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spires from Carfax

don't make your child read

Books + Ideas, Life, — October 2018

If your school tells you your child is supposed to read to you four times a week, but they don't want to do that or don't like doing that, don't make them read. Read to them instead, or do something in between — you can take turns reading sentences, or they can read the chapter titles or picture captions or speech bubbles while you read the rest. If they aren't interested in whatever books they've been given by school, put those aside and find something that they are interested in. If you don't feel comfortable reading to them — English isn't your first language, perhaps — or you just don't have time, try audiobooks. If there's nothing they will sit and listen to, sit down and read a book yourself while they play next to you. Whatever you do, don't make reading into a chore, or something your child finds threatening.

Perhaps this is easy for me to say, with a child who loves books and reading. But that's what matters, that she loves books and reading, not that she knows the 'er' digraph (a statutory requirement of the English Key Stage 1 Curriculum) or is however many years ahead of whatever "expected" is for a 5.78 year old. Just as with other developmental milestones, such as crawling, walking and potty training, it doesn't actually matter when they happen, especially in retrospect. Can I even remember when Helen started to walk? I may remember her learning to read — it's something I've enjoyed a lot more than potty training! — but unless there are signs of something that might need attention, such as a hearing or vision problem, no one should be worrying about five or six year olds reading. It's not as if anything they read between five and seven is going to be important — if they remember any of it at all — and a motivated seven year old can learn really quickly. In many European countries, formal literacy instruction doesn't start till children are seven or even older.

There is of course some risk that reading late will get children labelled as "slow", but schools seem quite clever about that these days and the last thing that will help here is any sign of parental disapprobation.

Reading texts with complex vocabulary, syntax and structure to children is a good way of preparing them for reading those later themselves. The best phonics knowledge in the world won't help someone comprehend "pallor" if they've never heard the word spoken. There's also a sense in which no one ever finishes "learning to read" - there are always new words to learn along with new ways to use them, and adventures to be had in morphology and etymology and syntax.

1 Comment »

  1. I absolutely love this post and agree with it 100%. Thank you for your insight.

    Comment by Luciane — November 2018

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