An Adaptive Resonance Theory (ART) network was trained to identify unique orthographic word forms. Each word input to the model was represented as an unordered set of ordered letter pairs (open bigrams) that implement a flexible prelexical orthographic code. The network learned to map this prelexical orthographic code onto unique word representations (orthographic word forms). The network was trained on a realistic corpus of reading textbooks used in French primary schools. The amount of training was strictly identical to children's exposure to reading material from grade 1 to grade 5. Network performance was examined at each grade level. Adjustment of the learning and vigilance parameters of the network allowed us to reproduce the developmental growth of word identification performance seen in children. The network exhibited a word frequency effect and was found to be sensitive to the order of presentation of word inputs, particularly with low frequency words. These words were better learned with a randomized presentation order compared with the order of presentation in the school books. These results open up interesting perspectives for the application of ART networks in the study of the dynamics of learning to read. (C) 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.