Children Learning to Read

In the last decade or so there has been a large focus on children learning to read.

Parents of preschool age children have worried and wondered if their child will be able to come to this skill early enough not to be considered “behind”.  Since reading is a global brain activity it is very much dependent on brain development which is a unique and individualized process.

Learning to read requires a multi-faceted approach for a number of reasons. Specifically, reading is a complex skill that requires the presence of certain neural pathways in the brain so that information can be transferred in a way that makes sense. Children develop these pathways not only at various developmental rates but also since there are a variety of “intelligence”, some children come to it easily and naturally while others may learn at a slower pace. (refer to Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligence theory) There are no “one size fits all” reading programs that answer all children’s needs.

Early childhood is a time when the foundation for academic learning can be laid more readily than any other time. The National Association for the Education of Young Children views the goals of a Literacy Program as follows; “For children to expand their ability to communicate through speaking, listening and writing and to develop the ability and disposition to acquire knowledge through reading.” Developing a disposition will require respect for the child’s unique and individual pace.

The child needs to be aware of each of the following  to become a reader: Letter recognition, sound recognition, decoding skills, print moves from left to right and then down, each word has a meaning, a sentence has a meaning beyond the word, there are spaces between words, there are capital letters and small letters, there is a stop and start point in a sentence, sentences make paragraphs, there is a cultural connection to meaning.

The most important factor in determining a child’s literacy development is the parent’s relationship to the printed word. Children are more successful when parents model literacy. Parents can begin reading to babies with the sturdy board books that are now available.  Creating time to read every day underscores the value that the adult places on reading and encourages the same in the child. Field trips to local libraries to borrow books and listen to Story Time will nurture the child’s love of reading.

Sometimes children will memorize simple books, particularly those that rhyme. This is a great beginning. Their brain is holding onto the rhythm of the language and associating it with the appropriate page. Over time this will transfer to the focus on words when it is encouraged.

Various studies indicate that if a child is not reading at “grade level” by fourth grade, it is very difficult for the gap to be bridged. In most educational settings the first four grades focus on learning to read. The grades beyond focus on reading to learn.

Reading and writing are by nature an abstract activity that requires certain abilities to be in place. Respecting the individuals unique rhythm and pace creates an environment that is nurturing and non-competitive. Children begin formal school at various starting points. Cultural and economic factors also contribute their unique challenges.

Mary Gordon says the following which I believe says it all: “This makes it all the more important that school systems with a focus on bringing all children to the same level of academic performance at the end of the year, have strategies that recognize children’s different starting points. Failure to do so puts undue stress on both the child and the teacher. There is a body of thought that pushes for more structure in education, foisting more and more formal instruction on younger children. This is based on the faulty premise that beginning such instruction early trains children to absorb learning at a greater rate as they get older. It flies in the face of all the research about how children really learn. Classroom teachers, particularly at the kindergarten level, often feel they are violating their own values and belief system when they are pushed to substitute instruction for the play-based problem solving that they know is the foundation of a child’s competencies. They worry that play has become a four letter word and that children’s natural learning style, their curiosity and imagination, have been sold out to political decisions based on rhetoric rather than research.”

Excerpted from Roots of Empathy        FYI Mary Gordon is an educator, international speaker and founder of Canada’s first and largest network of Parenting and Family Literacy Centers

About The Author

Lois Olson

Founder of The Montessori Children's House Inc. Laramie, Wyoming Montessori Primary Certification 1973
Systematic Training for Effective Parenting facilitator certification
Thirty eight years of experience working with children ages 3-6
Twenty five years facilitating parenting groups
Ten years facilitating teacher training
B.A In Psychology

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