The Five Stages of Reading & Spelling Development

Updated: Apr 5

You might be about your child's reading and spelling development and wonder if they're meeting expectations for their age. Today's post is about the five stages of reading and spelling development. Stages may overlap as children move from one stage to the next. Remember, children learn at all different rates, so the age ranges listed below are only approximate. Your child may start learning before or after the age list, and that's okay!


Emergent Stage (Ages 2-5)

In the first stage, children are learning to associate language with written symbols. They often experiment with letter and number symbols. When they go to write, their strokes may resemble random marks to legitimate letters. Children at this age may engage in pretend reading or "read" familiar signs and symbols, such as their favorite fast food restaurant sign.


Letter-Name Alphabetic Stage (Ages 4-7)

In the second stage, children begin forming sound-symbol relationships that help them read and spell. They may use this skill to read words letter-by-letter or sound-by-sound. Reading at this stage is typically slow. When first beginning to spell, children may use the first letter sound in a word, often referred to as inventive spelling. This improves as they master sound-symbol relationships and are able to spell based on the sounds in the word.


Within Word Pattern Stage (Ages 6-9)

In the third stage, children become better at sight word recognition for reading and spelling, which improves their reading fluency and quick spelling skills. They begin to read silently, though still slower than oral reading. Children at this stage also begin to learn various patterns and chunk of letters sequences such as -olt or -igh, and learn additional rules like silent e.


Syllables & Affixes Stage (Ages 8-12)

In the fourth stage, children are able to read single-syllable words and move onto multisyllable words. They learn about prefixes and suffixes, and how these groups of words add or change meaning to a word.


Derivational Relations Stage (Ages 10+)

In the fifth and final stage, children learn about root words and derivatives. They are able to read silently quicker than orally at this point. They read to learn rather than learn to read. This stage continues to develop through high school.


What stage of reading & spelling development is your child currently in?



Reference: Bear, D., Invernizzi, M., Templeton, S., & Johnston, F. (2016). Words their way: Word study for phonics, vocabulary, and spelling instruction (6th edition). Pearson.

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