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Milestone: When do Children Start Reading?

Earlier I wrote the  Introduction about the issue at hand in our Children’s Ministry about what to do with our Kindergarten age children as they transition between learning styles.  I said that I thought there were 3 milestone questions to consider.  Read about #1, “What does Kindergarten look like?”

#2 When do Children start Reading?

This is a huge thing to give thought towards.  The ability of a kid to read varies from kid to kid, obviously; but at what grade can you start to rely on kids reading things on screens, following instructions that they read themselves, etc…?  Usually it isn’t until 2nd grade that I can count on kids being able to read things in front of the others.  This isn’t a hard-fast rule, but more or less and observation over the years.  Let me be clear, that being able to read doesn’t make someone more eligible for learning God’s Word.  It only makes the teaching different.  Small group activities take on a different flavor, and repeat-after-me activities are more important with non-readers.  But knowing this truth, will allow your small group leaders to teach more accurately and will help alleviate frustration with small group leaders trying to get kids to do things they  intellectually  aren’t prepared for.

What does this mean for me? It means that I have to program differently for kids that aren’t yet reading.  And that may mean that I tweak our content for  kids up through 2nd grade in their small group activities.  I’ve heard people say that Kindergartners aren’t ready for Elementary environments because they can’t read, however my experience has shown me that the non-reading window is so broad that I can’t narrow it down to just one grade or one classroom.  I have to be sensitive to this throughout the ages of 5-8.

For you it means getting to know your kids.  Talk to your small group leaders, and see what they have to say about this topic.  Ask them how many of their kids can read instructions, how many of their kids can read at all!  Every city and every church will have a different struggle in this area.  In more inner city areas, you’ll see that this age range of non-reading is much broader (I know, been there and done that!)  In more suburban areas, you’ll find that the range is more narrow; but you still need to be sensitive to those kids that struggle.

What is your experience in this arena? I’d love to hear how your situation may be different.

Jonathan Cliff is married to his wife Starr and they together live out their days with two sons and a daughter. Jonathan serves as one of the Pastors at Grace Community Church in Clarksville, Tennessee; where he works with leaders throughout the city to help develop Christian community that leads to deep and meaningful spiritual friendships. His journey has been an adventurous one, having served in the local church for 15 years in family ministry developing leaders, building environments for kids and students to belong, and encouraging parents to take big spiritual steps with their families.


  1. Pastor Jared · March 2, 2010

    Another thing that needs to be considered is the rise in learning disabilities that impair even older children’s (even high schoolers) ability to read. In these cases, it might be easier for a fifth grader to learn with the kindergarteners than it would be for them to have to admit in front of everyone they can’t read.
    In our case, I try communicate everything through a second avenue than reading and I only ask kids to read if I know they are comfortable with it (which means planning ahead a little bit).

  2. Brandon · March 2, 2010

    It is like you are reading my mind. Good post

  3. Kenny · March 2, 2010

    Funny how our experiences were different. When I was a little more Old School, I kept my K-2nd in one group and 3rd-5th in the other. It’s the way that curriculum divided and the way kids would often go to camp. I fought pulling kindergartners our of Elementary simply because it’s the way I’ve always done it. Now our kindergartners are with the 5 year olds and it works well. True, Kindergartners do go to elementary school, but they’re in their own class, not a combined class with 1st through 3rd graders.
    So, in Elementary we have 1st-3rd grade in one room and 4th and 5th in the other. It works well. I’m sure some day we’ll have to change it again… and I’ll probably fight it.
    .-= Kenny ´s last blog ..Olympic design over the years =-.

  4. Greg Baird · March 3, 2010

    Jonathan you are touching on a very important aspect of Kidmin, and that is that each of our church culture’s is unique. Not only regionally on a national level, but even on a local level. We must be aware of the cultural nature of our kids that attend, not just the age-level issues.
    Great questions and thinking…thanks!