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Just this week, I was chatting with another mama about the usual mom life stuff. We started talking about our kids and the pre-schools they attended. She was telling me that she wasn’t happy when her child was in pre-kindergarten because he wasn’t reading sight words or reading at all. I smiled as she talked about this time in life. My new mama friend then finished with something along the lines of “Am I wrong?”
She wasn’t wrong. She wasn’t crazy for wanting to make sure her child was on par with his peers. As most concerned moms out there, she just wanted to make sure he wasn’t behind going into kindergarten.
“You’re not wrong for wanting the best for him,” I said to her. But here is the thing I tell all moms I talk to about this specific topic, your kid does not need to be able to read by the end of pre-kindergarten. They just don’t.
It’s Not Developmentally Appropriate
As a culture, we have adopted the notion that kids need to learn to read by kindergarten, or five/six years old. Which means some parents start teaching reading skills around three or four. The high stakes testing further perpetuates this misguided theory because of the need for kids to be proficient readers by the time they enter third grade. In some schools, if a kiddo enters kindergarten not knowing their letters, sounds, and a few sight words they are behind. We absolutely cannot clump all kids into a group and say they all should be doing XYZ. Not only is it not how reading works, but it’s also not how the brain works.
Most moms are surprised to learn that developmentally, kids are ready to learn to read between the ages of five and seven. A typical kid enters second grade as a seven-year-old. A classroom will always have a wide range of reading abilities, but I have found that the widest gap between developing readers is in kindergarten through second grade. As a primary reading teacher, my job was to close as much of that gap as possible with the time frame they were in my class. I did this with the understanding that kids develop at different rates.
Comparison is the thief of joy.
While it may seem like every child you come across knows their letters, sight words, and reads the truth is that they do not. Again, every child develops at a different rate, and you should never compare your child to others. As an educator and someone who has studied literacy for years, I have struggled in this area. I know that if I sat my daughter down, showed her alphabet flashcards and made her memorize sight words, she would eventually learn them. Just about any child would because they are sponges.
But, more than I want her to know these things, I want her to LOVE reading. I want her to love reading in a way I never learned how. I want her to love learning and to pursue it passionately. Drilling her with flashcards and piling on the worksheets will make her learn, but it won’t help her love it. When you compare your child to others you are missing the beauty of who they are, how they process the world around them, and how they learn new information.
You can spend two months trying to teach a child something they aren’t ready to learn
or two days something that they are.
But my child is brilliant; she needs to be challenged.
I do not doubt that your child is smart. Kids are amazing and are generally capable of much more than most adults give them credit for. However, there are other ways to challenge a preschooler. Creating things from scratch, using their motor skills, and learning social skills are more critical at this age than learning to read.
So, are you saying I shouldn’t do anything to help build their reading skills before kindergarten??
Absolutely not. That is not at all what I am saying. What I hope you gain from this article is a sense of peace IF your child isn’t reading by kindergarten. I want you to know that it’s okay and perfectly normal. You will, of course, want to make sure your kiddo is meeting their developmental milestones in cognitive and language skills and if you have concerns you should reach out to your doctor.
Tips for Building Reading Skills from Birth
- Read to them several times a day starting at birth
- Mimic their sounds
- Use complete sentences with them
- Ask questions and wait for them to respond with eye contact or sounds
- Name objects in your house
- Describe their feelings…and yours
- Sing Songs
- Read Nursery rhymes
- Sing Songs
- Read Nursery rhymes
- Repeat familiar books
- Let them “help” read
- Talk about the books
- Play I-Spy
- Take them to the library
- Read to them
- Allow them to choose their books
- Continue reading to them
- Model your thinking during reading
- Start a reading journal with them
- Read together
These are just a few suggestions. There are so many things you can do to help build language and literacy skills in your preschooler. But, the one thing I don’t want you to do is worry that they are behind if they are not yet reading. Let them play while they learn and watch them bloom.