Children are typically introduced to early reading skills in kindergarten. By the end of this school year, children are expected to know a minimum number of sight words and have mastered letter recognition and phonics sounds. If your child has not achieved these basic skills by the middle of first grade, then they often have a very difficult time learning to read. Moreover, the students who are still learning basic sight words and decoding skills (sounding out words) by third grade may actually have a learning disability or processing disorder. In fact, most teachers will say that between kindergarten and third grade students are learning to read. From fourth grade through high school they are reading to learn. If your child’s reading skills are below grade level by fourth grade, it will significantly interfere with their ability to learn in all subjects including math. School can become a very frustrating and discouraging experience.
Signs to look for: If you notice your kindergarten student can’t seem to learn and remember the letters of the alphabet. If your first grader is not consistently sounding out word, but tends to guess when reading. Or your second grader is still reversing some letters (b/d or p/g), or forgets sight words and has to sound them out in every sentence, then these behaviors are strong indicators of a learning disability or processing disorder.
Then what should you do? First ask your child’s teacher if she/he is concerned and how your child is progressing in reading when compared to the other students in the class. If the teacher is concerned, then request that your child is provided with reading intervention at school. Nearly all public schools provide this service. Or make a written request to the school district to have your child evaluated for a specific learning disability. The school district may inform you that your child is “meeting benchmarks” and deny your request for an evaluation.
If this occurs, then you should contact a clinical psychologist who is trained and experienced in psychological/psycho-educational testing and have your child evaluated. Children whose learning and processing weaknesses are identified in early elementary school can significantly improve their reading skills in a fairly short period of time with the appropriate intervention. If they are not evaluated until fifth or sixth grade, then the likelihood that they will ever catch up to grade level in reading is much lower. Therefore, the younger a child is evaluated and given services the more likely they will be strong readers before entering middle school.