Children can show signs of a potential learning difficulties from before the age of 4. Any significant delays in motor skills and language development can be the first signs of a SLD in reading. Below are some early warning signs and reading milestones for teachers and parents to know. It is however important to remember that development varies from child to child and these warning signs  are only guidelines and may not always be cause for concern.

Risk factors to look out for include:

  • Delays in language development: generally, language problems surface as learning problems when children enter school because their vocabulary, articulation and/or pronunciation of words and sounds are delayed. Children who speak late are often those who are delayed in their pre-reading skills. The ‘average’ ages for speech development in children can be found on this link: Language milestones 
  • Difficulty in learning rhymes: In Nursery and Grade R, some children may have difficulty learning rhyming patterns because they are struggling to isolate and break words up into individual parts.
  • Difficulty recognising familiar signs: Children who do not, by age 2 or 3, recognize pictures, symbols, signs and logos such as  Pick ‘n Pay or McDonald’s. Although this is not “reading,” the knowledge that signs and symbols have consistent meaning is an important pre-reading skill (i.e., recognizing letters and knowing their sounds).
  • Difficulty with sequential information: Children who are not, by age 6, able to identify letters of the alphabet, days of the week, and the numbers 1 through ten. This ability signals sequential memory, which is necessary in learning to read longer words. Also at this age, children should also recognize a few letters from their own name, especially the first sound/letter, know three words that begin with that letter, and recognize words that rhyme, as well as those that do not rhyme.
  • Word finding or  word recall difficulties: They may have difficulty calling things by the right name or are unable to think of the correct name and end up referring to it as “thingie” or “that thing”. This may be because dyslexia affects the way that brain processes language. This can make it more challenging to label things correctly or quickly (word finding difficulties). Typically, these are the children who struggle to learn colours, letter and number names.
  • Working Memory difficulties: They may have difficulty following directions or may need frequent reminders of classroom rules. This is because children with dyslexia may not be able to grasp all the lengthy commands given. They may only hear the first and/or last instructions. (References:

Reading Readiness Checklist

A Preschool age child can:

discriminate rhyming words

produce rhyming words

divide sentences into words

divide words into syllables

divide words into phonemes

identify a phoneme by its position in a word (beginning, middle, end)

delete roots, syllables, and phonemes example: Say cowboy. Now say it again, but dont say boy.

substitute a phoneme to form a new word

example: Say “f” u n

“What word is that?”; now say it again

but change the “f” to “s.”

A Child in Grade 1 should be able to:

identify sounds and letters (sound/symbol relationship)

blend sounds together

begin to decode words

decode nonsense words

segment words into syllables

write words

write sentences

 (Source of information)


Research has shown that early intervention can result in significant positive outcomes for children who show signs of reading challenges. Nearly 70% of students who are identified and receive research-based early intervention can learn to read at an average grade level. Unfortunately, only 10% of students with reading difficulties are diagnosed by age 7. The majority of children who do not receive help are more likely to be delayed in learning and less efficient readers throughout their lifetime. Although cognitive testing and intervention at any age can increase reading skills, the earliest interventions can prevent future struggles. Speech and language therapists, educational psychologists, occupational therapists and developmental pediatricians can recommend specific interventions that target delays in the key areas of concern.

Parents know their children better than anyone and are usually the first to see the signs that reading milestones are not being met. Once a child is in Grade R, the teacher that notices a delay. In either case, the early warning signs are there to guide and direct parents and professionals to the many options for assessment and intervention. Reading is a critical life skill and should be nurtured in order to ensure a child’s success.

(Source of information – from article by Donesa Walker, M.Ed. Reading Specialist)