As the mother of a pre-schooler I am often bombarded with advertisements and opinions about when and how my little girl should learn to read. The age in which they master reading is heralded as a status symbol, intelligence marker, or at the very least, a badge of good parenting.
But, what if your child, like my own, shows no real interest or the proper focus to sit still long enough to learn letters, phonics, or sight words?
Does this mean she is destined for some form of academic mediocrity or wont be able to compete with the honors level students when she eventually goes to school? Will this somehow prevent her from realizing all the dreams she has or some day will have?
Instinctively I cannot accept this as true. Looking at the culture around me, however, I find myself caught up in comparing my daughters progress and developmental milestones along with everyone else. I dont need instincts; I dont need peer pressureI need the truth. Is there a best time to introduce reading to children? If so, how do you do it?
Back when I went to Kindergarten (shortly after dinosaurs roamed the earth), all you needed to pass on to grade 1 was to know your basic colors, count to 10, and say your ABCs, along with a bunch of non-academic sort of social and emotional development prerequisites. Now I hear a lot about what type of preschools are the best to teach you child phonics before they ever get into kindergarten. Is there evidence that teaching a very young child to read helps them get ahead academically? What happens to the early starter vs. the late starter when learning to read?
Maybe surprisingly to many (including myself), there is growing evidence that early starters may have more problems in school later on than if they waited for a later time to learn to read. Of course there is nothing inherently wrong with early systems of reading, but the problem often lies in the fact that the young child may not show proper readiness or readiness to learn to read early, but the over-anxious parents are pushing for it.
You have to be sure that you are not putting your child into a program to feed your own ego. If your motive for pushing your child into early reading is wanting them to outdo other children, it is very easy to pressure and damage the childs personality and the relationship between child and parent.
Although it is certainly true that some children can learn to read remarkably early, it is not necessarily true that they all should. Should is another question than could.
I read about a school district that set up an experiment to help decide between early or late starts to reading. Some kindergarten children received extensive instruction in reading in the district; while others spent the same amount of time learning science and other life skills. Books and pictures were available for these children, but no formal reading lessons were held. Would you find it surprising to discover that by grade 3, the science children were far ahead of the reading children in their reading scores. The reason? The science children had a larger vocabulary and better thinking skills. They could read on more topics and understand higher level materials because they had actually lived and experienced a bigger part of the world in their formative years.
A child has a limited time in his early years to saturate his world with the experiences and stories he or she uses to increase his or her vocabulary and thinking skills. Pre-reading instruction that is truly valuable is so much more than learning the letters, phonics, and sight words needed to read a simple book. A child that is allowed to observe, play and learn to solve problems around them is setting themselves up to learn quickly how to read when they really are ready to sit down and master the alphabet and letter sounds.
So when is a child ready? How do you know? If you are in tune with your child, and not a slave to social pressures, you will probably easily observe when your child is telling you they are ready to learn to read. Some begin by asking about words or letters. Some learn favorite books by heart and sit reading them. When you allow your child to guide you when to teach them something new, you are sure they will learn it, for they already have the desire.
So, does this mean I should put away the many computer programs and learn to read systems that I have tucked away in the house? I dont think so. If my little girl is very active and not too keen on sitting down to learn her letters yet, I can still teach her here and there, mixed in with everything else she is doing throughout the day. She loves me reading to her, even if she cant always sit still for the story. She loves to pick up books and read to her dollies and mecreating her own plots and character adaptations. She creates songs and dances and imaginary worlds where her favorite stories are blended together into a unique world that she creates for herself and anyone else who wants to play with her.
I do not know if my girl will learn to read early or late; but even if it isnt until she is 7 years oldI know she will be just fine. Intelligence is much deeper than reading words off a page. Enjoy your preschooler and relax in knowing that it isnt about you or what the rest of society says. Your child is unique and will learn when ready as long as we are there to guide them and show them the way. The lessons about reading readiness can be applied to most other areas of our childrens development, I believe. Whether potty training or playing varsity sports, provide the opportunities but not the pressure for our children to be successful.