A quick and easy guide to children’s reading levels for ages 3 to 13

We spoke with Roger Beard, an Emeritus Professor of Primary Education, former primary school teacher, author and children’s reading specialist, about children’s reading levels, what they mean and how we can best understand them.

Teachers and parents, read on for a quick and easy introduction to children’s reading levels for ages 3 to 13!

A quick and easy guide to children’s reading levels for ages 3 to 13

– by Roger Beard

What are the most useful ways of describing how reading develops over time? We may be tempted to refer to the levels (often colour-coded) found in reading schemes. But these are often based on word counts, word familiarity and sentence length. Research has instead suggested six stages of reading development, of which five apply to the 3-13 age-range. 

Pre-reading or emergent reading 

Children begin to learn how books work, left to right and top to bottom, down the page. Reading to children provides many opportunities for such learning.

They also show an interest in environmental print, such as labels and signs. They engage in ‘pretend reading’, pointing at some words and saying what they think they are. Children begin to learn to hear the sounds in words, perhaps through alliteration and rhyme, and to learn the letters of the alphabet. 

Learning to read, through decoding

Children learn the main correspondences between the letters of the alphabet and the sounds that they represent. This stage took on greater significance after the Independent Review of the Teaching of Reading, chaired by Sir Jim Rose. This recommended the use of systematic phonics. There are now numerous schemes for this, many including entertaining wordplay.  

Kids reading

Developing fluency

Children learn to decode words composed of increasingly complex phonic patterns. They learn to read stories with a wider range of words and ideas. Children who have learned efficient decoding can concentrate more on the meaning of the text, increasing enjoyment. Through practice, their oral reading of stories and passages becomes more fluent.

This stage, and the previous one, together constitute a ‘learning to read stage’, at the end of which children are no longer ‘glued’ to the print on the page. They recognize most words automatically and read passages with ease and expression. Where necessary, they will begin to ‘read between the lines’, inferring things that are not explicitly stated.

Reading to learn

Children read longer books independently and begin to learn new knowledge through printed and on-screen texts. This widens their vocabulary and increases their understanding of the world. If some children’s vocabulary and background knowledge are limited, reading is best developed with texts that focus on one viewpoint. 

The Pickatale for Schools reading tool provides teachers, students and homeschooling parents with access to a fantastic digital library of school-related books, plus fiction and non-fiction for children up to the age of 13. The tool is completely free to use and allows young learners to progress their literacy skills, develop a love of reading and read in order to learn.

Handling different viewpoints

Children read in greater depth and learn to deal with more than one set of facts and interpretations. They need to learn various kinds of study skills, such as how to use contents pages and book blurbs, as well as indexes and glossaries. Young readers will also benefit from deciding on what they would like to learn and how they are going to use a particular text. 

In conclusion

These stages are not discrete; they are continuous and overlapping. Development at each stage is dependent on what has been learned previously. These stages help us better understand literacy learning and how teachers and parents can best provide support. 


Keep your eyes peeled on the Pickatale blog for more fascinating articles about how we can best support children’s reading progress at home and in the classroom.

If you’re a teacher, student, educator, tutor or homeschooling parent, you can also sign up to our FREE reading and learning tool: Pickatale for Schools. 

Access hundreds of amazing school-related books including fiction and non-fiction and get kids reading more! You can learn all about Pickatale for Schools here: https://pickatale.co.uk/for-schools/