I would argue that reading is probably the most important subject a child can be taught (right after life skills). Everything else is secondary, because once a child has learned to read comprehensively, he or she has the capability to learn most other skills through books and internet searches. (I totally acknowledge the importance of other subjects. I just think that if a person can read, that person can seek out the tools to learn other subjects throughout life.) That being said, I haven’t pushed reading on my daughter much, even though she’s admittedly older than most public school children who read already.
There are a couple of reasons for this:
- Children are ready for reading at different times. Our culture seems to give a silent nod about the specific age that all children should be able to both read and comprehend what they read, so much so that it is used as a measurement of whether or not a child is ready to proceed through the public school system. In the early years of child development, multiple factors dictate when a child is ready to read, including, exposure, motivation, cognitive development, and attention span, among other factors. If any of these factors is missing, a child will have a difficult time learning the skill. Expecting all children to be ready at the same time is not logical.
- Pushing children forward can push them away. I cannot believe how many people I grew up with and how many people I’ve met who’ve said they hate reading as a result of being forced to read in school. It made the task seem more like punishment than enjoyment and in adulthood, most admitted that they still didn’t like to read. Forcing a child to read, especially when he or she is struggling and frustrated, does not cultivate appreciation or enjoyment.
- Comparing children can give them low self-esteem. Ok, I’m not really part of the “precious snowflake” crowd, nor do I want to start a fight, but I do think it’s unhealthy to constantly compare children, especially when it comes to reading. For instance, one of my cousins’ kids was capable of reading and comprehending at an astonishingly young age. He was reading above his grade level from day one, and still is. This has always been a subject of praise and criticism in my family. I’m sure you can hear it now: “You know, so-and-so reads x-number of books every day.” “So-and-so is reading at level X.” “Can B read that well?” I know it bothers her, and I think in any circle, my cousin’s child is an exception. However, I remember it from when I was in school, and from talking to others, I know this type of conversation is still fairly common. Those who read above their reading level receive more praise. Those who read at their reading level are just average. And those who read below their reading level are labeled as “remedial” and need tutors and special help. It wasn’t easy for those below the level of exceptional to accept what that meant; it seemed to take a toll on their self-worth and discouraged a lot of kids from reading. This was true then and it’s still true now.
- Reading early does not mean reading better. There is no proof that teaching a child to read early will make him or her read better or that it will help the child succeed later in school or life. In fact, many studies have shown that by the end of third grade, most children are reading at about the same level regardless of how early they learned to read.
- Behavioral disorders abound! Contrary to the belief that teaching a child to read early will help that child succeed later in life, research is showing more and more that forcing children to learn skills which they aren’t ready for causes unnecessary stress and is resulting in “behavioral disorders.” If you’ve spent any amount of time with a group of five-year-olds, you know that sitting for long periods of time concentrating on a singular task often results in frustrated five-year-olds and frustrated teachers. They tend to lose focus and disrupt others. Children this age need to move around, they crave social interaction, and they do not react well to constant cues to quiet down and work. It’s no wonder so many children are receiving behavioral labels.
My daughter is eight. She isn’t reading at the level of other eight-year-olds, especially those who attend public schools (and definitely not at the level of her cousin). I do try to emphasize reading daily, but only because I know she is capable of it. At her end-of-year portfolio review for the past three years, the reviewer and I noted that B didn’t have much to show in the subject of reading. I explained that it is the one subject she has neither much of an interest in nor the patience for. That, and she’s a bit of a perfectionist. If she isn’t sure what something says 100%, she’s less likely to attempt to read it aloud. She wants to be certain that what she reads to me is correct without having to guess or retry it. We made up a sort of game plan for her third grade year to see if that would help.
So far, aside from insisting that she read in general, I’ve implemented the following things:
- Writing stories. When she was in Kindergarten, we started a sticker-story book. In a little spiral journal, I let her decorate pages with stickers and then narrate to me the scene or story while I wrote it down for her. The improvement in her storytelling was visible by the end of the book and she loved going back and hearing the stories she’d written. Now, we’re trying the same thing, but with less stickers and pictures.
- Journaling. So far, this one works best. She likes to write a sentence or two in her journal about how she’s feeling, something she’s looking forward to, or something that is bothering her. I have her write it herself and then go back and we figure out which words she got right and which she didn’t. I use the same colored pen/pencil to re-write the parts she got correct and a red pen for the letters she missed so that it’s easy for her to see the difference. It’s not only great practice in reading and writing, but an excellent way for her to sort out her feelings.
- Art journals. We have plans for making art journals, incorporating text into her original art. You can find blank books or blank art journals in craft stores. My mother found some once in the dollar bins at Target. They’re really going to come in handy and I anticipate B will enjoy it.
- Get sneaky. She doesn’t realize it, but sometimes I get her to read by asking her what something says. It’s usually a sign or instructions for a recipe, but it works and practice is practice.
I’ve caught her reading things on her own as well, like text in movies or on TV, even the occasional page in a book. I’m not worried about her at all. She may not be speed reading yet, but she’s extremely proud of herself when she figures things out on her own and she’s beginning to see the benefit in being able to read things on her own. To me, that’s what’s most important: self-confidence in her abilities.
If you’re worried your child isn’t reading as well as others, take a deep breath. Visit any homeschooling page on Facebook and post this: “I’m worried my child isn’t reading well enough for his/her age. What age did your child start reading?” I promise the answers will have an astounding range with happy endings. I have seen a similar post where ages ranged from 4 – 14 (no lie).
And if that still doesn’t put your mind at ease, read “The Joyful, Illiterate Kidergartners of Finland,” by Timothy D. Walker. His findings show that it’s not just Americans who are worried about early reading.
So, what age did your Littles start reading and what’s your story? I’d love to hear it!
Now, that you’ve got them reading, are you worried about your end-of-year portfolio review? So was I. Check out Homeschooling: A Jam-Packed Year in Review to hear my story. And don’t forget to subscribe!