Monday, February 4, 2013

Should preschoolers learn to read?

I am such a fan of Ruth Beechick. I have the three booklet set of The Three Rs: A Home Start in Reading, An Easy Start in Arithmetic, and A Strong Start in Language. (Thanks, Christie for letting me borrow before buying!)

These are brief but right on point. I'd really encourage all homeschooling mamas to read these prior to the start of preschool.

I wanted to share a snippet from the booklet about reading:
"It is true that some children can learn to read remarkably early. But the fact that they can does not necessarily mean they should. Should is another question. One school district set up an experiment to help decide this question. Some kindergartners in the district received extensive instruction in reading. Others spent the same amount of time learning science. [...] ... no formal lessons in reading were held.

And what did the school district learn? By third grade the "science" children were far ahead of the "reading" children in their reading scores. The reason? Their vocabularies and thinking skills were more advanced. They could read on more topics and understand higher level materials.

The reading children, by starting earlier, used up a lot of learning time on the skills of reading, while the "science" children spent the time learning real stuff. And when they did begin reading, they were older and knew more and learned in a fraction of the time that the others took."

I'd better stop there, or I'll just copy the whole booklet. But wow.

I think there are plenty of 4 and 5yos out there who are ready and interested in learning how to read. There's also probably a good chunk of them who are subjected to reading lessons before they're ready. Early lessons may not accomplish much with those kids (except maybe sucking the life out of them and making them loathe reading).

Of course I want my children to be strong readers. I just hope that when the time comes, I have the sense to remember to slow it down, and make sure they are really ready. It's not about me.


  1. I love this. And I think it's spot-on. I'm an advocate of early learning IF THE CHILD IS READY. And not before. Hans' favorite school activity right now is phonics, as evidenced by the fact that we've sped through Hooked on Phonics' reading programs for K, 1st grade, and are almost done with 2nd grade in the last 5 months. That's 3 years of phonics in 5 months. Whoa. No amount of forcing a child to do that is going to work unless the child loves it (and begs for it!). But I know other children Hans' age who haven't even learned all their letter sounds (or all their letters, for that matter!), and I'm cool with that. Good grief, a 4 yo not reading isn't exactly a cause for concern. . . for Hans, it has been great for his attention, his self-esteem, and for his interest in church (he loves that he can read many words out of the bulletin and hymnal now!), but long-term for his scholastic achievements. . . all it means is that next year we can focus on reading books more than learning individual phonetic combinations. Yes, it gives him a head-start, but not a measurable one over the course of 12 years. I say if a child is ready, go for it. If not, absolutely do not. It can just set the child up for frustration and hatred of schooling. Hans knew his letter sounds for literally 2 years before he was able to understand the idea of stringing them together to make words. That's fine. Just because a kid knows his letters doesn't mean he's ready to learn the sounds, and certainly it doesn't mean he's cognitively ready to start sounding out words.

  2. I do think there is a window of opportunity with a lot of kids, where reading just CLICKS and they can't get enough. Some kids it's 4; others it's 6, 7 or even 8. Sounds like you found Hans' sweet spot! That's amazing!

    You are doing a wonderful job :)

  3. Something I also would never have been aware of until teaching Hans to read is that a large factor in how well a child takes to reading is the child's vocabulary. No amount of a-n-t sounding-out is going to make a difference or be easy for a child unless a child knows that "ant" is a word. Sounding out b-a-t works well because it is brain-dead obvious from a phonetic standpoint, but I pick ant because it is a word that looks straight-forward to sound-out, but actually does NOT have the standard short-a sound, although that's how it's presented to a child. There are lots of words like that for phonics ((stole and bowl are two more examples) that sound out CLOSE to the actual pronunciation, but not quite, and unless a child already has the word in his vocabulary, it's going to be a lot harder for a child to adjust to realizing how to properly sound it out. Obviously the words I gave are more common ones that a preschooler probably will know, but there are plenty of examples (that escape me at the moment) of ones that have been in Hans' phonics book that were only easy for him because he'd heard the original word before, and it wasn't a typical 3yo vocab word. Hans has always had a really great vocabulary, which is probably one reason he took to phonics. I've known parents who have taught their 2yo to read and I do wonder how hard that was vocabulary-wise, because even a 2yo with an amazing vocabulary is still not going to have a vocabulary anywhere nearly broad enough to catch on to all the nuances of the "almost phonetic, but not quite" words that a 4yo or a 6yo could understand. Bottom line to my ramblings: I think vocabulary matters, not just rote ability to apply phonetic rules. (Those phonics is important!)


Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts!