Throughout my twelve years of teaching preschool and pre-k, I consistently heard from parents’ concerns that their child didn’t know their letters, weren’t reading, or had no interest in books.
Somewhere along the way, reading before Kindergarten has become the marker for a child’s success or intelligence.
But the fact it is, most children are not developmentally ready to read before Kindergarten; most children are not read to read until 6 or 7.
The majority of Kindergarten teachers say they don’t expect most of their class to read. So why the big push and shift in beliefs?
Pushing Kids Too Early
Children who are forced into reading before they are ready are less likely to enjoy reading and less likely to enjoy learning and school.
Think of time from your childhood or even recently, where you were forced to do something you didn’t want to: piano lessons, mandatory training, a holiday dinner party. Chances are you probably didn’t enjoy it very much.
Reading is a skill that requires a child to be developmentally ready to learn; you would not try to have an infant walk, so why push a four-year-old to read?
Many of these changes in the U.S. started as a result of the 1983 education reform Nation at Risk, which stated American schools were failing and pushed for reforms at all levels. It pushed for more rigorous standards that relied heavily on data output.
Nineteen years later, it was followed up with No Child Left Behind, another government-mandated program that measured success based on test scores.
All of this trickled down to Kindergarten, and Kindergarten became the new first-grade expecting children to learn things they were not ready to learn.
How Do I Know My Child is Ready?
When your child is ready to read, they will show motivation and interest. Here are some key factors that indicate your child is ready.
- Recognizes and names most letters
- They notice words that begin with the same sounds.
- They pretend to read.
- They demonstrate reading comprehension skills.
- Can ask and answer questions about the book
- Can summarize what happened in the story
- Holds the book correctly (not upside down or backward)
- Turns the pages in the right order
- Indicates with a finger that you read left you right
- Phonological awareness
- Can rhyme words
- Can clap out syllables
- Can produce some letter sounds
At what age a child should read, it is a very hot topic, especially among parents. It ranks right up there with when should a child potty train.
The critical thing to remember is that most educational experts, teachers, early childhood educators, and developmental specialists will say the same thing; most children are not ready before the age of 6.
- Most late readers catch up by the age of 9 or 10 with no long-lasting educational deficits.
- In Finland, no formal academics are taught until the age of 6 or 7, yet those students outperform U.S. students academically.
- Research overwhelmingly supports Kindergarten children should be engaged in hands-on play to learn.
- Children who are forced to read early may be misdiagnosed with learning disorders sue to their developmental inability to sit and focus.
Not pushing your child into reading before they are ready does not mean you can’t or don’t expose them to books, reading, literacy, and all the joy that comes from reading. It is recommended that you start reading to your baby as an infant.
When an adult is reading, they use different inflections in their voice, exposing their child to words and concepts they may not usually use and introducing children to a love of books and storytelling.
Babies and young children should be read too often. Do not stress if they have a favorite book they want to reread over and over; this is one way they begin to read. If the book is read to them enough times, they will start to memorize the words and start working on sight word recognition.
Sight word recognition is a reading skill, but it is not the same as phonologically sounding out words. Children will naturally begin to add sight words to their reading vocabulary; the more they see them, such as names of people close to them or their favorite restaurant or store.
While sight words are a part of the reading package, I discouraged using flashcards as words should have meaning to the child and happen organically to stick.
When you and your child read the same books repeatedly, your child is developing a sense of narrative, character development, and an understanding of how stories work. As a parent, there are several pre-reading skills you can work on with your child.
- Read to them
- Have a varied selection of books
- Makeup stories together
- Provide toys and activities focused on letters
- Use fun voices or puppets to tell the story.
- Ask questions about the text and illustrations.
- Use picture only books and have your child create a story.
- Play games that involve letters, rhyming, and alliteration
- Provide them with materials to write and draw with
- Use words they don’t know to increase their vocabulary.
- Run your finger under the words as you read
- Allow your child to ask questions as you read.
Parents love to compare their children with others and even compare their children to each other: this can be a dangerous and slippery slope.
For example, I have one son with an insane natural athletic ability and another who is skilled at dancing, gymnastics, and music. All Children are different.
In the early childhood world, parents typically have daily access to the classroom during drop off and pick up. They can see and hear what the other children are doing and achieving through observations, work displayed, and talking with other parents.
All this information often leads parents to have thoughts such as, “Why can Susie recognize all the names of her friends on their cubbies, but Milo still has trouble recognizing his name?”
It is dangerous to compare. Susie may have a natural aptitude for letters and sounds while Milo can build and an entire city of out blocks spending time on details, structural supports, and design.
Each child has strengths and weaknesses of their own, and a quality early childcare program is going to teach to those differences.
I often tell parents concerned over literacy and math development that I was reading at the age of 3, I still read close to a book a week, but I also count on my fingers and need a calculator at times for what others may deem simple.
We all have talents and struggles.
- If your child shows an aptitude for reading, then, by all means, encourage it and run with it!
- Do not stress – almost all children catch up by 3rd grade.
- Read with your child often.
- Do not force reading on them.
- AVOID flashcards and worksheets, use environmental print
- Nico sitting in the corner of the classroom reading Dr. Seuss, does not make Sasha any less intelligent because she’s not ready yet.
- The average age a child learns to read is 6-7
All children, assuming there is no severe developmental delay, will learn to read. Remember those potty-training days you thought would never end? The same goes here.
Children need guidance, encouragement, and interest to read, and as adults, we can provide that.
Reading is another developmental milestone children have to hurdle over just like walking, talking, and dressing themselves. Reading’s tie to academics makes us a little more stressed out, but your child will get there.