Do you know when to begin teaching your child to read?
If you are not sure then think about this. Statistically, more American children suffer long-term life-long harm from the process of learning to read than from parental abuse, accidents, and all other childhood diseases and disorders combined. In purely economic terms, reading related difficulties cost our nation more than the war on terrorism, crime, and drugs combined.
Reading proficiency is essential to success–not only academically but in life. As the American Federation of Teachers states: “No other skill taught in school and learned by school children is more important than reading. It is the gateway to all other knowledge. Teaching students to read by the end of third grade is the single most important task assigned to elementary schools. Those who learn to read with ease in the early grades have a foundation on which to build new knowledge. Those who do not are doomed to repeated cycles of frustration and failure.”
More than any other subject or skill, our children’s futures are determined by how well they learn to read.
Reading is fundamental. It has been said so often that it has become trite but it does not negate its truth. In our society, in our world, the inability to read consigns children to failure in school and consigns adults to the lowest strata of job and life opportunities.
And just when we thought the stakes could get no higher, over the last decade, educational research findings have discovered that how well children learn to read has other, even more life-shaping, consequences. Most children begin learning to read during a profoundly formative phase in their development. As they begin learning to read, they’re also learning to think abstractly. They are learning to learn and they’re experiencing emotionally charged feelings about who they are and how well they are learning.
What does that mean? Most children who struggle with reading blame themselves. Day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, the process of learning to read teaches these children to feel ashamed of themselves–ashamed of their minds–ashamed of how they learn.
And the sad truth is that they have nothing to be ashamed about. As Dr. Grover Whitehurst, Director Institute of Education Sciences, Assistant Secretary of Education, U.S. Department of Education (2003) says: “Reading failure for nearly every child is not the child’s failure; it’s the failure of policy makers, the failure of schools, the failure of teachers and the failure of parents. We need to reconceptualize what it means to learn to read and who’s responsible for its success if we’re going to deal with the problem.”
There are no promises that your child can learn to read early or that they won’t experience some difficulty. There are a significant number of children suffering from learning disabilities. These children will struggle. However, early instruction may ease their suffering and make the struggle a bit easier to handle. At the very least you will know that you did everything you could to help your child-and your child will know that as well. That cannot be wasted effort!
And you have a head-start on every educator because you know your child–their temperament, their strengths, and their weaknesses. You are the person best equipped to begin teaching your child.
So, back to the central question-when should your child’s reading education begin? Traditional American education models call for teaching a child to read between the ages of 7-9. Obviously, you cannot begin teaching a newborn how to read. However, we can begin in infancy to lay the foundation for literacy which will in the end make your child a stronger reader.
Literacy is defined as an individual’s ability to read, write, and speak in English, compute, and solve problems, at levels of proficiency necessary to function on the job, in the family of the individual, and in society.
Many of the simple things we do at home with our children support the development of literacy, so you are already working to make your child more literate even if you are not actively beginning the process to teach your child to read. This includes simple activities such as reading to your child, reciting nursery rhymes, and singing songs.
How do you become a more active participant? There are many things you can do, and it doesn’t mean you need to invest hundreds of dollars in an expensive reading program. You don’t need to spend much money at all to teach your child to read at home-or at the least prepare your child well for the beginning of reading instruction in school. Most parents already have the tools you need in your home to begin today!
As an educator, I view learning is an active experience that should fully engage the participant. I believe that when I am “teaching” that the student is only passively involved in the learning process. I see myself much more as a guide and a resource than a teacher in my classroom.
If you can find ways to make learning fun and exciting-something that your child enjoys doing with you-then begin as soon as possible.
Take an active role in your child’s education.