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Reading for Kindergarten: Games, Books, and Understanding Reading Levels

Reading is one of the most powerful tools for developing a child’s educational skills. Linked to improved concentration, memory, and imagination, children are never too young to be introduced to the power of books and other forms of reading.  

Three children in kindergarten learning reading skills

During a child’s time in kindergarten, reading will be a significant developmental focus. As a parent, you can get involved too. Here’s how to understand your child’s reading level, plus some games and books you can use to help improve their proficiency.  

Kindergarten Reading Levels  

In kindergarten classes where ages can vary from 4-6 years-old, establishing a picture of each child’s reading level can influence how a teacher structures a session. To do that, they might asses each child using a Guided Reading Level (GRL) or Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA).  

Speak with your child’s teacher to get their thoughts on your child’s current level and ask for suggestions on how you can help. Knowing your child’s reading proficiency will inform the level of difficulty of your home-reading sessions.

Guided Reading Level (GRL) 

Guided reading is commonly used by teachers to improve the reading proficiency of small groups of roughly four to six children. Members of these groups will all have a similar level of reading proficiency, allowing them to all read from texts that are of similar difficulty.  

To understand a child’s guided reading level, they will sit down with a teacher for a one-to-one reading session. Using a book that is considered standard for children of that age, the teacher will assess the child’s proficiency when reading aloud. They will look to assess a child’s: 

  • Word knowledge 

  • Comprehension of the text and overarching story 

  • Fluency 

Along the way, the child may be asked questions about the story, assessing the level at which they are understanding what they are reading. Teachers may choose to document common errors or misunderstandings to help inform their future instruction.  

Children are then given a guided reading grade which can be used as a benchmark for future learning. Grades run from A-Z, with A the lowest grade and Z the highest. Guided reading levels aren’t just for use in kindergarten. Children in kindergarten are expected to start at grade A and improve throughout early childhood, achieving grade Z at around the sixth grade.  

Once each child has their reading level, teachers can assign an appropriate book that matches their skill level. The reading level of a book is judged on things such as: 

  • How the text is organised 

  • The subject matter  

  • How often new vocabulary is introduced 

  • The ease of the book’s vocabulary  

  • Sentence complexity  

As everyone in a guided reading group is on the same level, teachers can tailor their approach to maximise progression. This way, teachers can focus on the individual needs of a child and offer better support.  

Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA) 

One alternative to the GRL is a Developmental Reading Assessment or DRA. Usually administered on an annual or six-monthly basis, the DRA tests a child on various skills to measure their reading ability. The criteria include:  

  • Phonemic awareness – e.g. alliteration, segmentation, and rhyming 

  • Alphabetic principle – e.g. letter naming, word-list reading and syllabication  

  • Fluency – e.g. word per minute 

  • Reading accuracy 

  • Knowledge of vocabulary  

  • Comprehension of text  

The DRA differs from guided reading on scoring. After the test, a child will be given a numerical score ranging between 1-80, 1 being the lowest score and 80 being the highest. At kindergarten, children are only expected to earn a test score of between 1-3. 

The principles of the developmental reading assessment are the same as the GRL. The purpose of the test is to offer a standardised method of measuring reading proficiency. This can then aid a teacher’s instruction for that child and offer a way to measure progress during subsequent tests.  

Reading Games for Kindergarten   

At the age of kindergarten, a child will only have a rudimentary understanding of texts they are reading. As a parent, you can aid their progress by playing a few easy, fun reading games at home. Here are three to get you started: 

1. Phonics Flipbook  

For this, all you need is a notepad, some scissors, tape, and a marker pen. Cut the notepad into three (or four for more advanced readers) equal sections. On every page of the notepad, write a letter on each of the three sections, leaving you a flipbook of letters that make up different sounds and simple words. 

As you flip a section, a new sound and word are created. These are ideal for learning basic sounds like “C-A-T” or “B-A-G”. Even if nonsense words like “P-A-F” come up, it’s worth saying them out loud as the sound could occur in more complex words. A phonics flipbook is a great way to grasp basic sounds and how they combine to make words. 

2. Concentration  

Once you’ve finished a reading session, take five words from the book you’ve just been reading and write them on small pieces of cut-up card, two times over (giving you 10 cue cards). 

Shuffle the pack and place them in rows. Then, take it in turns to flip two cards over and read the words aloud. If they match, that player keeps the pair. Keep going until all the cards are matched. 

This is a way to reinforce and recognise whole words and sounds, without putting too much pressure on saying it fluently or understanding its meaning. To up the difficulty, choose less distinctive words like “what” and “how”.

3. Word family ball toss  

If a child can recognise a sound that makes up a certain word, they can apply that sound to other words in the “family” that use the same sound.  

To play you need some ping pong balls, a few small containers, and a pen. Pick a few word families, here are some easy examples: 

  • _at (pat, cat, mat sat) 

  • _ack (back, lack, pack) 

  • _et (set, met, let) 

Write words from your chosen families on each of the ping pong balls, then write a sound on each container. To play, the child picks up a ping pong ball, reads out the word, then throws it into the corresponding pot. 

Kindergarten Reading List  

If you’re looking for some inspiration on the books you should buy to help your child improve their reading, the first person to ask is their teacher. They should be able to recommend some books that are appropriate for your child and will be able to specify books for reading aloud. 

Alternatively, head to the school library. Teachers will mark up the reading level of books, allowing you to pick out those that are appropriate for your child’s level.  

There are also innumerable online resources to help you. For example, Goodreads has extensive lists of books tailored for different ages and circumstances and includes user votes to ensure only the best books are included.  

Their lists include: 

  • Best books for 3-5 year-olds  

  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar – Eric Carle 

  • Dr. Seuss’s ABC – Dr. Seuss 

  • Where the Wild Things Are – Maurice Sendak 

  • Counting books 

  • Ten Apples Up On Top! – Theo LeSieg 

  • One Duck Stuck – Phyllis Root 

  • Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin – Lloyd Moss 

  • Books to read together in the early years 

  • Goodnight Moon – Margaret Wise Brown 

  • Chicka Chicka Boom Boom – Bill Martin Jr. 

  • Madeline – Ludwig Bemelmans  


Learning to read is one of the most significant early milestones in a child’s education. As a parent, improving your child’s reading skills is one of the most helpful contributions you can make to their learning pathway. To see how Nord Anglia Education prioritises reading at an early age, find your nearest school.  


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