Raise your hand if you are losing sleep over your child’s reading skills. In the beginning of our homeschooling journey I sure did. I was an avid reader. By middle school ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘Alice in Wonderland’ were numbered among my favorite books. I had hoped my children would follow in my own footsteps but they did not. My growing anxiety as a parent escalated when I attempted to share chapter books I remembered growing up with, only to be met with resistance. It has been a journey and I am glad we have this chance to meet because I eventually found my peace. I hope to help you find yours much earlier than I did.
Why do Kids Need to Read by Five?
Joan Almon, Alliance for Childhood Co-founder reminds us where the push for this policy standard came from. In short, parents wanted to speed up the developmental process, and in turn schools rose up to meet that demand. Ahhh! It’s amazing the power of parents when they are united! Then she does a beautiful job of pointing out what we should be focused on; “Bank Street College, a leading institution for early childhood education, has developed an on-line guide for early literacy development. It identifies three main stages for developing strong reading skills.” With preK to first grade children seen as emergent readers and writers. What does that mean? I am so glad you asked. “Bank Street describes a number of typical achievements for emergent readers/writers. Among their examples are being able to understand that written language conveys messages and pretending to read and write. Children may know some letter names and some letter-sound associations; and they can write some letters, usually those in their own names.”
Basically, the majority of Kindergartners are not ready to read by five, and this is developmentally appropriate. “There is nothing developmentally wrong with our children. It is the expectations that are not developmentally appropriate.”
As an adult we often forget to see through the eyes of our children. We want them to hurry up and master what we set out for them. Take a deep breath and a step back. Letting our children take the lead even if it looks like playing, can give us the results we are looking for. Here are a few examples of what that looks like.
- Pretending to read
- Scribbling nonsense
- Copying words they see
- Attempting to show letter to sound relationships
- Interest in writing their own name
- Making up a story or playing make-believe
- Pointing at objects or identifying objects in the room that begin with a letter or association.
We actually do more harm in the long run by insisting on tasks before a child is ready, causing a wide range of behavior problems that neither parents nor teachers are able to handle adequately.
If the idea of play-based learning is new to you, you might be interested in reading The Crisis in Early Education: A Research-Based Case for More Play and Less Pressure by Joan Almon and Edward Miller which explores the problems in early education, the effectiveness of play-based learning, and asks the question; if there is no clear benefits to reading early-are there any clear disadvantages?
The Secret to Reading
In the Struggling to Read post I explained my kids had different needs. Struggling? Reluctant? These labels got in the way and for a while made me second guess their abilities. I spent a ridiculous amount of time researching the problem before I was able to put the pieces together. Instead of focusing on what was popular, driven by anxiety and fear, I put all of that aside and considered the time proven elements that creates strong readers and life long learners. Back in the day there were pamphlets in the front office of our local public schools displaying data comparing how well they were doing with the state and national average about low and high income families. I compared this with the information available on kids with English as a Second Language who successfully overcame obstacles to try and find some common ground. Over and over again the secret sauce revealed was too simple to be true. Kids become successful communicators in life if they are surrounded by a language rich environment. The solution is staring us in the face but our anxiety and fears keeps us from seeing it clearly. In this constant state of busyness we begin to succumb to the messages that we are failing our kids, when in reality we need to remind ourselves that we already have everything we need to succeed.
How to Create a Language Rich Environment
Talk to your kids like the human beings they are. Using cute words in an attempt to protect them makes them dependent on you. As uncomfortable as it can be in the beginning, every time you talk with your children, you are giving them an opportunity to use and develop their skills.
Have real conversations with them. As you exchange ideas by providing a safe place to express opinions and thoughts, you are imparting to your child grammar and syntax. Without you realizing it, they are absorbing your knowledge and learning how to apply it. Far more important, you are teaching them how to engage and contribute meaningfully. You might think this all of this has nothing to do with being a reader but you would be mistaken. Studies show that the conversations between a parent and child increase brain development and literacy skill, irrespective of social economic standing. The way you interact with your child is far more important than what you think they have to read.
Read to them. Some kids do not find reading interesting-at all! They think it sucks and they think what you want them to read is boring. You can destroy your relationship over forcing a kid to read. I have done it and let me tell it was a long road back. It really isn’t worth it. Especially when reading to them also develops their abilities and allows them to learn to process the material.
Ask questions. There are kids who can read every word perfectly, but they do not understand what is happening in the book. The way they learn to read “well” ignores making connections and context, which they have to relearn at a later date. Reading to them is a perfect opportunity to discuss with them what is happening in the book. Periodically check in to see what that means to them.
Listen to audiobooks. When we switched to audiobooks for one of our delayed readers, there was barely any science or data that supported our decision. I did so on a hunch and the idea that allowing them to listen to a favorite story as often as they wanted would build letter-sound recognition. Thankfully it worked and research is now coming out to support that. But that is not all. In 2019 a study by researchers from the Gallant Lab at UC Berkeley published in the Journal of Neuroscience, that listening to audiobooks develops and engages the brain in exactly the same way. Not a “reader” or a ‘Read Aloud’ family? No problem. You can unpack that guilt trip and download a book today. Enjoy!
Read for pleasure. Cultivating the idea that reading is valuable happens so much faster when our kids see us reading for pleasure. One of the first things I did after gathering all the research and coming to these conclusions was to physically move my reading spot to the living room. It was personally hard to read with so many distractions but I realized asking kids to do something that they do not see YOU doing, is well, weird.
I hope you found this information helpful. It is my deepest wish to empower you with the tools that will help you act in the best interest of your family. Feel free to ask questions! If you are a looking for a humanity focused and inclusive support in your homeschool journey, join our Facebook Group: RISE Homeschoolers: Raising Inclusive Secular Explorers