An interesting point about early reading came up in a conversation I had recently with my mother when we were talking about my old Peter and Jane books. My mother remarked that both my brother and I learned to read on our own and that all children would eventually learn to read without intervention. Well, I seriously question her recollection of our reading journey because I remember it differently. It wasn’t an easy journey for me and I struggled to recall even a favourite word like “sweet” when I’d just read it on the page before.
But I digress… I do agree that some children will eventually get there on their own, but I would have grave reservations about banking on that. Maybe it’s because of some inherent kiasuism in me or perhaps there really are some sound reasons to start early…
Literacy vs Functional Literacy
Literacy refers to the ability to read and write at any level. Functional illiteracy is defined as having reading and writing skills that are inadequate “to manage daily living and employment tasks that require reading skills beyond a basic level” (Wikipedia).
A CIA fact sheet proudly proclaims that the United States is 99 percent literate. That sounds good, but it’s meaningless. What’s important is functional literacy and whether Americans read well enough to handle their own affairs in an era where the competition is global and the intellectual demands on reading are at their highest. An increasing number of children who go into their last years of high school are functional illiterates — clearly not ready for college and rarely in a position to compete for meaningful jobs. – HuffPost Education
Yes, I realise that the stats are about the Americans but I think it’s a fair to state that we don’t just want our children to be able to read and write, we want them to be able to do them well because their future success depends upon it.
“low literacy levels substantially weaken labor market outcomes, especially among women.” – United States Department of Labor
Our children live in a generation where there is so much vying for their attention. They have 24 hour children’s TV channels, they have smart devices like iPads, and they have far more toys than most of us adults did at their age. If we do nothing to help them discover the magic of books, how will they ever develop functional literacy?
Benefits of Early Reading
Early Reading – How Important is it to get an Early Start?
Children who learn to read from age 6 onwards are disadvantaged compared to children who learn to read earlier. Early readers end up being smarter later in life because “a fast start to reading unlocks an upward spiral of skills, achievement, positive attitudes, and willing practice. Conversely, a slow start tends to touch off difficulty, discouragement, dislike, and avoidance.”
- A child’s early reading experience is critical to the development of his lifelong reading skills.
- The age at which a child learns words is key to how he will read later in life.
According to Dr Tessa Webb in the School of Psychology at the University of Leicester: “Children read differently from adults, but as they grow older, they develop the same reading patterns. When adults read words they learned when they were younger, they recognise them faster and more accurately than those they learned later in life.” – Science Daily
Raising Readers – Start Early, Finish Strong: How to Help Every Child Become a Reader:
- Recent research into human brain development is proving that parents truly are their children’s first teachers. What parents do, or don’t do, has a lasting impact on their child’s reading skill and literacy.
- As parents talk, sing, and read to children, the children’s brain cells are literally turned on (Shore, 1997). Existing links among brain cells are strengthened and new cells and links are formed. The opportunity for creating the foundation for reading begins in the earliest years.
- By cooing, singing lullabies, or reading aloud to a baby, toddler, or preschooler, parents stimulate their children’s developing minds and help build a base for literacy skills.
- Positive parental attitudes toward literacy can also help children become more successful readers (Baker et al., 1995).
Benefits of Early Reading – Teach Reading Early:
- Reading helps to develop a young child’s brain
- Reading opens the door to your child’s early academic success, imparts a love of learning and leads to higher grades in every subject
- Early reading ignites your child’s creativity and imagination
- Starting early also reduces the pressure on your child when formal reading begins in school
- Children who can read independently have access to more books, knowledge, and ideas
Earlier is Easier
Last but not least… Why start early? Because it’s easier. One of the reading programs I used to teach my boys to read was BrillKids’ Little Reader – a program designed to be used with infants. If you’re wondering why it was created for infants, here’s what KL, the creator of the program, has to say:
I believe that it’s the best time to teach because it’s also the EASIEST time to teach. And the main reason why it’s much easier to teach at an early age is because there are more and more distractions later on, as a child matures.
Let’s take Felicity (his daughter) as an example. I first started seriously teaching her to read when she was nine months old. At that age, she could crawl, but she couldn’t stand, walk, talk, nor do much else. I taught her using various tools and methods, including many personalized books that I made for her. Whatever I showed her, she totally lapped up. She was absolutely hungry for whatever I put in front of her—so much so that it was I who had to stop the lessons despite her protests for more!
In the months and years following that, her interests grew along with her physical and mental development. At three, all Felicity wanted to do was to draw. Next she was fixated on dinosaurs. Then dragons. Then horses. And the list goes on. Boy, was I glad that she had already learned to read, because learning to read at that age would pale in comparison to playing with dragons, drawing horses, and play-pretending with her play mates!
In short, I would have found it so much more difficult to engage Felicity’s attention at age three than when she was one.
Furthermore, I only really made deliberate efforts to teach her to read (in English, anyway) between the ages of nine months and eighteen months. After that, reading instruction required only minimal effort on my part to read bedtime storybooks with her. Felicity built on her reading skills herself after that. The great thing was: because she could already read, she could enjoy her interests so much more by reading up about those interests herself!
And I am inclined to agree with KL because that was also my experience. As my boys grew older, it was much harder to sustain their attention. They were only interested in the things they wanted to do. Now that they’re in school, they can build on the foundation they already have. And given the literacy gap that is common between girls and boys, I am glad that we started early.