A coworker of mine has a daughter in second grade who is reading Harry Potter. The other day he told me that Marie plowed through 130 pages over the weekend. This same little girl started reading books at age 4, or maybe it was 3. Every time my colleague talks about his early-reader, I can't help but worry, just a little, about Alice.
Alice is 4, actually almost 5, and she's not reading. Well, she can read her name. And she knows, "exit"; she yells it out every time we pass a sign on the freeway. She knows my name and her brother's. And when I say, "It's time for Sam to take an N-A-P," she knows I'm spelling out nap. She can practically read Goodnight Moon—because she has it memorized. She's starting to learn her sounds but when we jump to the next step of actually sounding out words or determining which letter a word begins with—she gets confused. "The word 'see' must start with the letter 'c' " she says. "Or why doesn't 'you' start with the letter 'u'?" I read to Alice every night and throughout the day on weekends. And I know she gets lots of books at school. But she's yet to grasp the overall concept of putting sounds together.
Sometimes when I hear others talk about their kids reading before kindergarten, I think, Their kids were naturally ready and Alice isn't. And I think that I shouldn't push her because I don't want to frustrate her and scare her off from learning. Other times, I can't help but think, Have I screwed up? I should have bought a book on phonics. And sometimes, I even introduce little lessons at breakfast time. I pick a letter of the day and then we come up with words that start with that letter.
A friend of mine has read many books about early reading such as Why Johnny Can't Read, Marva Collins' Way, How to Raise a Brighter Child, Give Your Child a Superior Mind, and Teach Your Child to Read in Just 10 Minutes a Day. She believes that all children are capable of learning to read at a young age. Her son is 1 years old and he can read the word "up." She believes that kids shouldn't learn the names of letters—just the sounds. "It's too confusing if they know the names of the letters," she says. She introduces the sounds in fun ways with songs and clapping.
On the other end of the spectrum, I've talked to parents who send their children to Waldorf Schools where academics are deemphacized in the early years. I've heard that a Waldorf student typically isn't reading until second grade. According to the Why Waldorf Works Web site, "There is evidence that normal, healthy children who learn to read relatively late are not disadvantaged by this, but rather are able quickly to catch up with, and may overtake, children who have learned to read early. Additionally, they are much less likely to develop the 'tiredness toward reading' that many children taught to read at a very early age experience later on."
In public schools, kids tend to learn to read in kindergarten. At the private schools it varies—though most seem to say they teach at the individual child's level.
So where does this leave me? Confused as usual. And then the other day, while Alice was in swim class, I was talking to a mom about this very subject. Her point-of-view? "A child is ready to learn to read when she can skip." So of course, I asked Alice to skip. I wouldn't call what she did a skip—it was more like a hop-gallop-run.