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When Should Children Be Able to Read Silently?

To read silently is a skill that nearly every reader learns to do with time. However, some people are more naturally “loud” readers. Remember that milestones are relative when speaking of children and not to worry if this occurs earlier or later.

Many children begin to read silently with support around age five or six (grade 1 and grade 2). With a few years of practice, children will begin reading to themselves. Silent reading usually starts in earnest at around six to eight years old, however, it is not uncommon for children to read silently than this age.  

Learning to Read

Reading is an extension of language just as writing or speaking. They often go hand in hand. Children who learn to read using phonics techniques often deploy all three areas of language for their learning. They learn phonemes (sounds) and graphemes (letters) simultaneously. We have hundreds of phonics resources here.

They not only learn to recognize the graphemes, but they also learn to write them. Reading, writing, and speaking are inseparable for them. Sounding out words is most easily done with the voice, so young children often speak when they read. We have articles in our blog on how to teach the sounds to children.

What Are The 5 Stages Of Reading?

Throughout their school career, children demonstrate growth and improvement in their literacy development.  There are five stages to these developments, they are:

Stage 1 – Emergent Literacy (Pre-Reader)

This stage is the early reading and writing development at ages 4 – 6 years and introduces learning and understanding letters and words.

Stage 1 students:

  • Can print their name
  • Sing the ABC’s even though they do not know all the letters
  • Do recognize some letters and their sounds
  • They understand many words but can only read a few
  • Pretend to be able to read a children’s book
  • Tries to memorize certain books to read them

Stage 2- Alphabetic Fluency (The Novice Reader)

At age 6 -7 years, children are more comfortable with learning words and letters.

Stage 2 students:

  • Begin to recognize words
  • Say when they cannot read certain words
  • No longer pretend to read
  • Can read out word by word
  • Uses their finger to point to the word they are reading
  • Use pictures in the context as clues to figure out certain words

Stage 3 – Words And Patterns (The Decoding Reader)

Children develop stronger reading skills at ages 7 – 9 years. This stage is when children vary in terms of skill and behaviors in their literacy development.

Stage 3 students:

  • Can decode or spell out words and have a more vital ability to comprehend what they are reading
  • Find it easier to group letters to spell a word
  • Can recognize sight words that commonly appear in their readers
  • Less reliant on picture clues to figure out unknown words
  • Begin to spell more advanced consonant words
  • Has to read a word, sentence, or paragraph a second time to understand it

Stage 4 – Fluent And Comprehending (Intermediate Reader)

At age 9 – 15 years, students show an overall stronger fluency in reading and writing.

Stage 4 students:

  • Reading to gain new ideas and knowledge
  • They can discuss, answer questions, and write about reading material
  • Fluent in independent reading and acquires skill for silent reading
  • Reading more extended materials such as textbooks, newspapers, and magazines
  • Comprehension progresses impressively

Stage 5 – Advanced Reading (Expert Reader)

At ages 16 years and older, children are fully fluent at reading and writing and can learn new information independently.  They absorb complex reading material for assignments and studies.

Stage 5 students:

  • Have a desire to read numerous types of reading material
  • Reading more about physical, biological, social sciences, and current affairs
  • Can formulate longer texts such as essays or book reports
  • Can understand and remember complex reading materials
  • Reading comprehension is better than listening comprehension
How to read bedtime stories

When Should I Become Concerned

If your child is clearly avoiding reading aloud to someone or reading silently at their desk or at home by the end of second grade (around 8), you might become a little concerned. However, you have to look at the whole situation. Some reading strategies or skills are developed later.

Your child may not be ready to give up some quiet (but audible) reading quite yet. Skills should essentially be developed that this point with mild resistance to giving up habits. If the resistance is strong, this may indicate a dependence. Likewise, if a child is too scared to read aloud in a group, this could indicate trouble.

When Did We Start Reading Silently?

In early times, ancient writing had no punctuation, upper or lower cases, or word separation.  Words, phrases, and sentences had to be decoded for storing into short-term memory.  Oral reading was used to decipher the reading material.

Silent reading began in the Middle Ages through the work of Celtic priests who were also scribes.  They had the daunting task of transcribing writing works with very little knowledge of Latin, so they tirelessly had to separate and decode words. They conducted their copying and reading silently.

The printing press further impacted literacy and silent reading when printing began around 1450 to 1480 and was established at the end of the 15th century.  Men now had access to varied printed material and would enter into private hours of silent reading.

The shift to silent reading also impacted education.  Libraries were more popular, and silent reading for leisure or study was now the norm.  With the influx of modern technology, silent reading is used for the majority of our reading experiences.  Be it through the pages of a book or electronic e-books to the articles and informative readings on the internet.

Silent Reading is a Skill

Practice makes perfect, but children need to fail too. Children cannot inherently read silently. They must learn to read to themselves with practice. When reading first begins, it is heavily dependent on the reading aloud portion; as time goes on, they have to learn to read silently to themselves.

Encourage Silent Reading in Varied Locations

Below are a few ideas to help children adjust and learn to reading silently.

The Transition Process

Some children may find it challenging to transition from reading out loud to having to read silently.  You could recommend that they read softly to themselves and at a later stage to only mouth the words without sound. This method should help to slowly coax them into reading silently or “in their head,” as they often quote. 

Reading Spaces

When learning to read silently, children may be disturbed by surrounding noise and lose concentration in what they are reading.  Create a quiet corner or particular space for reading where all students can read silently and become absorbed in their reading material.  It is also essential to allow at least 30 minutes for a quiet reading session.

Own Choice

Children can also be encouraged to do silent reading when selecting their reading book or magazine for reading for pleasure.  Allowing children access to libraries to choose their reading material is always beneficial to their reading development.

The more a child practices, the better they get, right? Well, let them practice in a variety of situations. If you are a parent, encourage them to read while others are also reading. This might help them realize that others are reading silently. You can also have them bring a book to appointments or even church.

Do not permit them to read when they should be listening but reading before or after a service while they are waiting can help them get in more minutes of reading and more silent reading practice. Reading in locations where they think they need to be quiet might help them become more conscious of their vocal sounds.

Make Time for Read Alouds

Reading aloud can be fun and entertaining. Doing the voices for multiple characters, emphasizing words and dialogue, and expressive speech can really bring a book to life. Allow your child some time to read to you or another family member. All reading is good reading. Reading aloud can be fun.

Build Fluency by Reading Silently

Silent reading is counterproductive for inexperienced readers. As readers gain fluency, they may be able to read silently, but they need their voices to build fluency first. Reading Rockets reports, “As it turns out, such concerns are justified.

The National Reading Panel* (NRP) concluded there is insufficient support from empirical research to suggest that independent, silent reading can be used to help students improve their fluency.”[1] While there are some students that it may help, most students benefit from being fluent first.

Reading Speed and Read Silently

Students who read silently often read faster. While quick reading doesn’t always mean higher comprehension, it does mean that they are typically more fluent. Readers may not realize that they are slowing themselves down by speaking the words.

However, for students reading a complex or difficult text, they may find that reading aloud helps them understand it because they are a little slower. Find out why your child is resistant to reading silently. It may just be a habit.

Reading Aloud Improves Retention

Reading aloud is not always convenient, but it often improves retention. SciLearn states, “Memory retention was strongest when reading aloud directly, suggesting that the impact came not just from hearing the words, but also speaking them.”[2] If your child is reading about an interesting concept, reading aloud could help him or her to retain the information.

Build Stamina

If your child is new at reading silently, help them build stamina. Reading silently after reading aloud for so long is challenging. Have them start reading silently for a few minutes each day. Extend the reading time by one to two minutes every few days. Before you know it, your child will be reading silently for sustained periods.

Get Quieter Before Reading Silently

If you are concerned with the volume at which your child reads, encourage quieter reading. You do not have to push silent reading, but like building stamina, you can build silence. Have your child read at a lower volume until he or she is barely audible. This can help your child be a little less distracting to other readers.

Offer a Variety of Reading Materials

Reading is challenging to sustain if you are bored. If you have ever picked up a truly boring book, you know that it is nearly impossible to read it and comprehend the words. You are so distracted you just want to throw it out. If it’s reading for pleasure, that might be okay.

However, sometimes young children are reading books their teachers gave them, and they think they have to read them for silent reading. This is nearly never true. Get your children books that they will enjoy or encourage trips to the library. The more a child is invested in reading, the more likely they will develop the silent reading skills you seek.

Share the Silent Reading Time.

Either follow along as your child reads silently or read your own book while he or she reads. Modeling good reading behavior can be very encouraging for students. They see you doing it, and they want to copy you. If you are a classroom teacher with silent reading time, bring a book to read too. Students need to see that reading is important to you too.

Final Thoughts

Students should begin reading silently around the end of second grade. Some may begin at six and others at nine or ten. Most of the time, the exact age is irrelevant, but you need to pay attention to your child’s habits. If they are easily frustrated by reading or refuse to read aloud or silently, these can be red flags.

On the other hand, if they are just creatures of habit, you can help them build new habits. Most adults do not read aloud, so keep this in mind. Sometimes, reading aloud can be very beneficial to memory and learning, so allow your child time to think, grow, and learn with little emphasis on this one skill.

[1] https://www.readingrockets.org/article/students-who-are-not-yet-fluent-silent-reading-not-best-use-classroom-time

[2] https://www.scilearn.com/little-known-truths-about-reading-aloud/

I have been a teacher of English for over 15 years, in that time i made hundreds and thousands of resources and learnt so much i think its worth sharing. Hopefully to help teachers and parents around the world.

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