Learning to Read is not a Sprint Race

Parenting is sometimes a competitive business. Mothers and fathers are heard to passionately discuss ‘firsts’ – whose child walks first, talks first, reads first. If our child isn’t achieving these milestones at the same age it can cause stress and worry.

Learning to read is not a sprint raceHowever, research shows a child who learns to read at a young age will not necessarily be a better reader than their peers in the long run. Some children pick up reading at an early age (we have all heard of parents who proudly boast that their 3 year old can read) while other children may not develop their foundational reading skills until the first few years of school.

Given that children progress at different rates there’s no evidence to suggest that starting them early has any benefit in the long term. Of course it’s important to enjoy books with our children from birth, but the process of a child understanding how to make meaning from print shouldn’t be considered a sprint race to be started as early as possible.

On the outside, learning to read may seem like a mystical and magical process (which indeed it is) but we also know that a lot of things must come together behind the scenes for a child to develop reading ability. In this post I share with you two critical things that children must come to understand which assists them in their reading development. It takes time to learn these things and they are an important precursor to reading.

Reading serves a purpose

Children need to understand that reading serves a purpose. We don’t just read for readings’ sake. We read to do many things ie. to develop our understanding, to get information, to explore ideas, to get things done, and to entertain.

It’s helpful to talk about this when engaged in daily activities. For example, you may tell your child, “I need to write this shopping list so I don’t forget anything” or, “I’m going to read my book for five minutes because I’m at the exciting part” or, “let’s follow this recipe to make sure the cake turns out ok.” This will help them to see the purpose behind why you are undertaking a reading task.

Discussing why we read different types of information will help your child to make the link between reading and the purpose of it in everyday life. This is likely to also increase their own reading for varying purposes.

How words and print work

Children need to explore the concepts underlying written language before being expected to read words on a page. Sometimes we take for granted that children will know certain things about how words, print and books work, but these concepts need to be explicitly talked about with our children. Opening a book and discussing how print works and how books are read gives children an understanding of the conventions of our language even before getting into reading the story.

A mechanic surely knows each part of an engine and how all the parts work together to make it run and the same should be true for childrens’ understanding of how all the parts of a book work together to make meaning.

Some of these things we just assume our children know but they are critical to reading success and need to be discussed. Next time you are reading with your child discuss these ideas:

  • Print is read from left to right.
  • A book is read from the front cover to the back cover.
  • The printed words are different from the picture.
  • Books can have words, pictures and sounds and we can get meaning from them all.
  • Each letter has a name and sounds.
  • Words are made up of one or more letters.
  • Spoken words can be turned into print, and print can be turned into spoken words.

This can be a lot for some children to get their head around, but it’s critical understanding for reading success. If we take the time to discuss these concepts and develop our child’s understanding of the purpose of reading and the way words work it lays the foundation for reading proficiency.

Rushing a child into teaching them to read before they understand these concepts is like trying to teach them to run before they can walk. Our job is to read to our kids daily, talk to them about how the world of words, pictures and books work, and to have fun. Reading needn’t be such a competitive business after all. And if your child doesn’t get there ‘first’ rest assured you are still setting them up for reading success.

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2 Responses to Learning to Read is not a Sprint Race

  1. Jackie March 4, 2014 at 9:33 pm #

    This would be excellent in the newsletter however I don’t think we can include it because of copyright??

    • angelabueti March 5, 2014 at 3:23 am #

      Hi Jackie, I’d be happy for you to share my article in your newsletter. Please just reference Angela Bueti (www.angelabueti.com) as the author. I hope your readers find it useful.