We've all seen the commercials touting educational systems that claim that very small children (we're talking babies, here) can be taught to read. I fell victim to this claim last year when I gave into temptation and picked up the first level of instruction in a particular series, determined that my genius two-year-old would be regaling the house with Shakespearean sonnets by years' end. So, did it work? Um, no. Eli is brilliant in many ways, but he lasted through the educational video approximately one and a half times and hid the flash cards in various nooks and crannies of the house. Then he pulled out his monster trucks and had a rip-roaring good time crushing things.
Naturally, my next question was whether other children could learn to read at an early age. After all, I didn't really force the issue, so perhaps Eli's reading prowess would have blossomed had I really pushed it. The answer, according to experts, is yes -- and no.
Some children have an innate ability to learn to read from an early age. Generally, however, those little prodigies pick it up gradually and without formal instruction. My brother, for example, stunned my parents at barely age four when he read an entire sign at the local zoo (show-off). Most children are closer to age five or six before reading really becomes a priority, which is completely normal.
So what's the best way to encourage early literacy in your child? Although the answer isn't very exciting, it's the honest, proven truth: provide books, books and more books. Take time to read with him every single day and really talk through the illustrations on the page. It'll give him a better idea of what's happening and how the pictures relate to the words you're saying.
Whatever you do, try not to worry when your three or four year old shows little to no interest in learning to read. My oldest son enjoyed books from a very early age, but all of my efforts to teach him to sound out words or identify sight words out were brutally rebuffed until he hit Kindergarten. Now, he picks up dozens of words every day and loves to read out loud to me. He just needed a little encouragement and time to reach that milestone at his own pace.
How old were your kids when they started reading? Did you ever worry that they were never going to pick it up?