Why does Juan learn to read at age 4, yet Jackson doesn’t read until he is 7, and Emma only really gets into reading when she is nearly 10?

If you’re like most parents, especially if you’re new to homeschooling, these differences can lead to comparison, concern, and some late nights scouring the internet for answers!

But those answers may be simpler—and more calming—than you might think. Maybe it’s just a matter of your child’s learning readiness.

Let’s start with the reassurance of an expert’s opinion. Dr. Dan Gartrell is a child development author and professor, as well as a regular contributor to the journal of the National Association for the Education of Young Children or NAEYC (a great resource for those nocturnal internet investigations, by the way).

“People used to think children were ready for kindergarten if they could say the ABC’s, count, identify colors, and write their first name,” Dr. Gartrell says. But “readiness was always more complicated than that, and new brain research is helping us understand what readiness really is. Readiness doesn’t mean just knowing the academic basics. It means a child has a willing attitude and confidence in the process of learning: a healthy state of mind.”

(And—if you wait to teach your child until they are ready to learn, their willing attitude will help you have a healthy state of mind, too!)

Of course, learning readiness isn’t limited to early childhood. There are different kinds of readiness throughout everyone’s learning journey, even for grown-ups!

Ok, so you know that you want to look for academic skills like reading and math. But academic readiness for reading and math can vary widely so maybe your child’s “delay” is simply a “difference”—and just a matter of time, patience, and lots of pleasant exposure to books, language, numbers and real-life learning.

But, learning readiness will also include other things like social and emotional skills, and executive functioning skills which are a set of mental abilities that help the child to get things done. (More on executive functioning.)

Remembering that children develop different skills at different rates is comforting.

Your child may be growing like crazy in one area, while being “behind” in others.

That’s the beauty of homeschooling. You can allow your child (and yourself!) the freedom of growing at their own pace without the pressure of undue comparison.

Let’s give learning readiness a useful structure for organizing your child’s stages of development.

Here are some clues you can look for to see if your kiddo is ready for the next level of learning.

Information Gathering Stage (K–grade 6)

This is a wonderful time to expose your child to a rich buffet of experiences, information, and memorization. Now is the time their young brains can memorize almost effortlessly—so anything you want them to know, they can learn now.

Kindergarten Readiness Indicators 

Cognitive or Academic Skills
  • Language Skills: Can your child . . .
    • speak in complete sentences?
    • use words to express their needs and desires?
    • understand two step directions?
    • understand comparisons such as up and down, or large and small?
  • Reading Readiness Skills: Does your child . . .
    • enjoy listening to stories?
    • recite the ABC’s?
    • recognize letters, especially those in their name?
    • recognize words that rhyme?
    • show interest in books?
  • Math Skills: Can your child . . .
    • count to 10?
    • recognize basic shapes?
    • understand concepts like more and less?
    • arrange objects in the right order like biggest to smallest?
  • Social/emotional skills: Can your child . . .
    • pay attention for at least five minutes?
    • follow two-step directions?
    • enjoy discussing topics with you and other adults?
Motor Skills

These physical skills and motions are actually a hugely important part of your child’s brain development.

  • Fine Motor Skills: Can your child . . .
    • use a pencil, crayon, or scissors?
    • copy basic shapes and make marks that are resembling familiar letters—especially the ones in their name?
  • Gross Motor Skills: (No, this is not “Eew, gross” It just means the larger motor skills of the body.) Can your child . . .
    • run, jump, and hop on one foot?
    • start catching balls?

Understood.org is a great place to learn more about Kindergarten Readiness. 

Lower Elementary Readiness Indicators

Cognitive or Academic Skills

No matter where your child is on the spectrum of “normal,” they should always be expanding their use of language and interest in growing their reading skills—plus all of the above-listed skill areas—at every consecutive level.

Executive Functioning Skills

(This is the life-skills side of development.) It includes things needed to organize and manage the increasing responsibilities of growing up.

  • This is a great time to train kids in skills like starting and finishing chores, using routines, understanding time. (Try using a Time Timer to help your child comprehend the passage of time and how long a task should take.)
  • Your child should be able to pay attention for increasing periods of time and be improving their ability to stay on task.
  • Social skills such as regulating emotions, impulse control, and considering the views of other people can all be indicators of readiness.

Upper Elementary Readiness Indicators

Cognitive or Academic Skills

These skills continue to grow—and this may even be the timeframe where you see your child really take off in their reading. (Many children don’t start reading comfortably until they’re 10 years old.) If you’d like a formal and free test to check their reading level, this is a great site to find them.

Executive Functioning Skills

Your child should be increasing their skill levels and adding in some new skills.

  • Beginning to manage some schoolwork independently.
  • Doing chores without being asked.
  • Increasing abilities to organize their time, responsibilities—and their rooms!—should be seen.
  • Introduce a daily planner and help them share in planning their schedule.
  • You should start to see the emergence of logical and deductive reasoning, asking good questions, and growing awareness of the subtle differences in social situations and different levels of appropriate behaviors in social contexts.

Discussion and Reasoning Stage (approximately grades 6–8)

Ahhhhh . . . middle school and junior high! This is a stage full of growth and preparation for adulthood as their unique passions, talents, and abilities emerge, so we encourage you to invest lovingly with an eye to the future for your growing kiddo! (Ok, maybe “reasoning” can also be a euphemism for arguing, but knowing it’s a cognitive stage can help you both breathe, so hang in there!)

Middle School/Junior High Readiness Indicators

Cognitive Skills
  • Continuing to build on skill levels achieved in younger stages.
  • Logical, deductive reasoning and asking good questions—Yep! You'll see your young person beginning to analyze conversations, news reports, politicians’ claims, plots and storylines, and more.
Executive Functioning Skills
  • Transitioning into self-monitoring of workload
  • Organizing tasks independently

Assimilation, Integration, and Expression Stage (approximately grades 9–12)

This is a time when your child will move from simply identifying—and questioning!—ideas and facts to a more mature reasoning ability allowing them to put pieces together to form their own ideas and beliefs. It’s also when they’ll be practicing and polishing their ability to communicate with others in written and spoken language.

(Yep, more “discussions” aka arguments! However . . . these can be golden opportunities [even at inopportune times] to help your teen gently expand their skills from simple logical or emotional arguing-to-persuade into humble, confident, responsive, two-way grown-up conversations. By seeing these interactions as doors to cognitive development, you can be ready to model key skills like turning criticism into growth and graciously inviting, hearing, and interacting with others’ viewpoints.)

High School Readiness Indicators

Cognitive Skills:
  • Continuing to deepen and expand skills already gained in earlier stages.
  • Putting together previously learned material and creating their own ideas.
  • Heightened logic, reasoning, and analysis with minimal support.
  • Expanding and refining communication skills.
Executive Functioning Skills:

Now you’re moving into a coach and facilitator role while your child takes on more responsibility for their own learning and actions. (They’re doing their own laundry by now!)

  • Increasing ability to work independently.
  • Planning and completing assigned tasks, managing their own schedule, and growing in time management.
  • Identifying and pursuing passions in depth as they prepare for career.

So, you might be saying, “All of this is well and good to watch for, but what can I do as a parent to help my child get to ’a willing attitude and confidence in the process of learning’?”

Again, Dr. Gartrell has some good input.

“How do families help their children gain this state of mind? By being responsive to all areas of their children’s development—physical, emotional, social, cultural, language, and cognitive (thinking).” Dr. Gartell also lists eight more suggestions for helping your child move to that next stage in this article.

While you’re being patient and supportive of your child’s normal variations in learning readiness, some challenges will call for you to step in and help your child adapt and grow.

Struggles such as near- or far-sightedness, too much energy to sit still and focus, attention deficits, or muscular dysregulation may need some professional help. For example, your student might need prescription glasses, lots of exercise/play breaks and active learning approaches, or occupational therapy to help those muscles develop coordination.

Not sure what grade your child is ready for—or if she is on grade in all subjects? Part 2 equips you confidently assess your child and develop a customized approach to her learning!