Learning to read is an important life skill that children will use throughout their lives. Studies show that children who learn to read at a young age demonstrate advanced literacy skills. They have a more comprehensive vocabulary, better writing skills, and advanced reading comprehension. Encouraging your child to read can help determine their success in education and later, their chosen profession.

You can encourage your child’s interest in reading from infancy. You can use age-appropriate books and set aside time each day to read together. As they grow older, your child will learn to read independently and hopefully, take the initiative to do so. 

All children progress at different rates. There isn’t an age requirement as to when your child will learn how to read on their own. Some can recognize simple words and phrases very early on, while other kids struggle with word identification well into the later grades. Observing your child and monitoring their development can help you spot the warning signs that delayed reading abilities hinder your child from learning, whether in school or at home.

If you want to know if your child is having trouble reading, here are several signs that you should look out for:

1. Frequent spelling errors

The benefit of reading is that your child can see the same words and their correct spelling repetitively. This can help develop their accuracy in spelling. Some children can spell phonetically by sounding out the letters’ groups and putting them in the correct order. 

Interchanging letter patterns after months of practice can be a sign that your child needs additional help. Another indication is difficulty associating the letters with the right sounds, leaving them unable to understand what they are reading.

Red Flag: Missing letters or adding letters (e.g., when the # of sounds and # of letters don’t align); letters don’t make sense for the sounds in the word. 

Spelling problems ALWAYS reflect an underlying language disorder.  It is time to schedule a thorough assessment, because this language problem is showing up in more than just spelling!

2. Incorrect speech sounds

Some children take time to develop the right sounds for letters, like pronouncing “W” instead of “R” in “drink” or “L” in “like.” It is typical and expected in the early years as they learn to make more complex sounds with their mouths. However, it can be a sign of a problem as they grow older and continue to have difficulty pronouncing words. If your child has a speech delay, it may also affect their ability to read. 

Red flags:  Deleting syllables (e.g., “puter” for Computer, “helcopter” for “helicopter”), switching order of sounds in words (e.g., hostipal), deleting sounds, substituting sounds in speech.

3. Difficulty retaining new words

With exposure, children develop a “sight” vocabulary – words they can recognize when reading and can also spell effortlessly.  This process is like balance when riding a bike:  It is “discovered”, and then a child has it for life. Your child should be developing a sight vocabulary through exposure.

Red flags: misreading commonly seen words like here, what, where, she, was, etc.; misreading and misspelling words that you KNOW you have practiced enough times that they should stick.

4. Language-based grammar issue

Knowing how small grammar words and grammatical parts of words like suffixes function is crucial to expression and comprehension.  Listen for grammar errors in speech, difficulty reading suffixes, and overwhelm with multi-syllabic words.

Red flags:  grammar errors in spoken language, omitting or mis-reading small grammar words when reading aloud, changing grammar words so a sentence still “sounds good” when reading aloud but doesn’t match what’s on the page, leaving out grammar words when writing, forgetting or misspelling suffixes (e.g., past tense -ed)

5. Reduced vocabulary

Difficulty with word-finding/word retrieval (difficulty finding the right word at the right time), using the wrong words at times, using non-specific language like “stuff” and “thing”, and/or limited vocabulary/comprehension are signs that the word storage and retrieval system is not operating efficiently.

Red Flags:  Doesn’t always make sense, difficulty organizing thoughts, using words incorrectly, trouble finding the right word, low vocabulary, comprehension difficulty (reading or listening)

6. BONUS:  Acting out when doing literacy work

Not every child will fall in love with reading. However, there shouldn’t be a reason to hate it either.  If your child acts out when presented with reading material, it might be their way of expressing their frustration and inability to read. Approach your child during a quiet time and help them to articulate why they don’t enjoy reading. They may clue you in on an underlying condition that prevents them from reading and learning correctly.  Too often, we are working above a child’s level and they need practise with underlying skills FIRST. 

Red flags:  Avoidance, defiance, distraction, withdrawal, shutdown, emotional outbursts, silliness


Reading is a progressive skill that can takes years to master.  There is no need to rush your child; however, you do want to pay attention to grade-level “benchmarks”.  Children in Kindergarten typically get enough exposure at school that they learn all of their letters and corresponding sounds.  From there, they can start to read and spell some simple words.  If your child is “behind grade level”, it IS a red flag.  I urgently caution against “waiting”, or labeling a child as “immature” or a “late bloomer”, or expecting them to “just get it when they are ready”. 

A typically developing brain acquires speech, language, and literacy through exposure and some basic instruction.  This happens for only about half of children.  The other half need extra practise and coaching ranging from mild to extreme.

If you have any questions or concerns regarding your child being on track, I recommend you seek help and really put your finger on their current developmental level; and if it they are falling behind, you will want to know WHY and put some extra support around learning and practising those skills!!

The sooner your child receives support, the easier it will be to overcome speaking and reading difficulties.

Are you looking for reading or speaking help in Alberta? We can help your child overcome their reading and speaking challenges to grow up to be confident and capable individuals. Visit our website to learn more about our services to provide speech therapy, reading instruction, dyslexia support, and coaching and therapy for learning, reading, or writing disabilities.  Call us today to schedule a consultation!