If you are in the New Brunswick school system and your child is not reading at four or five years, you will find the school labeling your child as a problem reader.
I have had to sit down teachers and tell them that I am not concerned about reading at that young age.
Many educators in the home schooling field believe that a child will start reading and writing when they are ready, and if you try to push the sequence you may lose out on some invisible but essential progress of cognition.
From my limited experience of teaching three very different children to read, the first step to a child learning to read is passive. They love to be read to, not just because they can relax and look at the pictures, but because they are hearing the language and making sense of storytelling. The magical art of communication is broader and more complicated than mere reading, and that is what they are thinking about when you read to them.
The second step is story telling in their play. Every child has told me at least once not to listen to their play because they want to be free to create stories with their toys. I love the sound of their storytelling but I keep busy doing other things as voices and dramas are created in the corner of the room.
The third step is ‘play writing’. When they are ready they will start taking the letters that they know and putting them on paper. I remember my son’s drawings at about 6 years old often having voices in bubbles saying “No” or “Oh”. And both daughters, at about the same age, chose to string many letters together so they look like writing, but are basically nonsensical. First daughter even started with ‘fake cursive’, pages and pages of detailed scribbling she called her ‘thesis’ after her Dad’s work.
My anecdotal experience tells me that they won’t see the letters on the page as something they can comprehend until they start playing with writing themselves. My youngest just started that and I am sure I will see some progress on reading now. She knows the letters and can sound them out, but up until last week she would pass her eyes right over them. She’d rather guess from the pictures, or tell me in a firm voice, “No learning right now, just read”.
The anxious New Brunswick school system and education board seem to be laying the illiteracy problem on the backs of four year olds. They seem to feel that if they can teach four year olds to read then the entire adult population will follow. It is a backwards proposition because literacy would not be a problem if you could get the majority of the adult population loving books and reading.
But I certainly don’t believe you will get a classroom full of eager readers by shoving it into their fearful minds at four years. Learning to read is too important a stage of education to be pushed down a child’s throat like medicine. It is an evolutionary step that allows the child to move into the abstract world of symbols. It changes the way the child’s brain works, and the way she sees the world.