The importance of literacy is touted everywhere. The more literate a nation, the better they fare in the world market. International studies show that a positive attitude toward reading impacts student success in all subjects, and is a high predictor of future success. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends reading aloud to children from birth, and doing so daily.
So, in order to give your kids an advantage in this competitive world and to allow them to truly reap the rewards of early literacy, you should get them reading as soon as possible, right? Nope! Forcing reading instruction too soon may actually have a harmful effect on your child’s literacy development.
The age for “learning to read” varies around the world. Currently, the USA is pushing kids as young as kindergarten and even preschool to master the sounds of the letters and to memorize sight words. In Finland, a country that consistently tops the world rankings for education, similar reading instruction may begin as late as eight years-old.
Here’s the thing, informal reading instruction, of course, begins at birth. To become a good reader, a child needs to see print around them, a child needs to develop a good understanding of oral language and a child needs hours and hours and hours of play. Yes, play.
Before a student is ready to make sense of words on a page and stories in a book, they need to orient themselves in the world. Through play, kids develop the knowledge base they need to launch their academic career. Before a child sounds out the letters that spell s-o-u-r, their brains need to know what sour is. And to do that, they need to taste lots of sweet, tangy, bland, salty and bitter things for their tongues and brains to understand where sour fits into the continuum.
Kids need to experience up versus down, freezing versus mild, smooth or slippery or bumpy. They need to learn through climbing and digging and spinning in a circle until the world tilts around them. I’m not saying a child can not make sense of a word if they haven’t experienced it themselves - I have an academic understanding of a blowfish, although I’ve never met one. What I am saying is a child needs a wealth of interactive experiences with the natural world around them, with their own bodies and what they can do, with the endless games their minds come up with, long before they can get what they need to out of decoding words.
I’m a fan of Ontario’s play-based kindergarten. Sure, I see some of the pitfalls and I recognize that the program is not being administered consistently across schools, but the theory is sound. Let kids explore the world. Give them time to experience things. Let them wonder at the difference between wet packing snow and the frigid snow that crunches beneath their feet. A four or five year-old learns much more from watching an ant climb the rough bark of a tree than from memorizing letter sounds.
Having said that, I do think it is vital to surround kids with letters, written words, and a ton of books. For me, the key is creating joy in relation to reading. Flashcards with carefully printed sight words are not going to instill a love of literature. Creating a competitive culture around reading - who is “top of the class,” who reads at what level, who will get there first - also flies in the face of kids taking pleasure in literacy.
There are some kids ready to read at four years-old, just as there are some kids ready to toilet train early or walk early — but I think the educational system, and parents, would do well to recognize the great range in when kids are naturally ready to acquire a skill and chose a low-pressure approach.
Reading to little ones? Awesome! Visits to the library and a house full of books? Amazing! Endless hours of creative play? Incredible! Flashcards, worksheets and pressure to read before their time? Nope! Won’t do your child any favours and can lead to future difficulties in school.
Trying to raise a reader? Start by letting them be kids.
Remember when your baby was just a little bundle, unable to do anything for herself, depending on you for everything? It seems like yesterday for me. I can’t believe I’ve just registered this little squishy face for junior kindergarten!
My sweet, chubby infant has grown into a tall, chatty pre-schooler and is eager for the next big step. Although my December baby will be the youngest in her class, she feels ready. As a teacher, I know she’s ready. As a mom, I’m a little less ready. What is it about our kids growing up that causes such a mix of emotions?
Even though parents may never be ready, with a little work before the big day, we can get our kids ready so this time in their lives will be a memorable one. Having taught kindergarten, I have a sense of what kids need (and don't need) to make the transition an easy one. Here are a few things you can start doing now to get your kid kindergarten-ready:
By not mentioning academic skills, I’m not downplaying them. Sure, a working knowledge of letters and numbers will definitely give a solid foundation for school to build on. But there is no need to stress about how high she can count or if she can write her name before junior kindergarten. Read to your kids often, provide crayons, scissors, glue and pencils. Help her notice numbers and practice counting as you go about your day. Academic skills will come in time - no drilling required.
And a final tip for parents: Label EVERYTHING! Get your child’s name on their clothes, bags, lunch containers and anything else that can be misplaced or forgotten.
School can be a great place to build community. I’m looking forward to meeting more families in my area with kids the same age as my daughter. And I’m confident that with a little prep work, we can make the big move to kindergarten a happy and healthy transition for all.
Having your family immunized is an important part of creating a foundation for a healthy life and it’s normal to have questions. Now you have all the answers in one place to help make an informed decision for your family.
Terrible twos, threenagers, and fournados - the preschool set has a poor reputation and can keep parents counting the minutes until bedtime. Yet, when I took my eldest to her three year-old checkup, her pediatrician suggested three is the most magical age of childhood.
Is your little one at their most adorable when they sleep, or is this the most wondrous time of their young lives? I say, it’s up to you.
Only a few months in, age three has been treating us well and although there are still plenty of moments where I have to to talk myself out of an all-out monster roar (but seriously, why does it take them SO LONG to get out that front door?), there have been countless moments of joy and laughter.
Right now my daughter has an endless supply of imaginary characters who pop up to play with her, each dubbed with a delightful name. For a while, we had to collect mail for her friends Wumby Flappy (paying homage to Knuffle Bunny) and Seagull, who gets a surprising amount of post for a bird. Last week, she was playing with Kaisoto (perhaps of Japanese decent?) and Bimbo.
She also enjoys giving her games titles. There was an activity called “Fighting Animals,” which thankfully involved neither fighting, nor animals, but centred on running amok (as many of her games do). She recently informed me she was playing “Making Love on Neptune” (seriously, I can’t make this stuff up), during whichshe lined up all her little plastic animals close because, as she explained “they love each other.” There was a game entitled “Refugees” which consisted of piling books to form a tower - there is perhaps a deep, philosophical metaphor in that title, but it escapes me.
Sometimes, it’s an embarrassment to hear your children echo your voice back to you - I hear her telling her baby sister, “If you do that one more time, mommy will take away your toy.” But, more often, it makes me smile. I call her for dinner and she’ll respond, “I just have to finish my blog post,” or “Right after I feed the baby.” She picks up her play phone to “call a client”, saying “Hello, Mrs. Lady.”
There are the big questions: But where were the people waiting when the dinosaurs were around? When a big fish eats a little fish, how come the little fish doesn’t eat his way out of the big one’s tummy? Why can’t I see my laughter? There are little questions: Can boys like Shopkins? Do you like being a mommy? In the car, there are enough questions about song lyrics that I have to chose the stations very carefully.
Even her sadness often makes me laugh. I’m not evil. I promise. But how can I not smile when she has a tearful meltdown because “Only people who know me love me. People who haven’t met me don’t love me.” Seriously, kid? And the child was truly heartbroken when she learned that dogs can’t eat chocolate. One day she wept because the bathroom “just smells so bad” - one of the many reasons I am always trying to get a moment alone in there!
Oh, I’m not saying that there are never times we are literally crying over spilled milk. There are still the occasional tantrums - hers and mine. And sometimes, like last night when she was up at four in the morning, I find humour in the absurdity of the situation - am I really negotiating with this little being before the break of dawn. But diapers are long gone and she can put on her own jacket and boots - imagine the freedom! And every moment of her awake time is filled with imagination, play and song. It is truly enchanting watching her navigate the world. My house is a mess and I’m often running late, but I wouldn’t change a thing about this time.
Yes, age three is a magical time. But then again, so was age two and I have high hope for ages four, five and six.
Terrible twos? Threenagers? Fournados? No way. You choose how you see them. Find the joy amongst the mayhem.
Image Source: Pixabay