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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

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We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for best reading and writing materials

Last Updated May 2020

In the past, literacy was defined simply as the ability to read and write. Today, experts recognize that literacy also involves understanding written material, using the information to make choices, and expressing oneself effectively.

These skills are critical to navigating life in the upper grades and beyond, so it’s important to establish a strong foundation. Experts say students with poor reading and writing skills are more likely to struggle with school, job performance, and decisions on complex topics like health and finances. They’re also less able to help their own kids develop good habits and skills. In short, a strong foundation in reading and writing helps to prepare your children — and your grandchildren — for success.

Because teaching your child to read and write is a process that takes time and good resources, we’re here to help. Read this buying guide to find tools and materials that make a difference.

It’s not uncommon for children to reverse letters that look similar until age seven.

Gauging your child’s reading level

Most children start Kindergarten around age five, but kids may start reading on either side of that milestone. Some start at age four; others don’t read until age seven. Pressuring a child to use material that is too advanced for them can cause problems down the road.

It’s a good idea to gauge your child’s reading level because they may be above or below grade level.  You can look for placement tests online or on curriculum publishers’ websites. Other sites offer tiered word tests to help you find the level where your child fits best.

For your consideration, here are some average ages and stages.

Ages 4 to 6: Letter recognition

Your child may not be reading yet, but between ages four and six, they can probably recognize some letters. This is a good time to focus on learning all the letters, both capital and lowercase, as well as the sound each letter makes. Kids should also start writing letters and words at this time, especially common words with simple spellings. Don’t be too concerned if they confuse similar-looking letters like b, d, and p at this point.

All-in-one language arts activity books are great tools for kids at this stage. Most feature colorful activities involving animals, food, toys, and other subjects near and dear to kids. Workbooks should cover letter recognition, letter sounds, and blending letters to form words.

Ages 5 to 7: Learning to read

Once students master individual sounds, they’re ready to start reading. This will likely happen between ages five and seven. Many publishers adopt one of two teaching techniques: phonics or whole language.


Phonics

In phonics lessons, children use sound and letter combination rules to break down words according to spelling. Using this method, language is simplified into small chunks that children can decode. This process equips them with the tools needed to break down and learn complex words later in their education.

Phonics study does not help students read words that “break the rules.” These words account for at least 20% of the English language, and they will need to be memorized. Phonics learning materials also tend to put reading comprehension on the backburner.

Reading and writing materials that take a phonics-based approach may or may not be labelled as such. Any material that focuses heavily on sounding out words and blending letters has, at the very least, a phonics component.


Whole language

In whole language lessons, words are studied in context rather than viewed as individual puzzles to be solved. They are building blocks that fit together in context to build comprehension. Whole language resources focus on memorizing “sight words” to a much higher degree than phonics. They build word familiarity mostly through volume, so they must introduce a large number of words. Whole language resources are usually more topical, which may intrigue reluctant readers if they like a certain subject. Whole language methods may also be helpful for children with dyslexia.

There are few purely “whole language” resources on the market. Often, however, you’ll find hybrid materials that include both phonics and sight words.    

Ages 8 to 10: Putting it all together

By this age, students should be reading, spelling, and writing words with some fluency. Instruction should come from materials that teach proper sentence formation and expression. Exercises found in these materials should focus on grammatical concepts, reading texts, and using information gathered from text in writing. 

DID YOU KNOW?

Children who have even a modest home library typically complete three more years of schooling than kids who don’t.

Features

Digital vs. print

You’ll find both digital and print resources as you shop. If possible, we recommend starting with print resources. Games and videos are appealing, but they can’t tell you when a child becomes distracted or confused, nor can they gauge correct pencil position. Once your child has mastered a specific skill, feel free to let them engage digitally.

All-in-one workbooks

Early on, you’ll find many all-in-one workbooks that teach a variety of reading and writing skills. In Kindergarten and first grade, these comprehensive books are a great way to cover all the bases.

As children get older, however, they’ll need more than what these all-in-one books can offer. By third grade, students should have separate resources that cover reading, writing, grammar, spelling, and vocabulary. Some book packages cover these subjects separately, which can be a highly effective approach.

Easy readers

The best way for beginners to learn to read is with books expressly designed for their ability level. Easy readers emphasize and repeat simple, specific words and sounds. A number of easy readers also come with comprehension questions, so you get more bang for your buck.

Child-friendly writing space

Some elementary-level writing materials include space in which the student can write. Make sure enough vertical and horizontal space is included for your writer. (In some materials, the space is too small for kids who are still working on letter formation.) Some of these books also include guidelines to help the student stay on track.

DID YOU KNOW?

Parents who pause for cozy reading time with young children create positive associations with books that pay off in future years.

Accessories

Handwriting aids:  The Pencil Grip Original Universal Ergonomic Writing Aid
Good hand positioning is key to writing well-formed letters. Once a child establishes bad pencil-holding habits, they’re hard to undo. These simple grips encourage proper hand position and ward off fatigue.

Beginner writing paper: Pacon Multi-Program Handwriting Paper
Wide-ruled notebook paper still isn’t wide enough for beginners. Additional guide lines can help them learn proper letter formation. This specialized paper gives young writers the tools they need to succeed.

Comprehension tool: Learning Resources Reading Comprehension Cubes
Turn your child’s favorite book into a reading comprehension activity with this set of brightly colored question cubes. Roll the dice to answer questions about pictures, characters, setting, and other literary concepts.

Reading overlays: Dyslexia Reading Strips with Colored Overlays
All new readers need help, but students with dyslexia, attention deficit disorder, and other challenges sometimes need a little more. These colored overlay strips help readers with several types of challenges focus on the page.

DID YOU KNOW?

In a year of reading, kids learn anywhere from 4,000 to 12,000 words.

Tips

  • Read for pleasure in front of your kids. Modeling is one of the best ways to reinforce good reading habits in children.
  • Encourage your kids to read wherever they go. Words are everywhere: restaurant menus, billboards, and movie titles. It’s great practice to look around and read.
  • Let them read for fun, too. While it’s important for children to complete their formal reading materials, allowing them to choose their own free-time books can increase their enthusiasm for reading.
Strong readers should be able to recognize 20 sight words when they finish Kindergarten and around 100 sight words by the time they complete first grade.

FAQ

Q. When should I become concerned that my child isn’t reading? 
A.
Kids get the hang of reading anywhere between ages four and seven. If your child is still struggling at age eight (or at the end of second grade), it’s time to seek help. Homeschooled children don’t have an experienced principal or teacher, so it’s usually best to talk to your pediatrician about options and resources in your area. If your family history involves reading challenges, or if your child previously suffered from a speech delay, don’t wait. Studies show that 90% of kids who struggle with reading catch up quickly if the problem is caught by first grade. However, 75% of kids whose delays are ignored until age nine struggle indefinitely.
 

Q. How can I tell if my child has dyslexia?
A.
It’s hard to know without an evaluation, but you can look for common clues. Many preschoolers with dyslexia have trouble with rhyming words and nursery rhymes. Some have challenges remembering the order of alphabet letters or other sequenced information. If you suspect dyslexia and notice these and other signs, get help as soon as possible to improve your child’s chance of catching up.
 

Q. I’m torn between a phonics approach and a whole language approach. Which is better?
A.
Experts are divided on this point, but they do agree that children raised in homes where adults regularly read to them, where books are accessible, and where they see adults reading eventually succeed regardless of the method. In homes where literacy has not been a high priority, some experts say that a whole language approach may work better. These resources focus more on content, which will hopefully draw the student in, instead of letters and sounds, which may not be inherently motivating.

The team that worked on this review
  • Ciera
    Ciera
    Digital Content Producer
  • Kristin
    Kristin
    Writer
  • Melinda
    Melinda
    Web Producer
  • Melissa
    Melissa
    Senior Editor

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