Reading is a complex, multifaceted skill that unfolds over time. It is an advanced thinking process that requires the integration of many skills, such as phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension.

Reading development is composed of several stages . Each stage builds upon the previous one and leads to the next level of reading ability. Understanding the stages of reading development is crucial for fostering a love of reading and ensuring academic success.

In this blog post, I will discuss the various stages of reading development, highlighting key milestones and offering insights to guide you in nurturing and celebrating your child’s or students’ progress. From emergent pre-reading to advanced reading, let’s delve into the fascinating world of literacy and discover how to cultivate confident, skilled readers.

What are the stages of reading development

The stages of reading development are a framework that describes the process of learning to read. This process begins at birth and continues through adulthood. It is divided into five distinct stages: emergent pre-reading, early reading, transitional reading, fluent reading and advanced reading.

1. Emergent Pre-reading (ages 0-5)

Emergent Pre-reading (ages 0-5) is the first stage of reading development, focusing on the foundational skills that pave the way for a child’s future reading success. At this stage, children are exposed to books, print, and spoken language, laying the groundwork for their literacy journey.

Key aspects of Emergent Pre-reading include:

Print awareness: Children become aware of the existence and purpose of printed text. They learn how to hold a book, turn its pages, and understand that the text carries meaning.Oral language development: Through listening and speaking, children expand their vocabulary and develop a grasp of sentence structure, grammar, and storytelling.Phonemic awareness: Children start to recognize that spoken words are made up of individual sounds (phonemes) and begin to identify rhyming words and syllables.Letter recognition: Children learn to identify and name the letters of the alphabet, both uppercase and lowercase, and may begin to associate some letters with their corresponding sounds.Early writing: Children experiment with writing by scribbling, drawing, and eventually attempting to form letters and simple words.
Parents and caregivers can support Emergent Pre-reading by engaging in activities such as reading aloud, singing nursery rhymes, playing word games, and providing ample opportunities for exposure to print materials. 

Encouraging a child’s curiosity and nurturing their love for books and storytelling during this crucial stage sets the foundation for a lifelong love of reading and learning.

2. Early Reading (ages 5-7)

Early Reading (ages 5-7) is the second stage of reading development, during which children begin to actively engage with the process of reading. They start decoding words using their knowledge of letter-sound relationships (phonics) and develop the skills needed to comprehend simple texts.

Key aspects of the Early Reading stage include:

Phonics: Children learn the relationship between letters and their corresponding sounds, enabling them to decode written words by sounding them out. This forms the basis of their reading ability.Sight words: Children start to recognize and read high-frequency words by sight, without needing to decode them. This helps improve their reading fluency and speed.Reading comprehension: Children develop basic comprehension skills, allowing them to understand the meaning of the text they read. They begin to answer simple questions about the story or information presented.Reading fluency: As children gain proficiency in decoding and recognizing sight words, their reading becomes more accurate, smooth, and expressive, increasing their reading fluency.Vocabulary development: Children expand their vocabulary by encountering new words in the texts they read and through explicit vocabulary instruction.Early writing: Building on their emergent writing skills, children start to write simple sentences, using basic punctuation and capitalization, and experiment with spelling.
To support children during the Early Reading stage, parents and educators can provide them with age-appropriate reading materials, practice phonics and sight words, ask questions to check comprehension, and encourage reading aloud to improve fluency. 

By fostering a positive and supportive reading environment, children are more likely to develop a strong foundation in literacy that will benefit them throughout their lives.

3. Transitional Reading (ages 7-9)

Transitional Reading (ages 7-9) is the third stage of reading development, characterized by the transition from learning to read to reading to learn. At this stage, children become more independent readers as they improve their fluency, expand their vocabulary, and enhance their comprehension skills.

Key aspects of the Transitional Reading stage include:

Reading fluency: Children continue to develop their reading fluency, reading with greater accuracy, speed, and expression. Fluent reading allows them to focus more on understanding the content rather than decoding words.Comprehension strategies: Children develop strategies to aid their understanding of texts, such as making predictions, visualizing, summarizing, and asking questions. These strategies enable them to actively engage with and comprehend a variety of texts.Expanding vocabulary: Children encounter new and more complex vocabulary in the texts they read, helping them broaden their word knowledge and improve their reading comprehension.Varied text genres: Children begin to explore and read various types of texts, including fiction, non-fiction, and poetry, which expose them to different styles, structures, and content.Reading for different purposes: As their reading skills advance, children read not only for pleasure but also to acquire information, solve problems, and complete tasks.Writing development: Building on their early writing skills, children start to compose more complex sentences and paragraphs, using a wider range of vocabulary, correct punctuation, and varied sentence structures.
Parents and educators can support children during the Transitional Reading stage by providing them with diverse, age-appropriate reading materials, engaging in discussions about the texts they read, and teaching them strategies to improve their comprehension. 

Encouraging children to write about their thoughts and experiences can also help reinforce their reading skills and deepen their understanding of various topics.

4. Intermediate Reading (ages 9-12)

Intermediate Reading (ages 9-12) is the fourth stage of reading development, where children further refine their reading skills and engage with a wide range of texts independently. They read for various purposes, including learning, entertainment, and personal growth. At this stage, children develop the ability to think critically about what they read and comprehend more complex texts.

Key aspects of the Intermediate Reading stage include:

Reading comprehension: Children’s comprehension skills become more sophisticated, enabling them to understand complex texts, make inferences, draw conclusions, and analyze information.Critical thinking: As children read, they start to think critically about the texts, evaluating the credibility of the information, the author’s purpose, and the effectiveness of the writing.Text analysis: Children develop the ability to analyze and interpret various literary elements in texts, such as character development, plot, theme, and figurative language.Diverse reading materials: At this stage, children read a wide range of texts, including literature, non-fiction, and technical materials. This exposure allows them to expand their knowledge and understanding of different topics and genres.Reading stamina: Children build their reading stamina, enabling them to read for longer periods of time without losing focus or interest.Writing skills: Children’s writing skills continue to develop, allowing them to express their thoughts and opinions more effectively. They can write essays, reports, and creative pieces, using a wide range of vocabulary, varied sentence structures, and appropriate grammar and punctuation.
To support children during the Intermediate Reading stage, parents and educators can encourage them to read diverse materials, discuss their thoughts and opinions about the texts, and guide them in developing critical thinking and text analysis skills.

Providing opportunities for children to practice their writing skills, both in and out of the classroom, can further enhance their reading development and overall literacy.

5. Advanced Reading (ages 12+)

Advanced Reading (ages 12+) is the fifth stage of reading development, where adolescents and adults demonstrate the ability to read and understand a wide range of texts, including complex literature, nonfiction, and technical materials. At this stage, readers are capable of critical analysis, synthesis, and evaluation of the information they encounter.

Key aspects of the Advanced Reading stage include:

Deep comprehension: Advanced readers have the ability to comprehend and interpret complex texts, connecting ideas within and across texts, and understanding nuances and subtleties.Critical analysis: Readers at this stage can critically analyze texts, evaluating the author’s arguments, credibility, and purpose, as well as recognizing any biases or assumptions.Synthesis and evaluation: Advanced readers can synthesize information from multiple sources, identify patterns and relationships, and evaluate the quality and relevance of the information.Advanced vocabulary: Readers at this stage have a broad and sophisticated vocabulary, enabling them to understand and use complex language effectively.Reading for various purposes: Advanced readers can effectively read for different purposes, such as research, problem-solving, or deepening their understanding of a specific topic.Advanced writing skills: As their reading skills advance, so do their writing abilities. They can effectively communicate complex ideas, construct well-organized arguments, and express their own opinions and insights.
To support readers during the Advanced Reading stage, parents and educators can provide access to diverse and challenging reading materials, engage in thoughtful discussions about the texts, and encourage the development of critical thinking and analytical skills. 

Additionally, providing opportunities for in-depth research, persuasive writing, and creative projects can help reinforce and expand the advanced reader’s literacy skills.

In conclusion, the stages of reading development offer a valuable framework for understanding the complex journey of learning to read. From Emergent Pre-reading to Advanced Reading, each stage plays a crucial role in building a strong foundation in literacy, empowering individuals to engage with, analyze, and learn from a diverse range of texts throughout their lives. 

As parents, educators, and caregivers, understanding these stages and their key aspects can help us provide the necessary support and resources to foster a love of reading and ensure academic success for our children and students.

Here some good references that discuss the stages of reading development and related topics. These references should provide a solid foundation for understanding the stages of reading development and evidence-based practices for supporting readers at each stage.

1. Chall, J.S. (1983). Stages of Reading Development. New York: McGraw-Hill.
This seminal work by Jeanne Chall presents a detailed description of the stages of reading development, providing a foundation for much of the understanding in this field.

2. National Institute for Literacy. (2008). Developing Early Literacy: Report of the National Early Literacy Panel. Washington, D.C.: National Institute for Literacy.
This report summarizes scientific research on early literacy development, including key skills and strategies for supporting emergent readers.

3. Fountas, I.C., & Pinnell, G.S. (2016). Guided Reading: Responsive Teaching Across the Grades. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
This book provides insights into the process of teaching reading across different grade levels, with a focus on guided reading instruction and targeted support for readers at various stages of development.

4. Allington, R.L., & Cunningham, P.M. (2007). Schools That Work: Where All Children Read and Write. Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.
This book offers research-based strategies for supporting reading and writing development in schools, with attention to the needs of diverse learners and varying stages of literacy development.

5. Duke, N.K., & Pearson, P.D. (2002). Effective Practices for Developing Reading Comprehension. In A.E. Farstrup & S.J. Samuels (Eds.), What Research Has to Say About Reading Instruction (pp. 205-242). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.
This chapter reviews research on reading comprehension, including instructional strategies for supporting readers at different stages of development.