Learning to read

Question: At what age should a child be beginning to read? My daughter will be five in April and she is beginning to read, with assistance. Also, by what age should a child be able to count to 10?
– Rachel

Answer: Learning to read is like learning to talk – it’s a process that happens over time. The process begins in infancy and extends through early elementary school. In addition to pre-reading skills, other seemingly unrelated factors are essential. Children need a language-rich and print-rich environment with lots of hands-on experiences that expose them to the world represented in books. Four and five year olds will best acquire the necessary skills for reading through meaningful activities rather than more formalized instruction because learning at this developmental stage is active and child-centered. Flash cards and “quick learn” programs offer only short term results with early advantages disappearing by 8 years of age while experience based learning creates lifelong learners.

Your daughter is on target if she is reading “with assistance” even if you notice some of her friends doing more or less. This is the age for parents and teachers to follow their children’s interests and inspire their natural curiosity. You can support her efforts by paying attention to her environment and the scope of her experiences. Some ideas are:

  • Have a variety of picture and story books at home
  • Take her to the library on a regular basis
  • Read to her daily (let her fill in the next word/phrase in familiar books)
  • Read simple chapter books to her that continues from one day to the next (for example, Charlotte’s Web)
  • Let her see you reading adult material at home
  • Tell her stories (let her build mental pictures and sequences)
  • Point out letters and words all around her (road signs, storefronts, menus)
  • Give her lots opportunities to write with pens, markers, crayons, & chalk
  • Give her the junk mail and old magazines to read and cut with scissors
  • Take field trips everywhere to make connections between print and objects
  • Recite rhymes and sing silly songs (for phonics and listening skills)
  • Play matching games and concentration games (for pattern recognition)
  • Encourage risk-taking in her play (good readers are risk-takers!)

Reading is the key that unlocks whole new worlds – Have fun!It’s also no surprise that math concepts work the same way. Rote skills are less critical than learning concepts. Counting to 10, 20, or 100 is less interesting than counting real objects. Children need hands-on math experiences to learn than each object is counted once and only once (one-to-one correspondence) and 5 beans in a pile is the same number as 5 beans spread out in a line (identity). Children learn math with nesting cups (and pouring with cups in bathtubs and sand boxes), cooking and measuring, block play, setting the table, jumping rope, playing hopscotch, and playing board games.A book that I just discovered and highly recommend is Magic Trees of the Mind: How to Nurture Your Child’s Intelligence, Creativity, and Healthy Emotions from Birth through Adolescence by Diamond and Hopson.

Good Luck,
Karen Deerwester, Ed.S.

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