Is your child ready to learn to read?
So you’ve been seeing all over your Instagram feed photos of young kids learning to read. Those Facebook ads for reading programs keep popping up. You’ve been hearing lots of things. “Teach it now!” “It’s too early!”
If that’s you, read on. We’ll help you answer the question, “Is my child ready to learn reading” – in a way that’s based on the science of reading.
The science of learning to read tells us that children go through stages of reading development and that paying attention to readiness, to go from one stage to another, must be scaffolded.
This means that between the ages of 0 and 6, pre-reading and emergent literacy should be guided carefully and gradually, without rushing the teaching from skill level to skill level.
Determining your Child’s Facility in Learning To Read
During these stages, we also rely on their natural ability to acquire and use language to determine their facility in learning to read. Delayed speakers are likely to be delayed readers but this does not mean that they have no potential to be excellent readers later on.
Many parents may think early readers become excellent readers later on and panic when their child is not reading by 3 or 4. But studies do not conclude this. Rushed literacy learning is not just stressful for both parent and child, but will also have later long-term consequences that are difficult to reverse, such as a negative disposition towards reading and deeply rooted errors in fluency, comprehension, and writing in grade school levels and beyond.
In my experience, we have met many parents who are puzzled at how their “early reader” is now a discouraged grade school student with fluency and comprehension challenges. When we assess their performance, many times we discover that literacy learning was rushed and haphazardly taught in their preschool years (possibly from a packaged off-the-shelf program or by a rigid quick-paced nursery phonics program) and we have to include Beginning Reading components in their intervention plans.
Hinge on readiness but ask yourself key questions. For example, if you want your child to successfully decode CVCs, try checking off this list:
- Recognize and distinguish the 26 alphabet letters
- Name all the letters in order and at random (use flash cards) with good speed
- Know all alphabet sounds with good speed (use flash cards)
- Does not confuse the letter names and their sounds (i.e. “i” says /ē/ but “e” says /e/) – this may be difficult for a 3 year old!
- Can count words in a spoken sentence
- Can tap to syllables in a word
- Can listen to a word and break it into individual sounds in sequence
- Speak a word based on its given spoken sounds (i.e. teacher says /b/ /a/ /t/, student says “that sounds like /bat/”
- Can recognize the beginning, ending, and last sound in a spoken CVC word without a visual prompt
- Can scan and swipe a word from left to right with automaticity
Note that decoding CVCs is not equivalent to reading. According to Tunmer and Gough, reading is both the ability to decode words and know their meaning. This makes us very careful with programs that promise that “babies and toddlers can read”. Reading cannot be reduced to just simple decoding. Neither can babies and toddlers be taught to guess or memorize a word without learning the alphabet system. Later on, they will have to unlearn this and learn phonetically.
If this list is not checked fully, they may not be ready yet and will make mistakes in decoding if you challenge them. It is not worth it for your child to struggle through the mistakes and definitely not worth it for you to react with disappointment. Relax because she has three more years to learn this!
Always Begin with A Mindset For Readiness
So, we always begin with a mindset for readiness. Ask yourself what the child is capable of doing at this moment and equip them from there, instead of basing your teaching on products or worksheets you already bought.
When you begin with an honest and careful observation of your child’s behavior, it is easier to tune in and motivate him or her to follow your instructions. What attention span are you working with? How well does your child listen and how quickly does he or she respond? Can the child articulate clearly and express ideas effectively? It is also more natural for you to identify which activities to choose if you are in tune with him or her. What part of the daily routine does she like or dislike? What are her favorite themes or topics?
The time you use in observation and planning your instruction is your main tool for teaching reading successfully. After you know your child well, put on your teacher hat and decide on your scope and sequence based on a true understanding of the building blocks of reading.
Reading readiness takes years to develop (really, you have about 6 to 7 years) and also entails maturity over time. If your teaching flows with the child’s readiness, you are in for a relaxed and steady learning curve that is nurtured by an irreplaceable bond.
Learning to Read is Not a Race
Remember that learning to read is not a race with other kids. Your standards in teaching a child to read are based on neither your neighbor’s kid’s has achieved, nor what a fixed and immovable curriculum might indicate. Hurrying up the teaching of reading words when a child is not ready may be detrimental to his current and long-term reading disposition.
Many teachers, tutors, and schools are also in this race and they are pressured. It is important that your child experiences delightful learning to read experience, rather than an anxiety-filled one. The key is understanding reading readiness.
Actually, decoding is not everything!
It also shows that sharpening speech and language skills are the basis for strong decoding and comprehension skills. While many parents may believe that reading is simply “speaking out the alphabet sounds and putting those sounds together” (what we can call blending sounds), we cannot reduce reading skills to just merely decoding.
We’d love to support you on this journey. Check out our reading program and see for yourself how it can benefit your child.