First grade is the year when kids’ brains are ripe for reading and writing exploration, and when they realize reading has meaning! First graders are finally stringing words together into sentences and making words come to life in their brains. They may be relying on pictures to help guide them with comprehension, but they should also be developing beginning decoding skills and be able to read many familiar sight words.
While some students seem to pick up reading effortlessly, others struggle constantly–using mostly guessing and pictures to infer meaning. As a parent or caregiver it can be difficult to know what your child needs to master if you are not a trained teacher.
If your child exhibits any of these signs they may be behind in reading:
1. Your child does not know the alphabet or which letters make which sounds
Students in first grade should be able to recite the alphabet correctly (especially l-m-n-o-p) and know which letters make which sounds. It is normal to have confusion with vowel sounds and some similar looking consonants at this age, but they should be beginning to sound out simple words (especially those with the pattern consonant-vowel-consonant (CVC, i.e. cat, fin, bag etc…).
2. Your child does not know any sight words
During first grade your child will be learning new sight words all the time. Children should be able to usually identify the top 100 most common sight words by the end of first grade. If they are having trouble making these words stick in their brain and do not recognize them after frequent practice, they may need extra help.
3. Your child cannot accurately write a few short, easy words, or their first name
Children should begin writing their name at age 4-5 and consistently write their first name independently by first grade. Some students are still reversing letters in first grade, but if they are leaving out letters in their name or cannot remember how it is spelled, that is a sign they are already struggling with spelling. Students in first grade should be learning how to spell the 100 most common spelling words that they are learning to read. Many of these non-phonetic words will take years to master spelling, but your child should be able to write some short, easy words with consistency.
4. Your child is not self-correcting
Children often struggle correcting themselves while reading, which is why this skill is so important to develop in the early grades. First graders should be taught to notice when a text does not make sense in order to correct their mistakes. Students who lack this skill often will have trouble with decoding and comprehension in later grades.
5. Your child is not reading grade level texts
First graders typically make great strides in reading during this important year. Some children become stuck at pre-reading skills, and are still figuring out what each letter says. They may be guessing most words or rely completely on picture clues or memorization to get by. Students like these are not really reading yet, but by first grade, they should be.
Every student is different and learns at a different pace. However if your student is struggling with the above skills or seems particularly stressed out about reading, it is important not to ignore their difficulties. It is vital for students to get the help they need in first grade, as remediation is harder each year. Students in first grade tend to learn a great deal of new phonics skills at school, and if they are confused it can be hard to catch up later. As students enter into higher elementary grades they will be required to read to learn instead of just learning to read. Classroom teachers work hard to teach every child basic literacy skills, but sometimes lessons don’t stick. One-on-one tutoring can help hone in on specific skills that your child is having trouble grasping at school in a big class.