An expert from MassGeneral Hospital for Children shares tips to help get your children off to a good start with reading.

MGHfCWhen I was four years old, I fell in love with a book called “Winter in the Enchanted Forest.” For an entire year, I asked my mother to read me the tale of Michael and his woodland creature friends as we snuggled together in my bedroom. I wouldn’t let her skip any pages.

I no longer have the book, but the memory of the special time with my mom stays with me. Often, it’s these experiences created by caring family members or teachers that spark a child’s interest in reading. Reading to young children helps to build their language skills and continuing to focus on reading through grade school promotes success in school.

You can encourage your children to take an interest in books by reading to them often.

You can encourage your children to take an interest in books by reading to them often; modeling reading by reading books or magazines yourself; taking them to library story times; and helping them choose books about their interests like superheroes or princesses.

MassGeneral Hospital for Children, our Department of Speech, Language, Reading Disabilities and Swallowing Disorders works with families and schools to identify reading disabilities early and give children the support that they need.

I’ve outlined some general reading milestones for young children as a guide. Achieving these milestones often depends on how much language children hear and how often they are exposed to letters and books.

Preschoolers should be able to:

  • Identify whether a group of words rhymes (e.g., cat, mat, bat).
  • Break spoken words apart into syllables (e.g., cupcake –> cup-cake) and blend them back together (e.g., cup-cake –> cupcake).

Help your children choose books about their interests like superheroes or princesses.

Kindergarteners should be able to:

  • Break off the first sound in a word (e.g., b-us).
  • Match most letters to the sounds they say.

First graders should be able to:

  • Break words into individual sounds (e.g., d-o-g).
  • Sound out short words such as sip and hat.

Reading disorders
Missing a milestone does not mean that your child has a reading disorder. However, if your child is not meeting the milestones, you may want to talk to your pediatrician and child’s teacher. Children with reading disorders may have trouble sounding out words, reading quickly and accurately, or understanding what they are reading.


Dyslexia is a type of reading disorder that is present from birth. Dyslexia is due to differences in wiring in the brain and is not a sign of intellectual disability or “laziness.”

Children with early speech or language delays and children who have family members who have dyslexia are more likely to have dyslexia.

Children with dyslexia often read significantly below grade level. They may have difficulty:

  • Learning letters and their corresponding sounds
  • Understanding or remembering a sequence of instructions
  • Understanding what they read
  • Reading quickly
  • Spelling
  • Doing mathematics

What can parents do to help their child who has trouble reading?

  • Schedule an assessment with a specialist in reading and learning disabilities, such as a speech-language pathologist, psychologist or neuropsychologist. This is the best way to identify challenges early and create a plan to help your child be successful at reading.
  • Work with the person who conducts the assessment, the school’s literacy specialist and classroom teacher to identify and implement the best method of teaching reading to your child. Children with reading difficulties often thrive using methods that involve the senses of sight, sound and touch.

Dyslexia is due to differences in wiring in the brain and is not a sign of intellectual disability or ‘laziness.’

  • Continue reading aloud at home. Hearing you read can help expand your child’s vocabulary and language skills.
  • Try audiobooks. Listening to the words while reading along can help your child make reading connections. Audiobooks often have exciting narration that helps keep kids engaged.
  • At home, read recipes together when cooking, create a scrapbook with captions of a family vacation and stock every room with books and magazines.
  • Praise effort, rather than success. Emphasize that making mistakes is part of learning. Encourage your child to keep practicing.
  • Highlight and build on your child’s strengths to boost confidence by encouraging continued participation in favorite hobbies.

By the end of second grade, children are finished learning to read and begin reading to learn. Without solid reading skills by second grade, children may fall behind in other subjects because they do not have the skill to read text books.

But when reading disorders are identified early, children can receive the support they need. And, in time, many children can take joy in reading a story to their parents at bedtime.

To learn more about how you can support the Department of Speech, Language and Swallowing Disorders and Reading Disabilities and other MassGeneral Hospital for Children programs, please contact us.

Jennifer L. Maietta, MS, CCC-SLP, a speech-language pathologist at MassGeneral Hospital for Children.
Jennifer L. Maietta, MS, CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist who works with children ages birth to 6 years old at MassGeneral Hospital for Children. Her clinical interests include early language and play development, autism spectrum disorders and speech sound disorders.