Assessing and Supporting Your Early Reader’s Literacy at Home

I know I’m not the only one who thinks testing has gotten out of hand in our education system. The sad part is that assessments by nature aren’t meant to be the focal part of education. Unfortunately, our education system hinges on testing, many of the tests (from what I’ve seen) being poorly written and incapable of really checking for the students’ knowledge. And yet, despite the warped version of our testing system today, tests really can help us help our children. We just need to remember their place in education-a small one.

Today, I’m going to give you a few tools that you can use to assess your child’s reading abilities at home, but first we need to discuss what good testing is truly about. In education jargon, a test is really an assessment. It’s a tool we use to measure a child’s knowledge. There are two types of assessments educators (teachers and homeschool moms) use with their students

2 Kinds of Assessments

Formative assessments are made all the time. In fact, teachers use them without even thinking about them. A formative assessment can be as formal as a practice test or worksheet, or as simple asking a student a question face-to-face. For example, if a student asks me what a word is in her book, I might ask her to sound the word out. Not only am I reminding her of a literacy skill we practice as readers, but I’m also checking to see how able she is to sound words out. If she is able to figure out the word, it’s possible that she simply forgot to sound it out; if she cannot sound out the word, however, I’ve just assessed her, and realized that she might need to practice chunking (breaking apart) words again. Some other examples of formative assessments are:

  • Having children read passages from a leveled text aloud to measure their fluency.
  • Assigning children discussion questions about the science lesson they just learned, and then listening in on their discussions.
  • Asking the class questions during a lesson and calling on students for answers.
  • Reading journal entries in response to daily prompts assigned in class.
  • Homework

Summative assessments are meant to see if the student really grasped the unit or lesson as a whole. If I’ve taught a two week unit on fractions, as I mentioned in the example above, I need to see if the students really understood the lesson. In a formative assessment, I will probably help the student because the formative assessment is simply for me to know how to adjust my teaching. The summative assessment, however, is one that measures student learning overall. Some other examples of summative assessments are:

  • Spelling Tests
  • Formal Essays
  • Group Projects
  • Semester Finals

Again, I can’t stress enough that assessments, when properly given, aren’t the whole goal of education. They’re simply tools through which we measure the strengths and weaknesses of both the students and of our own instruction. If the class aces everything I give them, I need to raise the difficulty level of my content. Conversely, if my students are failing everything, I need to go back and find the level at which they’re ready to learn.

One more point I must make is that not all assessments are equal. It’s easy to write a really bad test. Unfortunately, I’ve seen more of these than I would like in the current education system. There is a skill to writing good assessments that accurately measure the knowledge and skill levels of students. It’s so important, in fact, that education majors must take courses in writing and understanding assessments. (The one I took was quite rigorous.)

From what I’ve learned in the college lecture hall and in the classroom with children, simple and straightforward is always best.

Why Parents Need to Assess Their Children at Home

“If writing assessments is so hard, why on earth would I want to try and do it at home?” you might ask. It’s a fair question. I mean, teachers are paid to assess their students and meet their needs. Isn’t it only fair that those who are trained to help your children do their jobs?

While it’s most definitely a teacher’s job to assess your student and meet her needs in the classroom, we must remember that education doesn’t stop at the school doors. Parental involvement is huge in aiding a child’s education in all areas, but particularly, in literacy.

According to Christina Clark’s article, “Why it is important to involve parents in their children’s literacy development – a brief research summary,” written for the National Literacy Trust, parental involvement in literacy, “Research shows that parental involvement in their children’s learning positively affects the child’s performance at school (Fan & Chen, 2001) in both primary and secondary schools (Feinstein & Symons, 1999), leading to higher academic achievement, greater cognitive competence, greater problem-solving skills, greater school enjoyment, better school attendance and fewer behavioural problems at school (Melhuish, Sylva, Sammons et al., 2001).”

When children are young, it’s generally not difficult to sit down with a few books every day and read with them. Parents often know it’s helpful to teach children the alphabet song and a bit of counting. That’s simple, right? The problem is that many parents stop when the child enters kindergarten. I think once a child begins school, providing support at home beyond helping with homework can seem intimidating. The parent doesn’t want to step on the work the teacher is doing. Better to leave it to the professionals, right?


Believe me when I tell you that as a teacher, it’s a great relief to know that a child is receiving extra academic attention at home. You feel like the parents are on your team. It will be easier to go that extra mile if you know the parents are on your side, and they’ll be supporting you when the child goes home as well.

Still, it can seem intimidating for parents. How do you know what your child needs? The older the child gets, the further the grade-level requirements might seem. What if you give your child help that’s too easy, or that’s too hard?

Assessing Your Young Child’s Literacy at Home

That’s why we’re here today. The assessments I’m going to give you are easy to administer, and have nothing to do with grade level. There are many, many children who aren’t actually learning on grade level. Some are working on levels below their assigned grade, and others are working above it. The idea is to start somewhere and work  until you find the level your child is at. If the assessment you give the child is too hard (the child struggles with a large portion of the assessment), then back up and try the level below. If the child breezes through the assessment, move on until you find the level the child begins to struggle.

Today we’re going to discuss assessments that are appropriate for elementary school readers. They’re by no means all inclusive, but they can help you get a starting place for the basics of reading and comprehension, and my guess is that you’ll find them quite a bit easier than you expected.

Just a note: I’m by no means the mastermind behind all of these assessments. They come from a combination of knowledge gleaned from an elementary education degree, amazing teachers I’ve worked with, and my own experience with children.

Emergent Readers Assessments:

Let my first clarify that I’m not a “by the grade” type of educator. I don’t believe that all children develop, or even should develop, at the same rate. Rather than focusing on the grade levels for these assessments, I’m going to focus on the skill sets. If a third grader needs help with short vowel sounds, rather than bemoaning the fact that the child is on a kindergarten level, I’m all for simply moving him to the level that fits him. He’s going to fail for sure if he’s forced to work on a third grade level. If he’s moved to the level for which he’s ready, however, he has a chance of being successful. And he desperately needs to taste success.

Letter Recognition:

These letters are out of order so the child doesn’t recite them by rote. It’s important when you have the child say the letters that you find a subtle way to record which ones the child gets correct. If you make it obvious by circling each letter, many children pick up on it and get nervous every time they realize they’ve missed one.Uppercase-Lowercase-Letter Sounds


Phonics Using Nonsense Words

Children often learn more easily using either phonics or sight words. Some children can more easily memorize words as whole units, and others find it easier to sound the words out. This assessment has six lines of nonsense words. Here are some details to note before beginning the assessment with the child.

  1. It’s important to tell the child before beginning that the words aren’t real words. The child might balk when he or she tries a word and it doesn’t make sense.
  2. Below the assessment are lines for you that describe the skill each line assesses. If the child struggles with three words in one line, go ahead and skip to the next line.
  3. If the child gets most of the words in a line, he or she is probably comfortable with that skill set. If he or she misses multiple words, it probably means he or she hasn’t mastered that skill set. If he or she misses all the words, it means that skill set is probably too hard.

Phonics – Nonsense Words

Phonics - Nonsense Words

 Sight Word Readers Using Fry’s First 1000 Words

Fry’s 1000 words contains the words thought most commonly used in the English language. According to, “The Fry Sight Words…come from Dr. Edward B. Fry’s List of 1000 Instant words. His list is made up of the most frequently used words in children’s books, novels, articles and textbooks” The list was compiled in 1996. Another common set of commonly used words is the Dolce list. We’re going to stick with Fry’s.

Each grade adds 100 words, ending in 10th grade. It’s important to note that a child doesn’t have to get all 100 in order to be considered a proficient reader for that grade. Rather, the majority needs to be known. It’s also unnecessary to test a child in all 100 if the level is obviously too hard or too easy.

  • If the child struggles with the first ten words, that level is probably too hard.
  • If the child rattles off the first half of the test, it’s probably too easy.
  • If the child gets some of the words, but not all, that’s probably the level the child should be on. How many words you present to your child is up to your judgement.

We’re going to go through the first five levels, although you can easily find the rest of them online. The website I’m linking these to is, a fantastic online resource for parents and teachers alike.

Fry Words – The First Hundred

K12Reader Frys First 100 Words

Fry Words – The Second Hundred

K12Reader Frys Second 100 Words

Fry Words – The Third Hundred

K12Reader Frys Third 100 Words

Fry Words – The Fourth Hundred

K12Reader Frys Fourth 100 Words

Fry Words – The Fifth Hundred

K12Reader Frys Fifth 100 Words

There are are a few things you can learn through these assessments. Particularly with early readers, it’s important to watch which list is easier for the child. If the child is able to easily sound out the nonsense words, but struggles with the sight words, your child probably learns better through “sounding out” the words.

If the child can rattle off the sight words, but struggles to read the nonsense words, he or she probably learns words better in a holistic format. Neither is better or worse. It’s simply the way the brain works. It’s important for a child to learn to both sound words out and to read some words by sight. These assessments can simply help you figure out which way your child prefers to learn.

Reading Comprehension Assessment

This is an assessment you can give without even letting your child know you’re assessing him. Just go to the library and find a book your child has never read. Have him read the book aloud to you, then ask him the follow-up questions detailed in the document. (Don’t worry, they’re not complicated.) Here are a few things to watch for:

  • Fluency – Does the child read the book easily? Do his words flow with inflection, going up and down the way they would when he talks? Or are his words sound choppy, where he has to stop over and over again to sound words out?
  • Comprehension – How does the child answer the questions on the document? Does he seem to understand the book? Does he remember details, such as character’s names and actions? Or he struggle to maintain the main idea of the book?

Quick Reading Comprehension Test

Quick Reading Comprehension AssessmentNotes about this assessment:

  • You don’t have to write these answers down in order to use them. They’re simply a guide as to what kind of questions you can ask to assess comprehension.
  • The book used in the example, Cactus Hotel, is on a fourth grade reading level. The answers are relevant to the answers of an older child. A lower level book read by a younger child will obviously have different, less in depth answers.
  • If a child can give a brief summary of the story’s events (or main points, in the case of a nonfiction book), remember the characters, and tell you the main idea behind the book, the child probably comprehends the book at a proficient level.
  • The highest level at which the child comprehends the book well is probably the child’s mastery level, meaning he’s mastered that level and is in the midst of learning the next one.
  • If the child cannot read the book fluently, he’s probably going to struggle with the comprehension of the book. You can help him with words as he struggles, but if you must help him often, the book is too hard. His comprehension level is that of the level which he can read on his own.

Why Would You Assess Your Own Child at All?

It’s a good question. Why should you need to know if your child knows his or her letter sounds, or at what level he or she is reading? Well, I’ll tell you now that district report cards are often difficult for parents to read and understand. They’re full of jargon, and while your child’s teacher can try to explain the report cards, you can often leave still confused.

If you have a basic idea of what reading level your child is at, how she prefers to learn new words, and what book level she’s currently comfortable with, you’re going to be much more set to support her education at home at night, on weekends, and throughout the summer. You can:

  • Get appropriately leveled books at the library for your child to read, ones she can actually read on her own.
  • Help your child practice new sight words and phonics concepts. You’ll know if your child can read short vowels, such as in the word, bed, but struggles with double vowels, like in the word, feet.
  • When you conference with your child’s teacher, it will be easier to understand how you can support your child’s classwork at home. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and request resources. Teachers love nothing more than a parent who supports learning through complimentary learning at home!

Are there ways you like to assess your child’s learning at home? Are there more assessments you’d like to know about? Please share your thoughts and questions in the Comment Box below. And don’t forget, you can sign up for my newsletter for extra resources on neurological disorders, education, and spiritual encouragement. As always, thanks for reading!

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