We've all been there. The panic that sets in when you fear your child is behind his peers. Maybe your best friend's child is reading three letter words and yours doesn't have an interest in memorizing the alphabet, let alone learning to read. Maybe he is in school and slipping behind the others, and you can't understand why. After all, he is bright, curious, and shows no signs of having a weak intelligence.
A Matter of Timing
So, what is happening? Usually, the ease that should come with learning to read is a matter of timing, and if you don't get the timing right what follows may be unfortunate.
Each child develops at his own pace. Certain developmental milestones, typically around the seventh year of your child's life, are required before your child will be ready to read. Until these milestones are met your child should not be expected to tackle the analytical skill of reading. Also, true reading requires both sides of the brain and the left side does not begin to develop until 7-9 years of age.
Five Easy Signs
Here are five easy signs to help determine whether or not your child is ready to learn to read, based on the work of Susan R. Johnson, MD:
• He can skip using opposite sides of his body rather than parallel motions (just like the boy in the picture)
• He can follow your finger tip, held 12" in front of him, smoothly and symmetrically as you move it in close to the tip of his nose
• He can follow your finger symmetrically with both eyes as you move it from right to left and left to right at a distance of 12" from his nose
• Without losing his balance, he can stand on one leg, holding his arms out with his palms facing up, with his eyes open for 10 seconds and then closed for ten seconds
• When asked to draw a picture of himself he will draw his head, neck, torso, arms, fingers, legs, and toes without being prompted.
If he isn't able to do these five things, you may want to wait. The reading-readiness age is usually around 6 1/2 to 7 for girls and 7 to 7 1/2 for boys, according to Mark Van Doren and Mortimer Adler, both 20th-century scholars. For boys, it can sometimes be a year or two later.
Too Soon Is Harmful
What this means is that if you push your child too soon, you may inadvertently raise a poor reader because he will be frustrated, and if he is in school, he may even feel humiliated, and therefore, he will learn to associate reading with something unpleasant. After all, it is the joy of reading that begs us to read more. As your child grows older, the reading material will become more and more challenging and he will find it difficult to keep up with his peers and fall further behind.
How to Prepare Your Child
You can best prepare your child for reading by allowing him plenty of free play where he can immerse himself in activities like running, jumping, climbing, skipping, hopping, falling, carrying, digging; and activities that involve the fine motor skills like planting, picking, cutting, drawing, painting, beading and so forth. Engaging his body and senses in a three-dimensional world--not the two-dimensional world of technology--is of paramount importance to the proper development of your child, which is necessary to prepare him for formal learning later.
Struggling to Read
As you can see, it is unreasonable to expect a child to read before he has reached certain milestones and, if you do, why he is 4X more likely to drop out of high school and, therefore, never attend college, according to the American Educational Research Association. Their assertion is that being a poor reader by grade 3 will put a child at risk, but why are so many children poor readers by grade three? Poor readers are largely bred out of inappropriate expectations by people who don't understand child development, and who label children as learning disabled when the child's only real disadvantage is that he is too young.
If your child is in school and struggling to read, you might consider taking him out of school until he is a little older, because preschool and kindergarten are not mandatory in most states. For working mothers, you can search for a learning center that is play-based rather than focused on academic learning. When homeschooling, you have the flexibility to postpone teaching your child to read until you know that he is ripe to learn. When he is ready, he should learn to read with ease.
Elizabeth Y. Hanson teaches parents the secrets and skills to raising smarter children with a focus on getting the early years right. She is the founder of Smart Homeschooler™ and has been a consultant and researcher in children's education since 2001.
You're invited to take advantage of Elizabeth's Free 15-Minute Consultation for new clients.