One of the biggest parental concerns when children start school is how easily their child will learn to read. This eagerness to give children the best start is driving academic instruction at an early age. I recently heard of a school that had under 2’s learn flashcards, before they could move into the 2’s classroom. This anxiety about children reaching goals is often well-intentioned but it is a little like teaching a child to walk before they can stand.
Research suggests that there is a strong correlation between a child’s vocabulary and how easily they will learn to read.
Years of research has told us that language is the foundation for literacy. Children arriving at school with lower levels of oral language proficiency, for whatever reason, are therefore at a distinct disadvantage for learning.
explain Professor Courtenay Norbury and Debbie Gooch in their article “Too much too soon? What should we be teaching 4-year-olds?” They recommend that the first year of school, is focused on developing these oral skills.
In Finland, children are only taught to read in kindergarten if they are able and interested. A far cry from the expectation that children will read in the US and UK systems. If the academic benefits aren’t convincing enough, then recent research from Stanford University suggests delaying kindergarten and prolonging play are also beneficial to a child’s mental health.
What about those children who already have the foundational skills for reading? Would they be left behind if a play based curriculum without direct reading instruction was introduced? My belief is that most children who have developed an interest in reading and have the foundational skills, will read quickly and easily. Children who are ready to read, will have individual attention and not have to complete easy worksheets with the rest of the class, in a school system that is released from the constraints of ensuring all children will learn to read in their first year. The teacher will be able to support those children to develop their literacy in a meaningful way.
If we want our children to be interested and skilled in literacy what are the most important factors? My article for Parentmap ‘What’s really important in early literacy?’ explores this further.
I sometimes wonder what parents aspirations are for their children. If we constantly drive them towards academic goals and achievements, to extra credits, advanced classes and better colleges so that they can have careers that demand long working hours but good pay, what message are we giving children? That working hard, earning money and being successful are important at the expense of life experience, family life, fun and hobbies? I wish it were easier to stop worrying about what our children will achieve and think more about what sort of people they will be.