Like anything else, our ability to read develops in stages throughout our childhood and even into early adulthood. Reading makes demands on several different parts of our brains, from our ability to simply decode the letters on the page in order to read them and understand their meaning, to how what we read can be applied in our daily lives. Although reading is a skill which can be tweaked and honed throughout our lives, the five major stages of development happen by the time we reach early adulthood.
The first stage in reading development is the initial reading stage, also called the decoding stage. This happens early in life, from our first exposure to books and the written word until we are about 6 or 7 years old. By the time a child begin to attend preschool kindergarten or first grade, however, he or she will begin to learn to recognize the alphabet and associate each letter with its corresponding sound. This is the foundation upon which reading skills are built.
The second stage of a child’s reading development takes place between the ages of 7 to 8. During this stage, children begin to put together the things they’ve learned in the first stage in order to begin to sound out words in basic, fundamental books. This progresses easily into the third stage of reading, where children begin to read for learning. The third stage usually takes place between the ages of 9 to 13 though many children begin sooner and, of course, reading to learn is an activity enjoyed by adults as well. But this is the time when they develop the skills they’ll need in order to benefit the most from reading. This includes learning words based on context and building a background of general knowledge.
The final stages of reading development take place during early adolescence and extend into early adulthood. The fourth stage is developing the ability to read from multiple standpoints. This simply means that children begin to understand the differences between reading for fun and reading to learn. This includes study skills, increased comprehension and the further development of their own tastes in literature. Finally, stage five encompasses construction and reconstruction. This final stage is the development of a reader’s ability to digest what they’ve read and then discuss it, combining it with their own thoughts as well as their background knowledge. This is truly cognitive reading and this stage can carry on throughout a reader’s life as they read more challenging books and increase their general knowledge as well as developing new ideas and challenging old perceptions.
Children begin to learn at different ages depending on their own development as well as how often they are exposed to books and reading. Parents who regularly read to their children find they begin to read at an earlier age than parents who don’t read to their children. As children grow into adult readers they develop better skills, different points of view and expand their own general knowledge. These stages can ultimately lead to a well-rounded reader who enjoys not only reading in order to learn more or advance their career but also those who read for the sheer love of the written word.