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Should I wait to teach reading to my child?

by Lisa  

Does it seem to you that we try to lead our children through every developmental stage? Perhaps sometimes even before they’re ready?

Teaching babies to read, specifically, has garnered a lot of controversy. Parents who aren’t jumping on the bandwagon to teach reading skills to their infants are left wondering whether they’re doing their children a disservice.

Will their child suffer later in school as more of their peers learn to read early? Is it true that under five is really the best time to teach a child to read? What will happen if I don’t teach my child to read now?

I’d like to assure you that your child will be just fine if you decide not to buy a commercial reading program and start teaching reading before he or she enters school. In fact, you may be surprised to learn there are some experts who say it’s best to wait to teach reading until age 7 or even later!

Some reasons parents are waiting to introduce their children to reading

The brain’s energy is required for other learning in the early years

Rudolf Steiner, founder of Waldorf Education, insisted that reading should not be taught before age 7, at the very earliest. (With more than 900 schools in 83 countries, Waldorf Education is the fastest growing independent educational movement in the world, according to the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America. Maybe they’re onto something?)

To paraphrase their writings: The guiding principle according to Steiner is not to address the intellect directly in early childhood. Children up until the age of six or seven need to be in movement, learning through movement games and through play and expressing themselves through the arts, not sitting at desks tracing letters and numbers, memorizing math sums, or learning to read. That kind of intellectual energy is still needed in early childhood for the healthy formation of the internal organs. Once the baby teeth are pushed out by the adult teeth, it is a sign that this process has reached a point where the energy is now free for learning.

The association also points out that neuropsychologists recognize this same rapid proliferation of brain cells around age 6-7, as reported by Jane Healy, Ph.D. in Your Child’s Growing Mind: A Practical Guide to Brain Development and Learning From Birth To Adolescence.

Steiner in fact classifies reading and writing as optional skills, not necessary for life until the 11th or 12th year, saying that learning to read too early can hinder later spiritual development.

Schools in Finland wait to introduce reading until age 7 – and then rank no. 1 in reading around the world by age 15

It’s hard to picture a school as outlined in this description. But “The Finnish model is the best in the world” according to an international study conducted by OECD (PISA survey). At age 15, Finnish students far surpass their peers in Europe and elsewhere in the world. Finnish students lead in reading performance of students from 43 participating countries (30 OECD countries plus 13 associated countries). They are in 4th place in math and 3rd in science.

See? Even though your child may not be attending school in Finland, the point is that the students’ ability to learn is obviously not compromised by waiting to teach reading.

Learning to read early will not boost your child’s IQ

Other private schools in the U.S. are also waiting to teach reading, to the frustration of some parents. Elite schools like Calhoun and Allen-Stevenson point to studies showing that early reading does not necessarily guarantee future success.

“Being able to decode words is not a direct line to heightened I.Q.,” said Dr. Stephen Sands, a pediatric neuropsychologist and assistant professor at Columbia University Medical Center. “Reading is part of academic achievement, but intelligence is part of a different dynamic.”

Boredom in the classroom, leading to potential behavioral issues

Some teachers have observed problems with children who start school already knowing how to read. They may become bored with the lessons that have to be taught to the entire class, which can lead to acting out or other behavioral problems.

There are no scientific studies to support an optimal age to begin reading

One reason this issue is so controversial is due to rampant opinion unsupported by scientific research. There simply are no studies that can say when a child should begin learning to read. In fact, I’d bet that it would vary according to a lot of different factors, from the child’s own interest in words to the importance of reading to the environment they live in.

Love and attention will help your child thrive at his or her own natural pace

If you’re concerned enough that you’re looking into teaching your baby how to read, then you’re probably already a loving, caring parent. Letting your child learn and grow at the pace that’s comfortable to your child while you provide the security, love and nurturing they need is what will really help him or her reach full potential.

Can infants really read, anyway?

While many educational experts will argue that reading comprehension is not possible in the pre-school years, there’s simply too much anecdotal evidence to support the opposite. Just in my own small world, I know three unrelated toddlers who can pick up a book they’ve never seen before, pick out words or even read full sentences, and understand what they’re reading. We’re talking about age-appropriate books here. They’re not geniuses – they were simply taught to read early by their parents.

But the issue here is not whether babies can in fact be taught to read. It’s whether they SHOULD be taught to read at such a young age.

Super-parenting appears to be in fashion. From birth, many babies are fed on strict schedules. Then sleep training happens in the infant months. There are helmets, knee pads and even special mats to encourage safe crawling. Many babies are plied with educational toys and videos throughout their young lives.

Once you see a glimmer of their potential for learning, teaching your baby sign language and even how to read only seems to follow naturally, when everything else is so orchestrated.

It’s up to you whether or not you want to teach your baby to read. Just know that early reading is not necessary for your child to grow to his or her full potential later in life.

Still thinking about it?

If you do want to teach your baby to read, you don’t have to buy an expensive program. Here are some tips to introduce the concept yourself.

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