Yes, we all want the best for our children. We want them to have the opportunities and experiences that we never had. If, as a parent, we think we would have been more successful if we’d done better in school or participated in sports, chances are we will push our children in that direction. Afterall, we want them to be happy and successful. But our idea of what is best for our children might not always be what they need or want. Finding that balance between encouraging our children and pushing them too hard is often difficult to achieve.
The heightened focus on parents wanting their children to read at a very early age is real … and it is worrisome. There is little current research showing the long-term benefits of learning to read at a very young age. In fact, pushing children to learn too fast may actually rob some children of the joy that they should be experiencing along the way. Research indicates that attempts to accelerate intellectual development, and reading, in particular, are in fact counterproductive … so why do some parents continue to push? It could quite likely be that they are simply not aware of the learning process.
Until your child is developmentally ready to read, reading instruction is basically useless. Pressuring your child to do what they aren’t yet developmentally able to do and that they don’t see a point in doing may cause frustration and anger. Going through reading lessons may train your child to recognize letters or blends, but it won’t be reading.
Think about it in another way. Learning to read is similar to what happens when you baby learned to walk. He pulled himself up to a standing position, sometimes practicing this for months. He held your hands as he cautiously took shaky steps forward, and then one day, maybe unexpectedly … he took his first steps on his own. If you are like many parents, you have documented this moment have it etched into your memory.
Just like children showing signs that they’re almost ready to start walking, they also give clues that they are ready to begin reading. But how will you know? The first indicator is motivation. Your child must be interested in reading before he will put forth the effort to learn how to do it. How can you support this significant stage of your child’s pre-reading experience? Foster a love of reading. Make it a habit of snuggling up with your child in a comfortable place and together, lose yourselves in the imaginary world of a book. Sing it, read it, act it out. Do this daily. Be a role model. Reading to your child will provide educational advantages, develop communication skills and promote creativity.
Print awareness is another indicator that your child is ready to read and includes a basic understanding of how to read a book. “How” to read a book is easily modelled from birth, as you look at the cover of a book and talk about it with your child and then have your child turn the pages of the book carefully from beginning to end. (Board books or cloth books are a great idea for your baby who is still putting everything into his mouth.) Pointing out interesting details in pictures also promotes print awareness and as your child matures, he will focus on the words as communicating meaning. When you see you child pick up a favourite book and “read” in his own words (often nonsensical in the early years, and sometimes memorized) it is another one of those milestones worthy of recording.
We know that each child is unique, and all children develop at slightly different rates. Maybe your child has an abounding love for books, and maybe he doesn’t. Do not worry. Dr. and Mrs. Moore, in their recent research, have found that giving children time and space to explore and learn to read on their own timetable may actually set them on a path to greater understanding and maturity (http://www.intellectualtakeout.org/blog/are-we-pushing-kids-read-too-early)
In many cases pushing children to read before they are ready leads to short-term progress at the cost of long-term (sometimes lifelong) dislike of reading. “Interestingly, the Finnish school system, which has some of the highest reading scores in the world, does not begin direct instruction in reading until age seven, closer to the peak of a natural unforced bell curve than the American system, which keeps pushing instruction ever earlier. A study in New Zealand compared Waldorf schools, which begin reading instruction at age seven, to public schools, which begin at age five, and found no long-term benefit to earlier instruction. In fact, many of the studies which show an advantage to early reading instruction compare children’s proficiency at around age eight or nine. What the New Zealand study shows is that by age ten or eleven, that advantage may disappear, and that by twelve or thirteen, it often reverses, with children taught later showing greater comprehension and enjoyment of reading than those taught earlier.” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2016/08/19/what-the-modern-world-has-forgotten-about-children-and-learning/?utm_term=.96932edf2383)
Yes, we all want the best for our children. We all want them to be readers. Find that balance between encouraging your child and pushing him too hard. Be a role model, read to him and encourage his love of books.