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When Should a Child Be Able to Read in Their Head?

Although I have not taught younger elementary school classes, I did teach all eight of my children to read.  And generally speaking, although everybody learns at their own pace, most of my children were able to read in their head by the time they were around five or six years old.

As far as learning to read, some of my kids learned how to read as young as three years old. And others were not reading fluently until as late as nine years old.

when can a child read in their head

So then, based on personal experience and age at learning to read, what factors come into play regarding when a child should be able to read in their head?  Here is a list of five important thoughts that I discovered when I looked into research and my own personal experience with my kids:

  1. How do we know that they are correctly reading in their heads?
  2.  The more children read with a parent, teacher, or other person, the sooner they will find themselves reading in their heads.
  3. When children read in their head rather than orally, they will enjoy many benefits.
  4. There are ways that we can actually encourage and develop our children’s ability to read in their heads.
  5. What if we feel that our children/students aren’t reading in their heads at the level we feel they should be?

Before we take a look at each on of these five points, I would like to clarify exactly what I am talking about in this article.

What Do I Mean by “Reading in Your Head?”

First of all, I do want to make sure we are on the same page about what I mean by reading in your head.  Many students learn to read really well and even early, but their brain isn’t really comprehending on their reading.  Either they are focusing too much on the words they are reading or they are just not really focused on the content.  Subsequently, they are not actually reading in their head because they are not taking in what they are reading.

So by referring to when a child should be able to read in their head, I am talking about the point in time where they can not only fluently read what is in front of them, but also clearly comprehend and then engage with others on what they have just read.

So now that we have that cleared up, lets take a look at the five things I found regarding when a child should be able to read in their head.

How Do We Know They are Correctly Reading in Their Heads?

There are actually a couple of ways to know how accurately young readers are reading in their heads.  The first is that if they are reading pretty well out loud, they are going to be doing pretty much the same in their heads.

If you are still not confident that your child is accurately reading in their head based on their oral reading, you can always have them read a short passage to themselves.  Then once they are done, you can give them a quiz or just dialog with them about it.  How that discussion goes should give you a pretty good picture of how well reading in their heads is going.

I think the majority of time, parents and teachers are pleasantly surprised at how well our children do with reading in their heads once they start reading fluently.  In much the same as learning to walk, once they start reading, progress tends to grow exponentially.

when should a child be able to read in their head

When Children Read in Their Head Rather Than Orally, They Will Enjoy Many Benefits

We often think that it is a disadvantage, especially for early readers, to read in their head rather than orally.  That is because we can’t hear them and we fear they are not reading correctly.  They could be mispronouncing words.  Or they could just not be reading the words correctly at all.  And while this is somewhat true, what it is really saying is that WE as their reading helpers are at a disadvantage, simply because we cannot hear them.

The truth is that once children are reading, they are generally not reading with the difficulty that we are fearing.  In fact, there are several advantages to reading silently, even for early readers.

Less Distraction When Reading to Themselves

First, readers are not distracted by the words they are pronouncing and how they sound.  So they are instantly able to give more attention to what they are reading.

Second, silent readers are generally in a more relaxed environment than oral readers.  This allows them to focus more on what they are reading than what they look like or sound like, especially when around a large number of other people.  This is especially true when young readers are expected to read orally in front of several people and they are still nervous about doing so.

Increased Educational Efficiency

The more students, especially in younger grades, spend reading to themselves, the more they will automatically increase their reading comfort, reading level, and comprehension of what they are reading.

This will result in them being able to gain their own increased understanding in their studies as well as recreational reading.  And this will cause them to become significantly more efficient in their ability to learn than their non-reading and non-silently reading counterparts.

More Availability of Time When Reading to Themselves

When children are able to read in their heads, they discover that they are no longer waiting to find someone who is available to read to them.  They can simply pick up a book and start reading.  This is in fact, what causes many young readers to start reading to themselves.

They realize that they CAN do it, and they run with it!  What an amazing day for them, whether they actually remember it or not.  It is literally a huge turning point in their lives, which at their tender age, they have no idea how important that moment is.

It Helps Them to Read Faster

One of the side benefits of reading silently is that we are able to read faster.  That is true for young readers as well.  They more they read, the faster and more efficient they will become.  If they are able to read and comprehend faster, that means they will also be able to learn more!  What a great tool that can be used from an early age!

It Can Help them Develop a Photographic Memory

Using my photographic memory skills was a critical component of my grades throughout my school years.  As a student, I had no idea that I had developed that skill through learning to read silently and gaining experience with my brain based on the visual cues that I was training my brain to pick up on.  I just knew that if I could remember the location on the page of the fact I was trying to remember, I would be able to see the words in my head and then proceed to answer the questions on the test.

This may actually be the biggest advantage to reading to oneself that can emerge, especially when it begins in young students.

For more information on the benefits of reading silently, check out this article I found on The Independent.

when a child should be able to read in their head

How Can We Encourage Children to Read In Their Heads?

There are several ways that we can help children to read in their heads in a way that continues to develop their reading, comprehension and education skills.  Here are a few of them:

  • Strategically leave reading materials in places that your children/students would be likely to pick them up and start reading.
  • Do activities that encourage reading with them on a regular basis.  They can be orally or silently read activities–any reading is helpful at this point.
  • Use apps and other technology that can help them to learn even faster.  They will enjoy the change of pace and the “game” feel and you will be grateful for the boost in activity.
  • Keep on reading to them.  Kids love to be read to!  Studies have shown that even high school students enjoyed a short period of time after lunch on school days that their teachers read to them.

There are so many more ways that you can encourage children to do reading activities that will lead to more and better reading to themselves.  If it is literature friendly, it is a great way to help out!

What if Children Aren’t Progressing Appropriately?

We should never compare one child against other children, as everyone learns at their own pace.  But sometimes it can become obvious that a child is not progressing as they should.

It is always a good idea to talk with parents about a student that is struggling.  This can give teachers an idea if the child is struggling with something in the home or a physical or mental condition that is preventing them from normal academic performance.  Or it could be a learning deficiency that may need to be looked at by a specialist.  Communication with all involved is the best route.

But also, we must always be careful not to make the student feel that they are doing something wrong or inappropriate, or that they are not doing well enough in a way that makes them feel that it is their fault.

If they are struggling, they are probably already self conscious about it.  We don’t want to make that worse or do worse damage than the struggle they are already having.


So this is what my research and experience revealed on when a child should be able to read in their head.  I would love to hear what your experience has been and what variables affected your answer.  Please feel free to comment below!

If you found this article valuable, I think you will also love the following articles:

Step by Step:  How to Teach Imagery in Literature

My 10 Golden Rules for Teaching Tone in Literature

What is Digital Literacy and Why Your Students Need It

Why  Social Emotional Skills are so Important in Middle School

This Post Has 39 Comments

  1. Brianne

    This was a great post. Obviously, we can’t hear our children when they read in their heads so we don’t know how they’re doing. Having some things to look for to help us determine if they’re on the right track is great.

    1. Marie

      Exactly, Brianne! Once I was able to figure out how to evaluate them when I couldn’t hear them, I was way more assured of their progress. Thank you for your thoughts!

  2. Ann

    I dont think there should be a sentence that has both words, should and child, in it. We are all different and school shoul let us learn in our own time 🙂

  3. Krysten Quiles

    This is super interesting. I’ve had a love for reading for as long as I can remember and I really want to instill that in my nephew. This is super helpful, thanks friend.

    1. Marie

      You’re welcome! I think as long as he is surrounded by people who love reading, he will pick it up too!

  4. Nkem

    How informative. I never thought about when children learn how to read in their heads or when they make the switch from reading aloud to reading in their heads. You’ve given me some stuff to think about!

    1. Marie

      It’s pretty fascinating to think about how efficiently our brains learn, even at an early age! Thank you for your thoughts, Nkem!

  5. Heather

    My youngest recently started reading in her head which I love because for the longest, she would read out loud all over the house 🙂

    1. Marie

      Haha, that is one of the advantages I forgot to mention!!! Thank you for your thoughts, Heather.

  6. ashley t

    This is so informative. My daughter is 2 and we read to her daily.

    1. Marie

      That is probably the most important thing you can do right now!!! Thank you for sharing, Ashley. 🙂

  7. Kristine Nicole Alessandra

    My grandson is learning to read. In a year or two, I hope he will be able to read in his head. I think your tip of leaving reading materials where they can easily pick them up to read is really good advice. We will be doing that.

    1. Marie

      I am so glad that you found my article helpful, Kristine! I hope he enjoys the strategic placement!

  8. Meki (Redefining Us)

    I’ve never thought of this honestly – with all the kids I’ve taken care of. Agree with the note though that it really is a must NOT TO compare.

    1. Marie

      Yes, that is a huge point! Thank you for sharing, Meki!

  9. Mosaics Lab

    I was always told as a kid that I should read out loud for me to listen and understand what I am reading. Funny, i still do it lol….

    1. Marie

      Does it count that I rarely read out loud, but I’m constantly talking to myself out loud, lol? Thank you for sharing, Chad!

  10. Kileen

    This was so interesting! This has never really crossed my mind so my mind has been racing to think back when my kids were learning to read. I could see how its way less distracting to read in your head rather than out loud.

    cute & little

  11. Kathy Kenny Ngo

    I think my son started this at 7. I think that children just need to do things at their own pace instead of following what’s “normal.”

    1. Marie

      You are exactly right, Kathy. The more we push kids into “norms,” the harder it is for them to gain any ground. The pressure is too much.

  12. Christine Weis

    This was both interesting and informative. I think it really depends on the child. So many children develop at different times and ages. I definitely would expect it to come later than sooner. There are so many benefits to being read to, reading aloud, and reading independently. I found the benefits of reading in one’s head to be really interesting.

    1. Marie

      It really does all depend on the child as to when it catches on. And all of the reading methods you mentioned are beneficial in their own way. Skipping over any of them would be detrimental! Thank you for sharing. ♥

  13. Mae

    This is a very informative and interesting article. My son started writing and hopefully reading soon. So, I’ll see how switching from reading quietly to reading out loud will be.

  14. The Joyous Living

    very interesting. i had never heard much about reading in the head. i would love to hear about these apps you would recommend for learning fast.

  15. Lucy Clarke

    Absolutely agree with this! More than the accuracy in enunciation and pronunciation of the words, comprehension is an important gauge in reading. Love quizzing the kids or asking them to draw or write and tell more about the story to check comprehension.

    1. Marie

      Isn’t it amazing to see some of the things they come up with when we do that? Kids truly are amazing! Thank you for sharing, Lucy. ♥

  16. Matt Taylor

    Interesting information, not something I have ever really thought about. I can’t remember when I started reading in my head, I assume it was early on in school 1st or 2nd grade or something like that.

    1. Marie

      You are probably right, Matt. It is usually soon after learning to read words fluently.

  17. Samantha

    Like you said, this is really dependent on the kid. I’m impressed you taught 8 kids to read, great work mama!

    1. Marie

      I remember being so scared of it back in the day!!! Too bad we can’t take our comfort level back to those early days, huh? Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Samantha. 🙂

  18. JP

    When I was a kid.. well even till now. I really prefer reading in my head instead of reading out loud. I can focus more on what I’m reading and read faster that way.

  19. Emman Damian

    I think we need kids to read as early as possible. It Can Help them Develop a Photographic Memory and also, it can help them memorize faster.

  20. Renata Feyen

    Here in Belgium, the reading is split up in being able to read out loud and comprehensive reading 🙂

  21. Rebecca

    Learning to read is such an empowering experience for children!

  22. Ambuj Saxena

    This is a wonderful post for encouraging a different child behavior! Now that i read your post, i realise that reading in the head is really important. Although sometimes when i read in my head, I feel distracted but when i start leading aloud , I tend to focus better. But i am an adult and right now we are talking about child psychology so i guess i’ll go by your version! Thanks for a wonderful read!

  23. World in Eyes

    As always great information though..reading is the best thing for every of kid..glad you shared this blog post with us..great work though..

  24. Rose Ann Sales

    This doesn’t cross my mind,but it’s nice to be knowlegdeable in teaching.

  25. Bree

    I honestly had never put much thought into this though I love reading. I need to be sure my kids do this.

  26. Elizabeth O

    This is as fascinating subject. The pedagogy on reading and comprehension is quite varied too.

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