Learning to read is one of the most exciting milestones many parents look forward to in the lives of their children. It is, without a doubt, a breathtaking moment the first time you listen to your child read a book to you.
Literacy opens so many doors to so many new opportunities. Reading a great work of fiction is a magical way of escaping from the monotony of daily life. It is a gate through which the imagination can take flight. It grants the ability to function in an extremely text-driven world.
But does it matter so much when it happens? Right now I’m in the midst of reading a book on educational reform, and so far a great deal of it deals with the problems brought on by insisting that children learn to read at younger and younger ages.
What has surprised me the most in my reading is that it is largely parents who are demanding more and more with each passing year that their 3- and 4-year olds are introduced to reading and math concepts before they’re developmentally ready for it.
Whether it’s from worrying about their children’s futures, competitiveness, or impatience depends on the person, but no matter the reason, it’s time that the parents of little ones stop, take a breather, and think about why this is so important to them.
Because, truth be told, more and more child development experts are finding that this trend can actually be harmful in the long run.
I’m no expert in this area if you go by credentials, but I am a mother who has had children learn to read in school at an early age (some with difficulty, some without) and has had children learn to read when they were ready. With this experience in mind, here are:
10 Reasons All Kids Should Learn to Read at Their Own Pace
#1- Children aren’t cookie cutter images of one another.
All kids develop differently. Some kids are early readers but are “late” at tying shoes or learning to ride a bike. Other children tackle any sport they try with ease, yet have issues with spelling and printing legibly. Does this necessarily mean that one child is more intelligent than another? Not at all. It means that children have their own innate natural talents that should be given the opportunity to develop without excessive coercion.
#2- It is less stressful for the child.
Children who aren’t pushed to do something they aren’t developmentally ready for are bound to feel more anxiety than those who aren’t. It’s that simple.
I remember when I first began homeschooling and was so intent on staying on task with what my kids would have been doing in school. My then-7-year-old daughter used to sit and cry during her reading lessons, and I would feel helpless and frustrated. Not a good combination.
I finally decided that I wasn’t willing to put her through this anymore (and to be honest, I needed a break), so I stopped our reading lessons, cold turkey. A few months went by when I found my daughter in her room reading to a younger sibling more fluently than I had ever heard her read before.
To say this was an eye opener is an understatement.
#3- It is less stressful for the parent.
(See #2…) I do feel the need to point out here that in order for the parent to not feel overly anxious over letting their child learn at their own pace, they would need to fully believe in why they’ve decided to back off.
If you’re going to let your child take the lead, then let them. If you’re going to have frequent panic attacks over the fact that your 6-year-old doesn’t know her sight words, you’re going to totally defeat the purpose and bring that stress right back into both of your lives.
I highly suggest reading some John Holt for inspiration.
#4- Learning to read won’t seem like “work.”
I think we all know that most children have an aversion to that word (and some adults). If a child is choosing to learn something instead of being told to learn something, it has a huge impact on how well they learn it, and what their attitude toward it will be like.
#5- They are more likely to enjoy it.
I’m not naive enough to think that all children will learn to enjoy reading if they aren’t pushed into it, but they are certainly more likely to appreciate doing something they were able to tackle and conquer in their own time.
#6- There are less self-esteem issues stemming from problems with learning to read.
Do you remember being in elementary school? Do you remember how the kids in your class used to giggle when the slower readers were asked to read out loud? Maybe you were that child being giggled at.
These memories don’t go away easily. In fact, in many cases, they won’t go away at all.
Is your child learning to read before they are ready so important that you’re willing to risk allowing them to go through situations like these?
#7- It gives them time to blossom and mature.
Children who are more developmentally ready to read are often mature enough to skip the “See Dick Run” readers and jump right into books that actually have some meat to them.
#8- They have better comprehension.
I don’t think it takes much detective work to realize that when a child has a hard time figuring out phonics rules, exceptions, sight words, etc., comprehending what they’re stumbling through is going to be the last thing on their mind. Without comprehension, reading is pointless. Children who understand what they’re reading will excel more quickly because they are able to gain an actual interest in what they’re reading about.
#9- They are more likely to read for enjoyment.
This goes hand in hand with #5. One of my older sons hates reading. Just despises it. I’m willing to bet the reason is because he was pushed beyond his capacity when he was in school, given an IEP, and learned the stigma of Special Ed the hard way. He simply will not read anything I do not tell him he has to.
Contrast that with the daughter I spoke of earlier. After being given the freedom to learn to read when she was ready, she is the child I am most likely to find sitting in her room reading, lying on the living room floor reading to her siblings, or asking incessantly when we’re going to the library next.
The difference is glaringly obvious.
#10- They will have more time to discover alternative methods of learning.
There are so many wonderful ways of obtaining information in this day and age. There are movies, shows, and documentaries. Audio books. Hands-on learning. Board games. Video games. Nature study. Experimentation. Discovery learning. Play.
I could continue this list on for quite some time, but I think you get the point.
In school, the major reason reading is taught when it is is because it is a textbook-driven institution. Everything is books, books, and more books.
Now, I’m a big fan of books (although, textbooks, not so much), but they are far from being the only, or even the best, learning method.
There are so many different learning styles out there, and different people benefit from different educational approaches. The problem is that children who learn to read for the sole purpose of being able to stay on track with their class often lose the opportunity to explore all of the other amazing ways life has to offer us as learning experiences.
It’s something I’m not willing to compromise with when it comes to my kids.
For all of the hoopla concerning early literacy and all of the propaganda surrounding it, I hope you can take what I’ve written about today and ponder what it may mean for you and your family.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject. Leave a comment below. 🙂
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