How Many Sight Words Should a Kindergartener Know?

Sight Words and Reading readiness!

As your child approaches kindergarten age, she is about to take a giant step in her young life. One that can affect every other aspect of her life for years to come. What’s that step? Learning to read. And, if you have a child in that age range, then you’re probably already starting to think about ways you can help her as she starts on this exciting new adventure. Sight words are an important part of the process. How many sight words should a kindergartener know? Read on.

What are sight words?

If you’ve looked into ways to help your child learn to read, then you’ve probably come across the term “sight words.” For those of you who don’t remember from your own school days, the term means two slightly different, but related things. For early readers, sight words can refer to the small words that appear in almost any early reading text. These words should be learned “by sight,” meaning that they can be immediately recognized without needing to be sounded out or figured out from context clues.

The second meaning of “sight words” applies to words that simply can’t be sounded out. These words need to be recognized as a whole simply because there is no other reasonable way to make them a part of a child’s vocabulary.

Sight words vary significantly depending on the age and skill of the reader. For an early reader, “to” would be considered a sight word because it is used so often. For more advanced readers, words like “thorough” and “enough” fall into the category because sounding them out leads to a mouthful of garbled syllables. You simply need to know what they are and mean by sight.

Why do sight words matter?

In time, for most adults, nearly all words become sight words.  Think about it, when was the last time you stopped to “sound out” a word, or puzzle over its meaning? Unless you’re reading a piece about bacteriophages or paleobotany, every time you open a book or look up something on the Internet, you probably read pages and pages of words you easily recognize by sight. You see each word as a whole, not as a group of letters with individual sounds, and you immediately recognize what it stands for.

But why are sight words so important for early readers? The definition of sight words given in this article offers a clue. The first reason is that they occur so often in almost any given reading passage. That means your new reader will come across them over and over again. If she has to stop and puzzle them out each time she reads, her reading fluency will be greatly reduced. Learning to recognize smaller, more frequently used words without having to think them through, will free her to move quickly through a new sentence. She will then be able to focus on other unfamiliar words without losing the meaning of the sentence as a whole as she reads.

The second reason that learning sight words is a useful early reading technique is that some of them can’t be sounded out. Think about the word “be,” for example. If you use the rules that apply to the English language to sound out that simple word, you’ll see there’s no second vowel to give the first “e” the “long e” sound. The word comes out sounding something like “beh.” To be useful in a reading passage, a child really needs to know that when the two letters “b” and “e” are put together, they make the word we know as “be.”

Which sight words?

Convinced that sight words are a great way to help your child start reading? Good! Now, you’re probably wondering just which words are most appropriate to start working on. That’s where the Dolch Pre-Primer and Primer word lists come in handy.

What are Dolch word lists? They’re lists, compiled by Edward William Dolch, of the English words most commonly used in children’s literature. Dolch made up his lists way back in 1936, but they’re still relevant, with a few minor exceptions, today. They contain 220 of what Dolch referred to as “service words,” words that were found in almost all early reading material and which, if learned by sight, would allow a child to quickly gain reading fluency. Dolch’s Pre-Primer list includes words such as “a,” “me,” “go,” “it” and “see.” This list is appropriate for children in the pre-kindergarten age range. Dolch’s Primer sight word list is for kindergarten aged children and includes slightly more complex words such as “good,” “that,” “under” and “went.”

How many sight words should a kindergartener know?

So, just how many sight words should your kindergartener know? Opinions vary, and there is certainly no hard and fast rule. After all, every child is an individual and needs to learn at her own pace. Some children may be reading simple sentences by the end of kindergarten, while others may still be matching letters with the appropriate sounds.

The Common Core English Language Arts  Standards addresses kindergarten sight words, stating that at this grade level, children should be able to “read common high-frequency words by sight.” It gives “of,” “the,” “you” and “my” as examples, but doesn’t state a specific number. Dolch’s word list for pre-kindergarten has 40 words on it. For kindergarteners, he recommended another 52.

Just remember, word lists and number goals are great starting points when you’re beginning to help your child start to recognize simple words by sight, but never restrict yourself to them. If your child shows an interest in other words, asking you how to spell them or what they mean, give her the information she craves. It’s important as you move together through the exciting adventure of reading to always let your child’s interests lead the way!

Be sure to check out some of our other sight word resources: