As parents, we all want reading to be an easy, positive experience for our kids.
Imagine your child settled into a comfortable chair with a book, completely tuning out whatever else is going on in the house. Reading feels effortless, captivating, and enjoyable. It’s not a chore. It’s just fun—page after page, chapter after chapter. Without fluency, this experience isn’t possible.
What is Fluency?
Fluent reading sounds smooth and natural, like people sound when they talk. You’ll know your child is reading fluently when his or her reading is accurate, it moves at a good pace, and it’s expressive.
- Accuracy means being able to read most words instantly and correctly, without having to stop and sound them out.
- Reading at a good pace means your child can move easily and quickly from one word to the next. Reading is smooth and automatic.
- Reading expressively means that the reading has a conversational tone. Your child pays attention to punctuation, and reads in phrases, rather than word. by. word.
Fluent reading clearly sounds better than choppy reading, and it will also feel a lot better to your child: the process isn’t laborious. It’s easy and natural. This is what makes reading fun, and that’s what you want.
How Do Kids Develop Fluency?
The first step is mastering basic decoding skills. This happens gradually, in early elementary school. When young children are first learning to read, fluency isn’t something to be concerned about. Their focus is on sounding out words, so their reading is naturally slow and choppy.
By the end of second grade or early in third grade, most children have solid decoding skills, so their reading gets smoother and quicker, and they can start paying attention to meaning. They don’t read perfectly—fluent readers may still run into a word here and there that they need to stop and decode, but overall their reading is smooth and accurate.
The second key to fluency is doing a lot of reading. As with any new skill, kids need to practice, and the more your child reads, the more fluent he or she will become. It’s important at this point for your child to read engaging books at the right level of difficulty. When kids enjoy reading and experience success, they’re motivated to read more and more.
So, When Can You Expect Your Child to Become Fluent?
Most kids first achieve fluency by late second grade or early third grade. Keep in mind, though, that all readers develop at their own pace. It might happen earlier or later for your child, and that’s just fine.
It’s also true that a reader is never really done developing fluency. Kids first reach fluency in Easy Reader books. In later elementary, they encounter harder books, with more challenging vocabulary. In middle school and high school, reading gets much longer and denser, and reading too slowly really gets in the way. So, at each stage, your child will need to develop fluency at a new level. As he or she progresses, you’ll see that confidence and success at one stage of fluency will lay the foundation for the next.
Finally, Why is Fluency Important?
Achieving fluency has a tremendous impact on your child’s reading.
Fluency is the key to strong comprehension. When kids are first learning to read, all their energy is focused on decoding words. This makes it really difficult to pay attention to what they’re reading about. Once your child becomes fluent, he or she will have more attention available to focus on the story. Fluency acts as a bridge between decoding and comprehension.It’s like learning to play piano. At first you can play each note, but it takes a lot of practice before those notes come together to sound like a song. It’s the same with reading. At first, reading is slow and feels laborious as your child works to decode each word. Once your child develops fluency, the words flow together smoothly into a meaningful story.
Fluency is the gateway to a love of reading. Kids enjoy reading most when there’s an emotional payoff—when they really understand the story and understand how the characters feel. But when reading feels like a word-by-word slog, it’s not much fun at all.
Fluency opens up a whole new world of reading. Reading becomes effortless—something your child wants to do. You’ll see your child feeling confident about reading for school and wanting to read for pleasure. When reading feels easy and natural, children can lose themselves in a good book and become totally absorbed in the world of the story. This experience paves the way to a lifelong love of reading.