Is your toddler ready to read? Take this test

This simple test will determine if your child can tell the difference between words and pictures

toddler pointing at words in a book

How do you know if your child is ready to read? Well, psychologists think they’ve found the answer – and have devised a simple test for parents to use.

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The easy quiz comes after a study by child development experts and published in the journal Child Development (January 2016) found that toddlers as young as 3 who can’t yet read still have the ability to distinguish written words from pictures.

So, they can’t read what the word says, but they know it’s a word. And it’s this ability to differentiate between the two that can indicate your child is ready to learn to start reading, the experts say.

If, however, they haven’t mastered telling the difference between words and pictures, then it might be too soon.

In the test devised by the experts, pre-school children realised the word “dog” should only be said in a certain way but that a drawings of a dog can be described using lots of different words (“puppy” or “furry friend” or “terrier”, for example).

“Our results show that children have some knowledge about the fundamental properties of writing from a surprisingly early age,” said study co-author Rebecca Treiman, Professor of Child Developmental Psychology at Washington University in St Louis.

“Based on the results, it may be possible to determine at an early age which children are progressing well in the learning of emergent literacy skills and which children may need extra attention.”

Ready to try the test? Here goes…

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1. Show your child the written word for ‘dog’ and read it aloud to them.
2. Later, show them the word again but say it aloud as ‘puppy’ and see if they pick up on the mistake.

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3. Show your child a drawing of a dog. Point to the drawing and say ‘dog’.

4. Later, show your child the drawing of a dog again, but point to the drawing and say ‘puppy’.

How to get the results…

  • If your child tells you when you read the written word ‘dog’ as ‘puppy’ that you’re wrong, then they’ve been able to spot that it’s a word.
  • If they also don’t flag up the same mistake when you describe the drawing in different ways – then they may be ready to start learning to read.
  • If your child doesn’t spot the difference between the word and the drawing don’t be concerned. Just try again in a few months’ time. Children learn at different stages – and they all get there in the end.
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