Learning to read
My daughter is getting very close to turning five. And starting school. These are all wonderful things, but they make me all nervous and sweaty if I think about them for any period of time. She’s one of those kids who is ‘school ready’. You know the type. Overachiever, wants to know how to do everything, goes above and beyond what she is asked to do (if she is asked by someone other than her mother, that is). She has most recently shown an earnest interest in reading. She loves books, and we both enjoy our story time (some days we easily read together for 2-3 hrs). So being an early childhood educator I should be more than capable of helping her down that ‘lets learn to read’ path, right? (Insert laugh). I thought I was. But each child is different and I have had to think long and hard about what reading ‘instruction’ should look like for L.
And here is what I’ve decided: my main priority is going to continue to read for ‘fun’ and focus on the joy of reading. *Gasp* Does that mean that we aren’t going to go over letter sounds, phonemes, sight words, and all that good stuff? No, all those things have their place, and are important when it comes down to decoding text, I mean we all have to understand that words are made up of letters and letters make sounds and when they are put together they make different units of sounds and yada yada yada. But the real reason any of us learn to read is to gather meaning and understanding from what we read. We don’t read for the purpose of sounding out words, (and of course that is a necessary part of learning to read, and can be taught in meaningful ways). And I know everything is not in its own little vacuum, the decoding, the comprehension, it is all tied together and part of the process. But it is amazing what my daughter has picked up from reading with me, a true passion for the written word.
A love of reading, and a love of the ‘story’ will prove much more beneficial to my daughter over the years than any direct instruction will now. As a country we are so focused on making everything faster and sooner, and this has overflowed into our education system. We now have flashcards for our babies, and educational videos that will ‘teach’ our toddlers their ABC’s. I’m not saying any of these things are bad, but they are not necessarily beneficial either. I just read a study about early literacy instruction and its’ impact on later rates of illiteracy. Those countries that began instruction as early as 3 and 4 (and by instruction I mean rote memorization and rehearsal of letters and sounds) had by far the highest rates of illiteracy in later school years. By contrast, Sweden, which doesn’t start direct reading instruction until 7 or 8 years of age (when a child is typically more developmentally ready) had by far, the lowest illiteracy rates of all the nations. Interesting huh?
Each child is different and learns in his or her own unique way. While one child may be thrilled to open up a new library book and explore its story through the pictures (which is a great way to build comprehension in young readers) another child may feel much more interested in decoding the text through sounding out words. And we (as in I) can get all caught up in what strategies to use, and what our child should be working on, and which method is best, but we, as parents and educators, need to step back and look at the bigger picture. These early years go by so fast, and we want to equip our children in every way we can, and also enjoy this precious time with them. And right now that means, opening up a book, and allowing my daughter to ‘read’ me her story, even if she misses a few (or all) of the words.
What advice would you seasoned mothers and educators give when it comes to helping your child learn to read?