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Evelyn Elwell Uyemura writes:
When my daughter was 18 months old, she was naming letters. So she’d see a Stop sign and say: S. T. O. P. (Yes, we played with plastic letters and she wanted to learn.)
Well, that’s nice, but it’s not really what letters are for. So I decided to teach her to read. I used a book (Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons) and at 2 years and 9 months, she was reading Dr. Seuss books. (I have a video of her that Christmas, so that’s how I happen to remember.) At 3, she could read signs as we drove past in the car. She was literate.
And then she kept on learning.
And then she went to a top 10 university, and then a job, and then got an MBA.
And now she’s almost 30 and she has a great job and is a happy and very productive person.
There is no down-side to learning to read, as long as it comes more or less naturally to the child, and it doesn’t cause pressure and tears or push out other childhood activities.
In my personal opinion, it’s good to learn to read before logic kicks in, when a young brain is good at discerning patterns and not yet prone to want to know why (because reading is not a logic-based activity, especially, reading English.)
The only issue that being an early reader raised was that I thought kindergarten would be kind of boring for her, so I homeschooled her till she was 8. Then everyone more or less could also read, and school had plenty of challenges that had nothing to do with sounding out words! If I had it to do again, I would do the same.
(By the way, as a linguist, I do not believe that “phonemic awareness” is a real thing or a prelude to reading. It’s an effect of knowing how to read, not a cause.)
Joyce Fetteroll writes: The presumption is that reading is a skill like handwriting. But it seems more like a developmental ability like walking and talking. It can’t be done before a child is developmentally ready. It can be delayed in an environment that doesn’t support it.
Unschooled children are read to, have their questions answered, grow up in a print-rich environment, listen to audiobooks, and so on. But their parents don’t use a reading program to teach them to read. Yet the children learn to read about the same age as schooled children. (It’s actually a bit earlier, but school statistics are likely to include more children with learning disabilities.)
If both instruction and no-instruction lead to children reading at the same age, what is instruction doing? Basically, it fills the time when children normally naturally begin reading, then the instruction gets the credit.
The question is like asking, “Is there any benefit from teaching children to walk early?”
There are pros and cons when children walk early. But no parent can teach a child to walk earlier than the age programmed into their genes. A parent can — though certainly shouldn’t — delay the age a child walks by depriving them of a good environment for learning. But they can’t speed it up.
There are some unexpected advantages when a child reads later — in an unschooling home where there is no pressure.
There are advantages some kids had early in their lives who read early. But by the time all kids are reading, the early readers are indistinguishable from the later readers.
But the age a child learns to read can’t be sped up.
Andrea Martin writes: Children should be empowered to learn on a schedule that respects their individual development. They should not be pushed ahead when they are not ready or deprived of learning opportunities when they are ready to learn.
My own son was reading at the second grade level when was three, at the fifth grade level when he was four, and at the tenth grade level when he was five, as far as I can remember. He is an adult now. However, that schedule is highly unusual, and it was achieved merely by exposing him to learning opportunities. I NEVER used flash cards, drilling, or any kind of forced teaching method. The closest thing I ever did to that would be to tell him that since he can read individual pages, he can read full books by reading individual pages one after another, and I once insisted that he complete some math exercises to have on hand for a portfolio in case anyone ever claimed that I was not actually teaching him during the years when I home educated him due to not having any other options for his level. So, that was him, but most kids are not going to develop at that rate, and trying to force them would be damaging to them.
For my own son, empowering him to read and giving him access to thousands of books empowered him to develop a great deal of knowledge in other areas. By the time he was twelve and a half and entering public school for the first time, he was able to take the ACT and earn a score higher than 98% of college bound seniors. If you tried to do that with the average “smart” kid, you would fail. But, for him, it was natural. It would have been negligent for me to NOT expose him to learning opportunities. I was not passive, but I did not force or pressure him to learn.
Whether your child is academically precocious or one who struggles to learn, providing learning opportunities and resources that align with their ever changing abilities is the most important way to time their education. Keep in mind that children develop at different rates in different areas. A child may develop fast in mental math and more slowing in reading and anything that involves marks on paper, for example. Children also have different learning styles and may not progress as quickly if they are only given access to learning through a particular method or source. Knowing the child and having the skill and awareness to provide for their needs at the right time and in the right way is the key to optimizing their education.
Sooner is not always better if sooner involves force, distress, and an aversion to academics. The best thing to do is to read to your child, provide ways to develop the skills involved in reading, promote curiosity, and to limit or remove things that will distract from learning, without taking the child out of the world. Our TV was off nearly all of the time, and I did not give my son free access to a computer until he was about sixteen. Today, that almost sounds negligent, and there are ways to provide positive computer access without diminishing a student’s learning through reading. Just be aware of how all of those things affect a student’s academic development.
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