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Reading and Young Children

Many early childhood educators have told me that parents are requesting that they spend more time teaching young children to “read.”

Research in early childhood development as well as brain research strongly suggests that children need to develop in many ways before they are prepared to read. For example, children should experience unstructured play, creative arts, music and movement to develop critical thinking skills, muscle development and auditory acuity.

How do people feel about the push to have young children (under 6) to read?

Re: Reading and Young Children

I've had to fight quite hard against family members etc on this. I home educate and although my daughter could read at 5 it was not through "teaching" or any kind of reading scheme.

We have lots of free play, lots of walk, lots of whizzing around the garden doing cartwheels, lots of oral stories, me reading stories from books, puppet shows and so on. I cringe at reading schemes and there is a fight on against the Government who want to introduce Phonics to pre-5 year olds in their new Early years Foundation STage which will be compulsory for all childcare providers, regardless of the views of parents or those professionals who actually understand child development (see the OpenEYE campaign).

Dr Alan Thomas has some fascinating insights into reading and home education in his books - families who don't "teach" often find that their children start to naturally read at 11 or 12 with no adverse effects and shows that contrary to mainstream views on reading "windows" the timing can be much, much later.

Re: Reading and Young Children

Liz - Thanks for your input and the info on openEYE. I see that this is a group in the UK; we could sure use the highly esteemed members of that group in the US too.

It is interesting that the countries with the highest literacy rates (Scandinavian countries specifically) do not push reading and phonics but emphasize play, nature, arts, etc. Maybe we could learn a lesson here.

Re: Reading and Young Children

People don't seem to understand that literacy is not just reading. There are curriculums or education "theories" that don't begin to teach reading until around age 7.

According to one of the Bam! podcasts, the average age children learn to read is 6.5. As an early childhood professional myself, I've seen too much emphasis put on a child reading by a certain age or grade in school. Critical skills needed to succeed in life are left to the wayside while reading is being forced upon children who are not prepared for it. Expectations are beyond what some can achieve when they have other issues... developmental, behavior, home life etc.

This is a quote I found recently... “True literacy is becoming an arcane art and the United States is steadily dumbing down.” - Isaac Asimov

Re: Reading and Young Children

Wendy, you made my day quoting from the BAM! podcasts!

Although I'm not familiar with the protocol in all Scandinavian countries, Carol, I do know that in Finland the children don't start formal schooling until age 7 and that up 'til that time, they learn through play. Those who read my blog know that Finnish students also get a 15-minute break after every 45 minutes of instruction AND they have art, music, and PE. They leave school knowing three languages. And, oh yes, they're number-one in the world in literacy and numeracy.

Re: Reading and Young Children

I was very interested in the Finnish model but there is a downside if you are against media - a lot of the English language being learnt is because children watch English language programming with Finnish subtitles (so I've heard) and learn that way. Maybe this is just a modern-day phenomenon though because I've come across a few older generation Finnish people who learnt languages without the TV.

With reference to Denmark, I think they start at 7. I read I think either one of Carla Hannaford's books or one by Sally Goddard Blythe that mentioned that the children are encouraged to squiggle along to someone talking away. I know in Waldorf circles, writing is usually upper case first and then lower case is introduced and taught (at 7). I read it and wished I'd known about this idea, not to put it onto my own child but to ensure there was more access to squiggling :)

The Scandinavian models seem to rely on an informal approach to literacy pre the age of 6 or 7 (which is what we did) through songs, storytelling, puppetry, looking at pictures, sitting together with body language and verbal language and so on. I think if the environment is rich in these elements (and books, although I don't think this is as encouraged in Waldorf schools for kindergarten) then reading will naturally occur by not being taught but giving the child the experience of enjoyment, hearing/listening, remembering and joining in and so on.

Re: Reading and Young Children

In Smart Moves, Carla Hannaford has written a section called "How the Danes Make It Easy for Their Children to Learn to Read." Here's the opening paragraph of that section:

"The Danish school system, respecting natural brain developmental patterns, does not start children in school until six or seven years of age. They teach writing and reading from a holistic, gestalt processing format and then move to the details later, around age eight, when the logic hemisphere is ready to handle it. Reading is not taught until age eight -- and Denmark boasts one hundred percent literacy."

As many of you already know, I recommend that every parent and educator read Smart Moves. If you're interested in learning more about it, you'll find it on our Products page.