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Friday, January 11, 2013

Forget the Reading Race

My youngest son, My Little Reader, is now four years old and in preschool. It's becoming difficult not to notice now where other kids are with their literacy and reading skills and compare my little guy to them. I see his peers coming to class with him each week, and I'm in preschools every week working with my own Literacy Launchpad students... There's a pressure isn't there, to feel like your kid has to be right where every other kid is academically, or even ahead? I find myself stressing more and more lately that I'm not spending enough time working on this skill or that skill with my son and that he'll be behind all the other kids his age.BUT then I remember all that I learned in my studies in college, as well as in my years of teaching Literacy Launchpad - that it doesn't matter when a child learns to read, it matters how much they learn to love reading. And often, heavy-handed efforts to get our kids to start reading at an early age can leave them not really wanting to read. 

I was skimming through Jim Trealease's Read Aloud Handbook this week and he quotes an education adage, reminding parents that "'What we teach children to love and desire will always outweigh what we teach then to do.'" He goes on to say that "The fact is that some children learn to read sooner than others, and some better than others. There is a difference."

I felt encouraged as I read through the pages of Trelease's book. I was reminded of the power of simply reading to my kids as much as I can, giving them a rich literacy environment, and keeping away from flash card drilling and phonics worksheets as a means to teach my kids reading. 

Our eduction system seems to push for formal reading instruction at an earlier and earlier age. I've personally experienced parents that push teachers to do reading instruction earlier and earlier. Sometimes I see preschools teaching skills that kids aren't even developmentally ready to handle yet. Often our schools can be very good at teaching our kids how to read, but as Trelease points out, the research shows that they usually aren't very good at teaching them to want to read. 

Did you know Finland has higher reading scores than the US, but doesn't begin to formally teach their children to read till age seven? Our focus here in the states, in getting our kids to read early and to read well misses the point. None of that matters if they don't want to read. We end up with kids who read at school and not any other time. 

Trelease and the experts and researchers he quotes in his book don't think there's anything necessarily bad about early reading necessarily, but they feel a child should arrive at that skill on their own, without a structured time each day when someone is sitting down with them and teaching them letters, sounds, and syllables. 

I'm so glad I took some time to get my head back on straight this week. I'm thrilled that my kiddo enjoys books and gets excited about reading time. I need to forget about the big "reading race" and revel in that. I probably need to make space in our day for even more time to simply read books aloud to my son, and stick some of the phonics instruction books I've been eyeing back up on my shelf. My son might not be diving into the Harry Potter series solo anytime soon, but he sure does love him some books and that's what matters in the long run. 

Do you (or did you) ever worry that your child isn't learning certain skills early enough? Do you find yourself comparing your child to their peers like me? Tell me I'm not alone!

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