Have you felt the pressure? You know what I mean, right? The pressure to teach children to read at a younger and younger age, I see it every day. Whether it is from marketers, or just parents diligently teaching their 2 year olds the alphabet there seems to be an increasing paranoia in the parent-o-sphere about not being the parent of the last kid on the block to learn to read.
I don’t stand for any of that. If you have ever taken any of my parent education workshops, read my book “When should I teach my child the alphabet?” or played any of our Learning Programs with your children you will have heard me explain the evidence behind why there is a “too young” for learning to read. We never got in the business of teaching kids to read in order to perpetuate the trend of everything sooner and younger for kids.
Why am I so opposed to teaching kids to read before they are ready?
First of all, there is a big difference between teaching early literacy skills and teaching kids to read. Early literacy skills create a solid foundation onto which specific skills like alphabet learning, phonics and sight-word recognition are built on. What would happen if you built a house without putting foundations down first? The building will be unstable. The same thing happens if you push reading skills before your child has built a solid foundation in early literacy. For more on early literacy skills, check out my book “When should I teach my child the alphabet?”
Teaching kids to read in kindergarten & grade 1 is not common in all parts of the world. Scandinavian countries like Sweden typically don’t teach children to read until they are 7 or 8 years old. In the US kids are taught as early as possible. Preschool programs coming out of the US focus on alphabet learning and numeracy. It is common now for kids to start Kindergarten able to read. However when we look at adult literacy we see an interesting story. Sweden has one of the highest literacy rates in the world, 77% of the population can read well enough to understand the text on a prescription bottle. The US, however has one of the lowest in the developed world – only 52% of Americans can read the text on their prescription drugs.
Another study, by Dr Sebastian Suggate from Otago University in New Zealand found that children that were taught to read by the age of five are unlikely to be better readers by the age of 11 than children who didn’t learn until the age of 7. Similar studies have also found that children who learn later tend to read for pleasure while children who are taught earlier read because they are told to.
So, what is the best thing for you to do with your child? Start reading to your baby from the very beginning, read a variety of books and read often. A few books a day is a good start. Talk about the books as you read, point out animals and objects in the pictures “look a dog, a red dog!” this type of reading builds vocabulary and understanding. Reading is more than just an ability to decode text from a page. Reading is 90% about being able to understand what is written – if you don’t believe me, go read a contract and then see how you feel about signing it without having a professional explain it to you! Sure, you can teach a baby to decode those letters but what is the point if the baby doesn’t know what the words mean or if his brain isn’t developed enough yet to really comprehend what is written.
When your baby becomes a preschooler, take things slowly and go at the pace of your child. Some kids blossom into reading early, and you need to support that. Some kids blossom later, and you need to support that too. Try to focus equal amounts on imagination building as on the mechanics of the alphabet. Both are equally important to creating a reader.
So please, relax. Don’t worry about teaching your 2 year old the alphabet, it will come with time. Better to use that time passing on that love affair you have with a really good book to your child.