My niece was reading chapter books by 6-years-old.
My son is nearly 6 and a half and still doesn't want to read. I mean, he knows some sight words, and he knows how to sound things out, but he doesn't really know how to read.
And according to the experts in education, that's totally fine.
Still, I have a little angst over it and at our "Meet the Teacher" interview last week, I brought it up with his Grade 1 instructor.
"Oh, we don't really start doing that until the new year," she assured me.
As the redshirters simultaneously hold kids back so they're big and beefy in the primary grades while Tiger Momming them through literacy routines at early ages, the experts say the most important thing to learn is how to play, not how to read.
Joan Almon is a teacher with nearly 40 years experience. When she first started in the 70s, kids in kindergarten had a play-based education. That slowly slipped away and now kids in preschool and kindergarten are learning reading, writing, and 'rithmetic.
"When these changes first began to appear, I asked many kindergarten teachers why they were changing their curriculum," she writes. "The most common answer was that parents wanted their children to read in kindergarten. Today this goal is strongly supported by many policy makers and school leaders and preschools are under pressure to prepare their children to be able to read in kindergarten.
Congratulations, Tiger Mom, you've changed the education system. But have you changed it for the better? Almon notes the change has happened without any evidence to show it has better long-term effects on the success rate of kids in school.
She notes, "NAEP scores - Department of Education tests that are often called the nation's report card - over the past 20 years [have not] increased enough to indicate that we are making strong gains, especially when one considers the problems that accompany the focus on cognitive learning in kindergartens and in preschools."
Even though higher expectations are placed on younger children, the kids simply aren't meeting them. So guess what happens? Parents redshirt.
Related: 18 things we miss most about being a kid
Kindergarten is the new first grade. Preschool the new kindergarten. Parents, knowing the tougher standards (that they themselves have demanded over the years), hold their kids back so they have a better chance to succeed.
So now we are still getting kids who learn how to read when they're 6-ish, but now those kids are in kindergarten instead of Grade 1. All we've done is dragged the system down and, in the meantime, virtually eliminated the play-based learning that used to happen in kindergarten.
We are so results focused that we're no longer letting our kids be kids. And look at me, I'm just as guilty. Almon notes that behavior issues and suspensions are on the rise. The kids are stressed. They're being asked to do things they're not developmentally ready for and so they act out.
All of this leads to the urgent question of whether it makes sense to expect kindergarten children and preschool children to spend long hours preparing for reading, trying to master skills that come much more easily a year or two later. Given that there is no evidence of long-term gains, coupled with growing concern about losses, it is time for a change. Unfortunately, with standards set in place it is not so easy to change them to meet the needs of children. But one can be creative in how to meet them through experiential education and play.
In short, there is no evidence that pressuring children to read at five improves their later reading, and much concern that it is damaging. There is now a call for more rigorous education for young children. This implies additional hours of didactic instruction and testing. What we really need is a more vigorous education that meets young children's needs and prepares them for the 21st century, which is often described as a century of imagination and creativity. The children are ready. Are we?
For what it's worth, in Europe kids are not taught how to read until they're 7-years-old.
I discovered this article via my son's Kindergarten teacher from last year. She was/is a very strong advocate in play-based learning. The school he attended actively discourages parents from redshirting.
So here I am with a Grade 1 kid that can't read. But he's happy, has lots of friends, and is very much succeeding in his French Immersion classes, thank you very much.
-By Buzz Bishop
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