There is a lot of emphasis these days on teaching young children to read. Many preschools and day care centers focus on worksheets that supposedly “teach” letter and sound recognition. Some children are actually flunking kindergarten! When I was five years old, kindergarten was not something flunk-able. We did calendar activities, played rhythm instruments, colored and fingerpainted, and sang songs. It was an introduction to working in a group, to riding the school bus, to standing in a line and raising your hand to go to the bathroom. That was it. But now some kindergartens teach half of the alphabet and children must be able to read words spelled with those letters before they can pass on to first grade. Is this progress, or is this actually harmful to our children? You decide.
Some of the pros include:
- good readers make good students. They are far more likely to stay in school than poor readers
- the “Matthews Effect” – good readers get better, poor readers get poorer over time
- the opportunity for learning languages begins to close at age four
- reading is the single most important skill a child will ever learn
- current methods of teaching reading are NOT working for millions of students
- teaching reading earlier may eliminate most reading problems according to a panel of reading specialists and early childhood educators
- children who are taught to read earlier enjoy reading more than children who learn after age five
- children who can read are seldom bored
- early readers tend to excel in other areas of study as well
Some of the cons include:
- poor eyesight. There is little current study being done on this topic, but former research suggested that early reading was strongly related to vision problems in children.
- early childhood is the time to learn about the world through movement. To be outside, touching, tasting, smelling, experiencing. Learning from a book may rob the young child of these important stages
- teaching a young child to read is time-consuming. Some studies suggest it is far better to delay reading until the child is ten years old or more
- not all children experience success at an early age. Is it right to set a young child up for failure?
As you can see, the pros really do outnumber the cons. When I tried to google for “cons” to write this article, it was very hard to come up with any. And the definition of “early reading” has changed! The articles on the web are not talking about teaching a four or five year old to read, but teaching a baby!
I taught my firstborn to read when she was two years old. I read a paperback book from the library called “How to Teach Your Baby to Read” by Glenn Doman. I wrote out the suggested vocabulary words on large sheets of posterboard, and worked with not just my young daughter, but three of the four children I babysat. Tammy caught on quickly, and I have pictures of her “teaching” another baby as she played with the flashcards.
My problem with Tammy was probably my fault. Glenn Doman’s method is the sight-word method at first. You teach your baby a lot of vocabulary words, until they are reading their first book. Then you teach them phonics. I skipped that step. She had a little difficulty when she went to public school. She was a very active, kinesthetic learner. She made quick decisions, without much thought. For example, she read “comfortable” as “conference table”. Neither word should be in a primary reader, but it was something she read incorrectly. If I had followed the rest of Glenn Doman’s method, she would have been spared this. However, when I pulled my children out of public school and homeschooled them, I was able to teach her phonics then. She went on to graduate with honors from public highschool, and was on the national dean’s list in college. She is my only child (out of four) to wear glasses, though. She is very near-sighted. I wear glasses, and I was also reading before kindergarten.
I did not teach my middle child, Annika, to read early. I tried at age four, but she wasn’t interested. I tried again at five, and at six. She had no interest. At age seven, she was suddenly ready. I used the “Sing, Spell, Read & Write” program, and she went through it in three weeks. She went from not being able to read, to reading at a fifth grade level in three weeks. She is now 23 years old, and reads a thick novel in about two days.
As for those ridiculous little worksheets so popular in preschools and kindergartens, you’ll not find them in my lesson plans. They may teach something. They teach following directions or cutting and pasting on the line. But they are mostly worthless. A child will not learn that this shape “T” is the letter “t” and that it makes the “tuh, tuh” sound and that “truck” and “toy” start with the “tuh, tuh” sound by doing a worksheet. Only the child who already knows the letter T can do the worksheet correctly, and why waste his time drilling on something he already knows? There are so many better ways to teach a young child than with worksheets.
Check out my units, A is for Apple, or B is for Bugs! for a week’s worth of fun activities that teach letter sounds and recognition. Then, take a break and spend a week on the color red. For more fun ideas, visit my Lessons page, or better yet – subscribe to my blog, and never miss another update again.
We’ll explore some of those ways in future posts. So stay tuned!
Top: photo by Jessica Merz