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Reading and writing milestones

Child playing with letter puzzle Child playing with letter puzzle

Once children start speaking, they move on to develop reading skills and later writing skills. This page describes the typical reading and writing achievements for a child at different grade levels from kindergarten to Grade 3.

The "milestones" below are a general guide. Not all children learn at the same pace.

Reading skills

Children are eager learners and can develop their reading skills in a number of ways. You can help your child when they first learn to read and write by talking to them about the ideas they are reading about. This helps them build their comprehension skills and engage more fully with what they are reading. Over time, and with regular practice, your child will develop fluency in reading and learn to think more deeply about the stories or information that they read.

By the end of Senior Kindergarten (SK)

By the end of SK, your child should be able to:

  • identify most letters of the alphabet
  • recognize that words consist of beginning, middle and final sounds
  • start matching written words to spoken words and seeing relationships between sounds and letters
  • know most of the basic sound-letter associations
  • read labels and familiar signs and break up and sound out simple words
  • use word order and knowledge of sounds to identify and predict the next word in simple text
  • start experimenting with reading and says words out loud when reading
  • use pictures on the page or screen to help them understand the meaning of words
  • ask lots of questions about their world and what they would like to learn.

By the end of Grade 1 (age 6 to 7)

By the end of Grade 1, your child should be able to:

  • recognize many words
  • know how to make sense of words
  • be willing to try reading new things
  • adapt their reading to different types of reading materials, such as comics, books or emails.

By the end of Grade 3 (age 8 to 9)

By the end of Grade 3, your child should be able to:

  • use context, a dictionary and phonics (breaking a word into syllables) to figure out unfamiliar words
  • use punctuation to help understand what they read
  • tell fact from fiction​
  • read a variety of fiction and non-fiction books
  • read aloud clearly and with expression
  • identify and restate the main idea in a story and cite supporting details
  • identify and describe some elements of stories, such as the plot, central idea, characters and setting
  • enjoy reading and do it out of choice
  • predict events in a story
  • connect ideas and experiences in print to their own knowledge and experience
  • understand that media are used for different purposes, for example to educate, convey a message or sell something.

Writing skills

Writing skills fall into two broad categories. The first is the mechanics of writing, such as holding a pencil or making the shapes of letters. The second is written expression, which means using written language to communicate ideas. There is an important difference between the two categories: for example, a child might be able to make letter shapes but still be unable to clearly express ideas in writing.

If your child has any problems with writing, note whether they relate to the mechanics or expression. This will affect the type of help that would most benefit your child.

By the end of Senior Kindergarten (SK)

By the end of SK, your child should be able to:

  • show they understand that text is written left to right, words have spaces between them and words have capital and lowercase letters
  • print most letters of the alphabet
  • print their own name, names of family members and some short words, for example "cat" and "dad"
  • use a variety of tools to communicate, including crayons, paper, the computer, chalkboard and markers
  • contribute words or sentences to a class story written down by the teacher
  • write messages using a combination of pictures, symbols, letters and phonics (letters to present sounds).

By the end of Grade 1 (age 6 to 7)

By the end of Grade 1, your child should be able to:

  • use phonics to decode or spell unfamiliar words
  • write simple but complete sentences
  • correctly form the plural of single-syllable words
  • use periods, commas and capitals when writing
  • correctly spell words that have been identified by the teacher on charts or lists in the room or on individual word lists
  • use capitals to begin sentences and to distinguish names, days of the week or months of the year
  • print clearly
  • leave spaces between words when writing.

By the end of Grade 3 (age 8 to 9)

By the end of Grade 3, your child should be able to:

  • use correct subject-verb agreement when writing
  • use nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs correctly
  • use irregular plurals correctly such as deer, children
  • use apostrophes in contractions, for example cannot = can't
  • use exclamations
  • use phonics (letter sounds) and spelling rules when spelling
  • use different sources to check how to spell unfamiliar words
  • divide words into syllables
  • use prefixes, suffixes and compound words
  • use titles and subheadings to organize writing
  • print words clearly and start to use cursive writing (handwriting) instead of printing.

If your child is having trouble mastering these skills, talk to their teacher to discuss a plan of action. This might include further evaluation with a psychologist or other support in or beyond the classroom.

How to help your child with reading and writing

Talk to your child from an early age.

Sound out letters in print, ask your child questions about their ideas and give them time to think of an answer before they reply.

Get your child into the habit of understanding what they read.

Ask your child questions about a story you are reading together, for example, "Why is this happening?" or "What might happen next?"

Allow your child time to figure out a word they do not know or to recognize a mistake in their reading. Good tactics include sounding out the word, looking at pictures or re-reading the words before and after the difficult word.

Read every day.

Read traffic, store and restaurant signs, food labels, flyers, instructions or advertisements with your child. Write shopping lists and telephone messages, and write the date and time of appointments and activities on a family calendar. You could also read and write greeting cards, thank you notes, letters, emails and text messages together. Having your child practise printing, cursive handwriting or using a keyboard is fine.

Make it fun, make it matter.

Talk to your child about the things they would like to read about. Choose different reading materials together, for example fiction and non-fiction books, newspapers, comics, baseball game cards, jokes or even song lyrics. Ask your child why an author might have written a story or if all the characters are represented fairly. This will help your child think more deeply about what they read and apply it to their own experience.

How to support your child as they develop their reading and writing skills

  • Praise your child for their successes.
  • Do not dwell on mistakes.
  • Encourage your child to ask a teacher for help.
  • Help your child keep track of how they are doing.

Key points

  • Your child will go through a range of steps, or “milestones” as they develop their reading and writing skills. Not all children learn at the same pace.
  • You can help your child develop their skills by asking them about the ideas they are reading about, sounding out letters in print and reading many different materials together.
  • Other ways to support your child include praising them for their successes, keeping track of their progress and asking teachers for help if necessary.

Janine Flanagan, MD



Ontario Ministry of Education (2012). Reading and Writing with Your Child, Kindergarten to Grade 6: A Parent Guide. Toronto: Queen's Printer for Ontario.