Reading Readiness: The Top 5 Skills

Reading Readiness - The Top 5 Skills - All About Reading

The preschool years are the perfect time to lay a strong foundation for reading.

Though much of your child’s learning comes naturally as he plays and experiences life, there are some skills, like reading, that must eventually be taught. That may feel a little scary, but if you’ve taught your child how to pick up his toys or put on his socks, you can teach your child to read, too!

There are five skills your child should master before you begin formal reading instruction. Because they are so important, we call them The Big Five Skills.

In this post, you’ll learn what these five skills are, and you’ll discover more than twenty fun ways you can help your preschooler or kindergartner develop in these areas. Let’s dig in!

5 Critical Skills for Reading Readiness

1. Print Awareness

Print awareness is the understanding that the print on a page represents words that have meaning and are related to spoken language. To develop this skill:

Reading Readiness: the top 5 skills - All About Reading
  • Help your child learn how to hold a book correctly.
  • As you read books together, emphasize the fact that you’re reading from front to back and from left to right. Let your child turn the pages.
  • As your child helps you in the kitchen, point out the names on the food boxes and cans, and the ingredients as you read your recipe.
  • Point out and read road signs and store signs as you travel in the car.

2. Letter Knowledge

Letter knowledge enables a child to recognize the letters of the alphabet and to know the names and sounds of each. To develop this skill:

Reading Readiness: the top 5 skills - All About Reading
  • Sing the alphabet song together. Practice starting at different letters.
  • Use activities that help children recognize both uppercase and lowercase letters.
  • Begin to encourage an association between letter names and the sounds they make.
  • Explore the alphabet with refrigerator magnets.
  • Create the alphabet with building blocks or form letters with playdough.

3. Phonological Awareness

It’s a big term, but it’s really quite basic. Phonological awareness is the ability to hear and identify the various sounds in spoken words. To develop this skill:

Reading Readiness: the top 5 skills - All About Reading
  • Read lots of nursery rhymes and rhyming picture books together. Encourage your child to anticipate rhyme as you read together.
  • Play clapping and rhyming games like Miss Mary Mack and Pat-a-Cake.
  • Sing silly songs by changing the first sound in some of the words. For example, sing, “Bingle bells, bingle bells, bingle all the bay,” or “If you’re chappy and you chow it, chap your chands.”
  • Play games that encourage children to identify words that begin with a specific letter sound. For example, say, “I spy with my little eye a color that starts with /r/.”

4. Listening Comprehension

Listening comprehension is the ability to understand the meaning of words heard and to relate to them in some way. A child with good listening comprehension has a wide vocabulary and a growing understanding of the world around him. To develop this skill:

Reading Readiness: the top 5 skills - All About Reading
  • Read aloud to your children daily. Read books that are in line with your child’s interests so he begins to realize that there is a benefit to learning to read.
  • Encourage even young children to interact with books.
  • Attend story time at the library.
  • Let your child see you enjoying books.
  • Make read-aloud time an enjoyable shared time. Here are some picture book lists to get you started.

5. Motivation to Read

Motivation to read is a child’s eagerness and willingness to read. To encourage your child:

Reading Readiness: the top 5 skills - All About Reading
  • Read both fiction and nonfiction books to your child.
  • As you read, ask open-ended questions. For example, ask “What do you think is going to happen when we turn the page?” or “Why did the boy go outside?”
  • Use everyday life experiences to build your child’s vocabulary.
  • Encourage imaginative play and storytelling.

Determine if Your Child Is Ready to Read

Have you been working to help your child develop these important pre-reading skills? If so, it’s very possible that your child is ready to begin formal reading instruction. But if you’re not sure whether your child is ready, complete this checklist to measure your child’s reading readiness:

Reading Readiness: the top 5 skills - All About Reading

After completing this checklist, you’ll be able to identify the pre-reading skills that need more work. The All About Reading Pre-reading program makes it easy to fill in the gaps and get your child ready to read. Is your child already ready to read? If so, All About Reading Level 1 is the perfect starting point!

One Final Note

I’m a strong believer in letting kids be kids and not pushing academics too early. But I also know from extensive experience that most kids don’t develop reading readiness skills on their own. The Pre-reading program strikes a good balance. In about 15 minutes per day (depending on your child’s attention span and abilities), this easy-to-use curriculum helps children develop all five of the Big Five Skills. The program includes crafts, rhyming and word games, alphabet charts, and lots of playful activities. And if you’ve never met Ziggy, you’re in for a treat!

Most of a young child’s day should be filled with play, real-life activities, and physical exploration. Add in just a touch of daily intentional instruction in these five reading readiness areas, and your child will have a huge advantage when it comes time to read.

Do you have questions about reading readiness? Post in the comments below or contact us!

Photography by Rachel Neumann

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Great ideas! We waited to teach my son to read because he needed more time. I wish more people considered their readiness and didn’t just push ahead to a struggle.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

We agree, Brooke!

Mary Mpate Kisochi


Great introduction on the Pre-reading skills. I have learn a lot.



Thanks for the great information!



We just love the All About Reading pre-reading program. A year ago my daughter went to sleep with Ziggy the night before school started, she was so excited to learn her letters with Ziggy! The quality poetry and illustrations are ones her older and younger siblings gather around to enjoy. It is an easy to use and engaging program that we love!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you for this review, Bethany!

Barb S


Printing this page for my daughter; I want my granddaughter to have a good start.



Cant wait to start using these tips on my preschoolers

Leia Dillier


This was a great read for ideas as to how to increase the 5 big skills with our preschoolers!



Thank you for the simple ideas in this post. I’ve been realizing recently that I need to be much more intentional with my 2 littlest guys & these pre-reading skills. After reading this I have a couple of things we can put into practice right away. :-)

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You are welcome, Heather!

These are the kinds of things I wish I had known, especially for my 3rd child, as he didn’t pick up some of these readiness skills by himself. I didn’t discover just how important these skills were until I began to teach him to read and he struggled greatly for a long time.

You have this knowledge and you can help your little ones have the best chance of reading success! But don’t forget to have fun with it!



We love All About Reading!

Jenny R.


These are some wonderful ideas to engage children to start the reading process. My 4 yr old is very eager to learn. She is constantly wanting me to read to her and is starting to learn her letters and their phonetic sounds. I will definitely put this information to use! Thank you!



We are starting to work on recognizing letters with my 3 year old, and hoping to get back into the routine of library story time! Some great ideas!

Sara H.


We’re new to homeschooling & don’t have an educaturn degree; as a result, much if the info here about pre-reading skills is completely new to us–and it’s exciting to be able to recognize and work toward reading milestones as we do other developmental benchmarks!

Julie Roberts


I cannot wait to start the preschool program with my soon to be 4 year old. I have just completed AAS 7 with my 7th grader; we have gone all the way thru the AAS books. It is such a great program and I am excited to use both AAS and AAR with my pre-schooler.



I would love to try AAR! We have been using AAS for years!

Heather Harrison


I love all about spelling for my middle kids. I am excited to try AAR with my younger ones!



Thank you for sharing this content. It helped me prepare to tutor a young boy who is struggling with reading at school. I was able to assess which pre-reading skills he still needed help with, and focusing on those areas has helped him tremendously to “catch up” slowing but surely. He still has a ways to go but he’s made a lot of progress this summer. AND my 3yo has been joining us in our lessons, and he is now learning these skills already. Yay, he’s on his way to reading! Thank you SO much for all you do and share.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You are welcome, Sandra. How wonderful that you can help this child to build up his foundation to that he can have long term reading success!



Thank you for this!



I would love to be able to get the preschool first level of all about reading for my son. I have purchased the curriculum for my older children; but do not have the means to make another purchase. I love the curriculum thus far.

Valerie Huerta


It’s the Pre-Reading curriculum also being updated like the other programs?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

We have no plans for updating any of the remaining All About Reading levels. So we do not anticipate an update to the Pre-reading level.

Kelly Bellamy


Lots of great information, thanks! My daughter is 3 and it’s tempting to either push her faster than she should be or just letting her do her own thing. M



We are ready for level one! When will the 2nd edition be available for purchase? Also, what differences are there in the Ziggy games book from 1st edition to 2nd edition? Thanks!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

The 2nd edition of All About Reading 1 will be available in mid-June. We’ll announce it on the blog, through our email newsletter, and on Facebook!

The Reading Games with Ziggy book will only receive minor updates, mostly in regards to lesson numbers and such. The old edition of it will work fine with the new edition of AAR 1. All the other items, however, (Teacher’s Manual, Activity Book, Student Packet, and Readers) have been changed significantly and will not work with the 1st edition materials.

I hope this answers your questions. Let me know if you have more.



My pre-k son and I are finishing up the pre-reading program right now. He has two older siblings: one who has essentially taught himself to read, and another who struggles. I’m seeing steps in this program that I wish I would’ve had with the older two kids! Our preschooler loves this program. Looking forward to using it with our younger kids!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I agree! I am convinced that the Pre-reading level would have made learning to read so much easier for my 3rd child, but sadly it was published years too late for to help him. Thankfully, however, my 4th and 5th children were able to benefit from it!



This is a helpful post! I have been doing the AAR Pre-Reading with my daughter and have been wondering when she will be read to start Level 1.

Jaci Woock


Thank you for these helpful tips!



My son is 3. We have been reading together since he was young my question is nowadays he wants to hold the book doesn’t want me to even look at what his pretending to read. He tells me to read my own book. Help not sure if I should let him be. Or regain his interest in reading with him.

Definitely keep reading aloud to him, but maybe try just reading a book without having him close, while he plays or eats or something. Ask if he wants to see the picture, but don’t require it. Reading aloud is too important to give it up, but you may need to be a bit creative about it. You might find our Reading Aloud to Kids Who Can’t Sit Still article helpful as well.

Jenny Gohl


Something I’ve done with my 2 children is to pick up a magnetic letter or a letter flash card and have my 2 year old say what letter it is and then have my 4 year old say the sound.

Oooo, I like this idea, Jenny. Thanks for sharing it. I’ve done something similar with math flash cards (had one kid read the numbers, another add them together, and a third kid multiply them), but I haven’t thought about it with phonograms.

Michele Droskie


Children who also have Down Syndrome are highly visual . 10X more than an average person. Therefore reading comes naturally to them as they recognize letters and words as pictures. They can be taught to read very easily purely by recognition, sight reading. Later they can start to read phonetically. However reading for children who have Down Syndrome is essential to help them to communicate. It develops speech, vocabulary, expands their understanding of things, clarity of speech (their difficulty in pronunciation (Dyspraxia, which ALL chidren with DS have) can only be over come through practicing to say that word over and over again , hence reading, seeing feeling that word and the muscles in their mouth , like gyming will tone up to saying that word clearly.) Therefore reading is SO important to people with Down Syndrome as it literally opens their world to communication and having the ability to be heard and understood. Obviously readiness for reading in this case is different. When was my child ready to learn to read, when he was able to not say but point to anything. e.g. “put your finger on or point to the chair” My son started when he was 4 yrs old but he could read letters / numbers and point to words I taught him before he could even physically say them. Why because reading was to teach him to speak. This is such an exciting discovery!



Thank you…this was so helpful. I have been trying to figure out when my preschooler will be ready for reading instruction and your checklist was the guide I was looking for!

We’re glad to be of help with this, Kara!

roslyn harris


My daughter age 3 is up to capital l in aar prelevel 1. She wanted to do school too so we are doing this and a few other things occasionally. We are having lots of fun with it and big brother is cementing rhyming as well. We are stopped at level 2 of rhymes because she is just cementing recognizing the rhyme and not ready to produce it herself. We have also done which sentence is longer and will do more of this…no counting yet. She can only one to one correspond to 3 or maybe 5. I like that we can use the different parts at our own pace.

Yes, the different components of the Pre-reading level can be used separately to allow parents to work on different skill areas at their child’s unique pace. Thanks for sharing this, so others know this is a great option.



I hadn’t thought too much about reading at the preschool level for my older kids. There are a couple that I wish I had laid some ground work a little better before Kindergarten, although I’m thankful they had so much time to be kids without feeling pressure.



Thanks for this! My Pre-K starts K in the fall and I wasn’t sure if she would be ready to read but now I feel confident she is!



I would love to begin the pre reading series. My son will be 4 this year and I have already completed levels 1-3 with his older brother. This curriculum is an amazing tool according to this former 1st grade teacher!

Christa Binns


Thank you for presenting this information in an easy to digest way of 5 easy steps. I can use these with both my 5 and 2.5 year old.

Amanda Roby


What great ideas for my four year old (and I bet my 2.5 year old will pick up a lot as her older brother and I play these “games”). My favorite is the idea of changing the beginning sounds in favorite songs and nursery rhymes. My boy’s favorite game right now is I Spy, so the variation on that will be great, too. Since my little man is not yet reading, is it still typical for him to mix up the order of letters when he “spells” out a word he sees? He is definitely showing interest in words! He has had a few other developmental delays, so I’m not sure if mixing up the order of letters is a sign to point out to his pediatrician at this point, or if it’s still typical.

What you are describing is very normal for such a young child that isn’t even reading yet. Spelling words is harder than reading, so it makes since he would make mistakes when spelling a word. If he is saying the names of the letters of words he sees in print and is making mistakes, then it is possible he simply needs more work with the alphabet and letter names in and out of order. Again, all of these troubles are to be expected with young children just beginning to learn.



Thank you. This is a helpful reminder of pre reading activities I can be doing with my youngest!



Thank you for this article, my son is in middle of learning to read and this is helpful.



I really appreciated the ideas you gave and the way you broke reading readiness into steps. I used them to evaluate my almost 4 year old, and it was very helpful to see where she is at in reading readiness. In fact, she is more ready to read than I thought so that was a fun discovery!

Exciting! Have lot of fun as you move on to reading!



Love this post! So very helpful. I have pre-readers and also others getting better slowly but surely. Both Pre-reading program and Level 1 would be so great for our family!!

Katie T


Thanks for this post, my daughter is getting closer and closer to being ready to read. We read lots of book each day and are working on learning the letters.

Sara Hutchinson


My oldest will be tested next month for placement at our public school, and I love knowing she’s been well-prepared through the All About Reading program! My husband is amazed at her progress, and frankly, so am I, since I have no background in education. This program could not be easier to use.

Alida Rodriguez


What a great article.

Lisa Williams


As always, great information! Thank so much!

Sarah Goodsell


I am using the prereading level with my 5 year old and she can now recognize all the alphabet and enjoys the games with Ziggy. She still struggles with the activities that have her guessing the word or the rhyme. Is she supposed to be able to do this before we move on to Level 1? She can already write her name and the letters and wants to learn to read but struggles with intuiting what she should do when breaking up a word and changing the start or trying to tell me the end of the words sound.

Since you said she seems to struggle most with intuiting what she should be doing, try modeling the process for her. Since you use Ziggy, you can have him do it. Say you want to get her to give you the last sound of words. Start with having Ziggy say, “The last sound of the word cat is /t/. Can you hear it?” Have Ziggy repeat the word cat slowly, emphasizing the /t/. The have her try it with the exact same word. Have her say cat. Have her say it again, slowly emphasizing the /t/. Then have her say the last sound in the word cat is /t/. Yes, she is just copying what you just did, but walking her through it like that will hopefully give her a much better idea as to what you are asking her to do.

She will likely not suddenly get the idea after walking through it once. You may have to walk her through each word, and then come back the next day and walk her through them all again. Over time, however, she will get it. Some children just really struggle to hear and manipulate the sounds of language, and need to be shown again and again.

Since she enjoys Ziggy, you could go back to the beginning of the Pre-reading level and redo all the Language Exploration exercises with her. Don’t move forward in them until she gets the concepts being worked on. You are teaching her important skills that apply directly to reading and spelling.

Research shows that children that struggle with rhyming and other phonological awareness skills will struggle with learning to blend sounds into words and other aspects of reading and also with spelling. Mastering this aspect of the Pre-reading program will help ensure she will move into AAR 1 with the least amount of frustration and the best odds of easy success.

From a personal perspective, one of my sons loved books, was highly motivated to learn to read, and knew the alphabet and all the sounds when he was 4. Yet at newly 6 he was still struggling to sound out simple, simple words. I didn’t know about phonological awareness then, but I did know he was missing something foundational. Thankfully, it was right about that time that the All About Reading Pre-reading program was published, and after reading about it I decided to give it a try. He flew through it in about 3 months, but WOW what a difference it made. He went from struggling to sound out words like mop and pat in January to reading very well on a first grade level by July, and we didn’t work on actual reading at all in the 3 months we worked on the Pre-reading level. The dedicated focus on those phonological awareness skills made a huge impact.

I hope this helps. Please let me know how it goes with your daughter and if you have any further questions or concerns.

Carrie Farris


Great information on how to get started with my little guy!



I am not fan of an early academic teaching either. But my son (age 4) is curious and shows interest in reading and numbers, so we read/count a lot. I was already practicing some of the skills listed above. Many useful tips. Thank you!!

Little ones are so naturally curious about the world and things in it! Following this curiosity can be a great learning method. Keep up the wonderful work, Mom!



my daughter is taking the grandson out of school and home school him he is in 5th grade but read at a 1st grade level and told her keep getting check i buy book and he love them even he can not read

Shelby Jones


Nice list! This has shown me what I’ve been doing right and also the things I need to start working on with my preschooler. Thank you!

Melissa J.


Very helpful with having a preschooler starting this year, thanks!



Of the big 5, motivation can be the most difficult. If a student isn’t interested, it is so much harder to reach them!

Yes, you are probably right, Tatiana. It is one of the reasons why we keep our lessons short, just 20 minutes a day, and mix in fun activities like these and highly appealing but 100% decodable stories. It keeps motivation high!



Thank you. I have four children the older ones love to read, but spent many years struggling to get there. My younger ones I was a bit better with in working with them. I love to read with all my children though.
Thank you for this article I agree with all of it. There are things I do Ned to work better on.
Thank you.

michelle kapusta


I wish I had known about this program 10 years ago…my son is 6th grade and is struggling…because he did not have a good foundation. Public school failed him. And the fact that I, as his parent, didn’t know his struggles…I feel like I’ve failed him as well.

It isn’t too late. This blog post, Real Moms, Real Kids: How AAS Saved My Dyslexic Son, may encourage you. Also, check out Marie’s story. She was told that her son would never read and that they should prepare him for a life of illiteracy! That did not happen.

Please let me know if you would like help with placement, have any questions or concerns, or if we can help in any other way.



I am about to start homeschooling my oldest and have 2 more after him lined up. This will be very helpful to remember. I have to admit that I’m a little unsure of how to get everything they need in.

Beverly Jones


Please continue sharing fantastic tips like these. I totally agree. I will share this. Thanks!

Ashley Moore


Child number 3 is getting close to being reading ready here! For some reason left to right has been our biggest issue. He wants to write one line left to right and the next right to left! I cannot even imagine reading that way!

Having right to left on one line, then left to right (with backwards letters) on the next was common in Ancient Greece. It is called “Boustrophedon” which is Greek for “ox-turning”, referring to how an ox plowed a field one way then came back in the opposite direction.

Anyway, I think if we always read that way we would get used to it, but the always left to right (in English anyway, Hebrew and other languages always go right to left) is probably much less confusing.

Callie R.


Thanks for sharing!

Kirsten Riley


Thanks for the tips!

Sara V


Great tips, thank you!



Thanks for the post.



Great ideas! And thanks for including the placement test.

I had no idea yall had a blog!! This is very helpful. Your have the best reading program out there.

Awww, thank you, Cassandra! (And we post a new article blog post every Monday, and some weeks we post a second post later in the week that reviews books or has fun activities.)

Erin Coates


Thank you for this, we all All About Reading/Spellling!



Great ideas! Thank you!!!



This article was a great review and helped me understand why certain activities are beneficial. I will be referring back to it for a reminder of things to do.



My son has most of the pre-reading skills. Would it be unwise to begin at level 1?

Which of the Pre-reading skills is he missing? If you look at the AAR 1 Placement Test, you can see what skills a child needs to have before beginning. You do not have to use our Pre-reading level in order to build up his skills in those areas, but he should know them before beginning AAR 1 for the best chance of success.

Often, phonological awareness is the area young students are most likely to not have mastered. Many preschool programs cover the other Big Five Skills thoroughly, but leave phonological awareness off. If that is the case with your son, this article has many ideas on how you can teach and practice these skills without a curriculum.

I hope this helps. Please let me know if you have any further questions.



Your pre-reading program really helped prepare my son to jump into level 1 and fly.
Thanks so much!



Very good ideas! Thank you for sharing! Can’t wait to try it with my son!



Been very interested in purchasing this curriculum and would enjoy trying it out.

Rita Ippolito


Your books and delightful illustrations have been a reading pleasure for my granddaughter. Your program for reading is superb!

Awww, thank you, Rita!

Christina Hostetler


Getting ready to purchase Level 1 and I’m considering Prereading, the samples are adorable!

Kathy Garwood


Wish I had this when my daughter was learning to read!

Dena Laney


My 4 1/2 year old memorizes the words from the stories she likes but doesn’t show much interest in actually reading yet. Any suggestions on how to spark her interest in actually learning to sound out words with me?

First, I recommend time. You hear of preschoolers reading all the time, but in truth that is the exception. Being able to blend sounds into words is hard work that most children are simply not ready for until they are older.

Secondly, how does she do with phonological awareness skills? Children that are still struggling to hear rhyme and identify the first or last sound in words will find blending sounds into words to be unimaginably complex.

To encourage her to be more interested in the sounds of words, play lots of sound games. Try saying words that rhyme with her name (even nonsense words). Can she come up with more rhyming words? Can she think of words that start as the same sound as her name? How about the last sound? Only when these activities are easy should you then move to slowly saying the sounds of a word (all orally, not print words yet). If you say “/c/-/a/-/t/”, can she guess what the word is? Only when this game is also easy do you finally move to letter magnets or tiles and ask her to blend the sounds into a word.

I hope this gives you some ideas. All About Reading Pre-reading level works on all things things in a fun and playful way, with little to no planning needed on your part. However, you can work on these skills independently too.



Thanks for the opportunity!

Kelly M


I greatly appreciate all of your efforts to promote literacy! More people need to know about the value of reading readiness.

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