be readers" when they know most of the letters of the alphabet and some of their sounds. They may ask, "Does this say boot?" and point to a word on the page that starts with b. They can retell a story in more detail, and may use book-like language, such as "Once upon a time."

Does your child...

1. Tell stories that have a beginning, middle and end?
a. not yet b. sometimes c. often

2. Look at print and ask, "Where does it say this?" or, "What does this say?"
a. not yet b. sometimes c. often

3. Spend time looking at books independently?
a. not yet b. sometimes c. often

4. Choose books to read over other play activities?
a. not yet b. sometimes c. often

Can your child...

1. Say the sound associated with each letter of the alphabet?
a. not yet b. some sounds c. most sounds

2. Recognize and sight-read words in a favorite book?
a. not yet b. a few words c. many words

3. Answer open-ended story questions like, "How do you think that made him feel?"
a. not yet b. sometimes c. often

4. Print the letters of the alphabet?
a. not yet b. some letters c. most letters

Not to worry! It's okay if your child...

  • Seems to be in this "almost reading" stage for quite a while.
  • Writes letters or words you can't decipher. Ask your child to read them to you.
  • Mixes up letters that look alike.

How you can help...

  • Encourage your soon-to-be reader without pressuring or pushing.
  • Playfully reinforce letter names and sounds. Play "I spy something that starts with a 'p' sound..." or make a list together of words you know that begin with an 'm' sound.
  • Go places and do things with your soon-to-be reader. Knowledge and experiences help children understand the words they'll soon be reading.
  • Have plenty of paper, crayons and pencils readily available for your children to use, and a place to display their pictures and writing.

Book shelf

  • Picture books with more sophisticated story lines
  • Poetry and rhyming books to reinforce word patterns
  • Easy-to-read books with words your child can recognize and read
  • Information picture books to add to your child's knowledge

Kindergarten through grade 2

Beginners stumble over words they don't know, sounding them out or guessing from their use in the sentence. Children in this stage of reading development need to see progress and often learn best through repetition. After rereading a sentence or simple book, they'll recognize more of the words and read more smoothly.

Does your child...

1. Try to sound out words?
a. not yet b. sometimes c. often

2. Guess at a word from its meaning or use in the sentence?
a. not yet b. sometimes c. often

3. Use what they know about letter sounds to spell words?
a. not yet b. sometimes c. often

4. Seem eager to read independently?
a. not yet b. sometimes c. very eager

Can your child...

1. Read and use punctuation, such as periods and question marks?
a. not yet b. sometimes c. often

2. Recognize and read familiar words outside of books?
a. not yet b. sometimes c. often

3. Retell a story in specific detail?
a. not yet b. sometimes c. often

4. Reread a sentence or story with expression?
a. not yet b. sometimes c. often

Not to worry! It's okay if your child...

  • Doesn't notice or correct all mistakes.
  • Reads without expression. When your child can get past the words and focus on meaning, expression will follow.
  • Makes logical spelling mistakes. Beginners spell words the way they hear them.

How you can help...

  • Let your child gradually share some of the reading aloud. You read a sentence, paragraph or page, then it's your child's turn. Take over if your beginner seems tired or discouraged so that reading continues to be enjoyable, not just hard work.
  • If your child can't sound out a word, suggest skipping it, reading the rest of the sentence, and deciding what word would make sense.
  • Leave notes for your child to discover and read on the refrigerator or in a lunch bag.
  • Take your new reader to the library to sign up for his or her own library card. Book shelf
  • Read-aloud books with stronger plots and higher vocabulary
  • Easy-to-read books your child can read alone
  • A variety of genres, including nonfiction and poetry

Grades 2 and 3

Developing readers recognize many more words on sight than they did as beginners. They combine strategies, using meaning as well as "sounding out" words they don't know. Sometimes they substitute words that are similar in appearance and meaning, but they are becoming more skilled at catching mistakes. Developing readers are also becoming better silent readers. And they write more!

Does your child...

1. Read silently when reading to him or herself?
a. not yet b. sometimes c. often

2. Seem aware of mistakes and try to correct them?
a. not yet b. sometimes c. often

3. Use more than one reading strategy to figure out new words?
a. sounds out b. uses meaning c. uses both

4. Read chapter books and other items that cannot be completed in one sitting?
a. not yet b. sometimes c. often

Can your child...

1. Find information in a book or on a computer without help?
a. not yet b. sometimes c. often

2. Read aloud with expression?
a. not yet b. some expression c. lots of expression

3. Write words using conventional spelling?
a. not yet b. sometimes c. more and more

4. Leave phone messages, make lists, send e-mail and do other kinds of writing?
a. not yet b. sometimes c. more and more

Not to worry! It's okay if your child...

  • Still sounds choppy when reading aloud. Rereading can help smooth it out.
  • Makes spelling mistakes. Spelling patterns take time to learn.
  • Reads books that may seem too easy. Your child is building confidence as well as skills.

How you can help...

  • When your children read aloud, help them catch and correct their own mistakes by asking guiding questions. For example, you might ask, "Does that word really make sense here? What letter does it start with? What do you think it could be?"
  • Talk about the books you read together, and also about the books your children are reading on their own.
  • Don't stop reading aloud! Developing readers can read simple chapter books alone, but they still need you to help read the kinds of books that will challenge their thinking and build their vocabulary.
  • Suggest that your child read to a younger brother, sister or neighbor. It will be good practice, a chance to show off skills and an inspiration for the younger listener.

Book shelf

  • Novels for "middle readers" that you can read aloud together
  • Information books for young readers
  • A variety of genres, including biographies, humorous stories and poetry

Grades 3 and up

Independent readers have mastered basic reading skills and can teach themselves new things by reading. The more they read, the more their skills improve. Independent readers are also independent thinkers. They are beginning to interpret or "read between the lines," and respond critically to what they read. Thanks to your involvement, they are off to a healthy start toward a lifetime of reading.

Does your child...

1. Read different kinds of writing, such as news, information, poetry and stories?
a. just stories b. some variety c. a wide variety

2. Talk about books and find meaning in the stories?
a. not yet b. sometimes c. often

3. Read for information and to learn new skills?
a. sometimes b. more often c. often

4. Read for pleasure, not just for school?
a. almost never b. sometimes c. often

Can your child...

1. Read aloud smoothly and with expression?
a. not yet b. sometimes c. often

2. Interpret what the writer is trying to say?
a. not yet b. sometimes c. often

3. Write longer and more interesting sentences than before?
a. not yet b. sometimes c. often

4. Spell most words correctly?
a. not yet b. more and more c. most of the time

Not to worry! It's okay if your child...

  • Doesn't like to read aloud. Silent reading goes a lot faster.
  • Still reads picture books. Many are quite sophisticated and written for older readers.
  • Makes spelling mistakes. Help your child create a personal list of difficult words to spell.

How you can help...

  • Continue reading aloud books that challenge your child's listening vocabulary and thinking skills. Reading books that are above your children's level will help them grow as readers.
  • Encourage your child's independent reading by providing a steady flow of books and conversation about them.
  • Help children who seem to lose interest in reading find the time to read at home for personal enjoyment. Check to see that their lives haven't become overly scheduled.
  • Help your children find more reasons to write. Enlist them in taking messages, making up the shopping list, writing letters, and answering e-mail.

Book shelf

  • Classics and other more recent novels to read aloud together
  • Longer chapter books for "middle readers"
  • A variety of genres, including biography, fiction, nonfiction and poetry

How to Nurture a Growing Reader

Reading doesn't just happen. It is a skill that must be nurtured from a child's earliest years. Once children know how to read, they still need gentle coaxing and support to reach their full potential as readers.

Here are a dozen tips for nurturing your growing readers:

1. Read with your children at least once every day.

2. Make sure they have plenty to read. Take them to the library regularly, and keep books and other reading materials in their reach.

3. Notice what interests each child, then help find books about those things.

4. Respect your children's choices. There's nothing wrong with series fiction if that's what keeps a young reader turning the pages.

5. Praise your children's efforts and newly acquired skills.

6. Help your children build a personal library. Children's books, new or used, make great gifts and appropriate rewards for reading. Designate a bookcase, shelf or box where your children can keep their books.

7. Check up on your children's progress. Listen to them read aloud, read what they write and ask teachers how they're doing in school.

8. Go places and do things with your children to build their background knowledge and vocabulary, and to give them a basis for understanding what they read.

9. Tell stories. It's a fun way to teach values, pass on family history and build your children's listening and thinking skills.

10. Be a reading role model. Let your children see you read, and share some interesting things with them that you have read about in books, newspapers or magazines.

11. Continue reading aloud to older children even after they have learned to read by themselves.

12. Encourage writing along with reading. Ask children to sign their artwork, add to your shopping list, take messages and make their own books and cards as gifts.

How to Use the Reading Checkups

How are your children developing as readers, and what can you do to help? Use RIF's series of "Reading Checkups" to evaluate your children's progress through six stages of reading development, from picture-pointing to independent reading. Each checkup describes the knowledge and skills that most children demonstrate at a given stage, and suggests how they can be nurtured.

Use the reading checkups the way a doctor uses a growth chart. Look for a steady pattern of growth with a few lulls and spurts. That's a healthy sign that your child is "doing well" in reading.

Age or grade ranges are listed for each checkup, but just as a guide. We recommend that even if your child is already in school, you begin with the Reading Checkup for Babies & Toddlers and work your way forward. That way you will better appreciate the steady growth your child has already made toward becoming an independent reader.

How Parents Can Help

Parents play a key role in their children's reading development at every stage. As you mark your child's progress, don't forget to check up on what you can be doing to actively promote your child's interest and skills.

What Do the Checkups Mean?

Notice where most of your checkmarks fall. If your answers are mostly A's, your child may still be making the transition from an earlier stage. If the answers are mostly B's, your child is in the middle of this stage. If you checked mostly C's, then your child is probably stepping up to the next level.

If you have any concerns about your child's reading progress, talk to your child's teacher or pediatrician.

Who Is Reading Is Fundamental (RIF)?

RIF's national network of community-based programs is run by 240,000 volunteers and reaches more than 3.5 million children each year at more than 17,000 schools, libraries and other locations throughout all 50 states. RIF was named by Parenting magazine as one of the ten most effective charities "that make a difference in the lives of children and families." RIF put nearly 11 million books into children's hands in 1997.

In preparing this guide, RIF drew upon its own national expertise in motivating young readers and consulted some of the nation's foremost experts on reading and child development.

Linda B. Gambrell, Ph.D.
Professor and Associate Dean for Research in the College of Education at the University of Maryland.
Dr. Gambrell's current research is in the area of literacy motivation. She is the co-author of numerous articles and books on reading instruction, including most recently Lively Discussions: Fostering Reading Engagement (with J. Almasi, IRA, 1996).

Margaret González-Jensen, Ph.D.
Associate Professor and Coordinator of Bilingual Education in the College of Education at Arizona State University West, and a children's bilingual author.
Dr. González-Jensen's current research is on classroom use of children's literature and the nurturing of minority writers. Her most recent children's titles include And Then It Was Sugar and The Butterfly Pyramid (The Wright Group, 1997).

Peter A. Gorski, M.D.
Executive Director of the Massachusetts Caring for Children Foundation.
Dr. Gorski is a nationally recognized pediatrician who specializes in the emotional, cognitive and social development of infants and young children. Dr. Gorski teaches at Harvard Medical School, is past president of the Society for Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics and serves on the American Academy of Pediatrics National Committee for Early Childhood, Adoption and Dependent Care.

Lee Bennett Hopkins
Poet & author
Award-winning poet and author, has anthologized more than 70 collections of children's poetry celebrating the universal and high- interest themes of childhood. Dr. Hopkins' most recent collections include School Supplies: A Book of Poems (Simon & Schuster, 1996) and Song and Dance: A Book of Poems (Simon & Schuster, 1997).

Catherine Snow, Ph.D.
Chair of the Department of Human Development and Psychology at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and the National Research Council's Committee on Preventing Reading Problems.
Her current research is on language and literacy development in the elementary and middle grades, with a special focus on bilingual children.

Dorothy Strickland, Ph.D.
The State of New Jersey Professor of Reading and a past president of both the International Reading Association and National Council of Teachers of English. Dr. Strickland has authored and edited numerous books for parents and educators on children's literacy, including Emerging Literacy: Young Children Learn to Read and Write (with Lesley Mandel Morrow, IRA, 1989) and Language, Literacy and the Child (with Lee Galda and Berniece Cullinan, Harcourt, 1997).

Richard Venezky, Ph.D.
National Research Advisor for the U.S. Secretary of Education's Initiative on Reading and Writing, and Unidel Professor of Educational Studies at the University of Delaware.
Dr. Venezky's academic focus has been in areas of literacy and the use of technology in education. As National Research Advisor, he is developing a nationwide tutoring program and benchmarks for teaching reading and writing.

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APA Reference
Staff, H. (2008, December 31). Reading Checkup Guide, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 13 from

Last Updated: February 13, 2016

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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