Miss H can’t identify all the letters in the alphabet. She can write an H, and finishes the rest of her name with pretty squiggles. She likes to look at words and pretend that she can read, but I’m not going to teach her any time soon.
Charlotte Mason suggested beginning reading lessons at the age of 6. The world’s best school system, in Finland, starts even later than that. While we’ve found more and more evidence about how children learn through play, it seems like our society has added a clause: and flashcards, and early reading programs, and worksheets.
I often hear stories of babies learning to read through special infant reading programs, or toddlers reading words and writing their names. These things send me into a momentary panic, where I compare my daughter’s abilities to their child’s. Sometimes it seems that by making this choice to hold off on reading instruction, I’m going to set my child back and ruin her chances of being a functional reader in the future. But these cultural messages are simply wrong.
How did this early reading craze happen?
Before our nation was at risk, left no child behind, or started racing for the top, children weren’t seen as products or test scores. They were allowed to be children. America did not expect incoming Kindergartners to know x number of sight words. Five-year-olds weren’t in Kindergarten allllll day long because they needed time to rest and play and build friendships. Preschoolers began their education at the age of 4, and it was literally a program before school. Now preschool is the new kindergarten and kindergarten is the new first grade.
I read a report from Defending The Early Years called, “Reading Instruction in Kindergarten: Little to Gain, Much to Lose.” Learning to read in Kindergarten did not show any long-term benefits. The skills that a child learns through play help them prepare to be readers.
What I Will Teach My Three-Year-Old
I’m not planning on taking a hands-off approach in this area for our preschool at home. We read alphabet books, play with foam letters in the bathtub, and play the alphabet sign game in the car. We read idea-rich books, write letters together, and draw pictures to communicate. But the key is that we are playing. (Read more about how I teach the alphabet here.)
A veteran teacher once told me that her high-risk students had a difficult time comprehending the book, Brown Bear, Brown Bear because most of them had never been to a zoo. How would they understand more difficult concepts, like the differences between mammals, reptiles, and amphibians, if they had never observed different types of skin and fur? Children who can’t identify different fruit and vegetables surely can’t enjoy the other Eric Carle favorite, The Very Hungry Caterpillar.
I know some three-year-old readers are self-motivated. I know some children can’t wait to learn how to read, and some parents are so excited that they can’t wait to teach them. This is the choice I’ve made based on my experiences. For my daughter, I am convinced this time of discovery will influence her more than reading at a young age.
What do you think about the early reading craze?