Learning to read is an essential part of a child’s development, if they are to gain an education and function comfortably in society. However, there are conflicting opinions about the age at which a child should learn to read. Some say before school is too young for literacy; yet there is mounting evidence to suggest that not having any literacy skills before kindergarten, sets children up for difficulties at school.
Those in the more fortunate segments of Australian society can be forgiven for assuming that literacy is a given – it’s something we all encounter at school and master to varying degrees, allowing us to contribute to society in our own way. However, statistics have shown that 44 percent of adults in Australia demonstrate below proficiency-level literacy; and 7.3 million lack the literacy skills required for everyday life.
Are we going to fix this problem by delaying literacy?
Recent figures have shown that one in five children starting school don’t have the skills to learn properly. Unfortunately, many parents realise this only once their child has started school – or worse, when they are further along in school (at the point where they are meant to be reading to learn rather than learning to read) and their literacy struggle is impacting other subjects. It’s no surprise then, that research shows that children who start behind in literacy, often stay behind.
Those looking for reading programs for kids are also faced with a growing suite of options and perhaps don’t quite know the difference between offerings – reading classes, literacy programs, school readiness programs – what’s the difference? And how does this differ from what’s provided at preschool or day care?
Most preschool and long day care offerings focus on learning through play, which is fantastic for this age group. In addition, however, engaging in an early literacy program which covers all predictors of literacy success (including phonics, phonological awareness, word formation and recognition, concepts about print and handwriting) in the year before school has been proven to give children an advantage when they start school. Confidence is another major benefit to the development of early literacy skills.
How young is too young?
It’s never too early to engage in simple pre-literacy activities! It’s amazing to discover the range of simple activities that actually help with literacy.
Babies: Reading to children from a very young age has advantages including increased vocabulary and better understanding of concepts about print.
Toddlers can engage in activities which help them hear and form the sounds of the alphabet (through sound charts and two-way conversation); and understand the beginning sounds of words, including their name. Keeping active and crossing their midline will also help toddlers acquire the strength and coordination they need to support the development of literacy skills. Working on fine motor skills at this age also helps children later develop correct pencil grip. Continuing to read to toddlers, particularly books which contain rhyme, will help them develop their phonemic and phonological awareness. Try singing nursery rhymes together!
Preschoolers are able to engage in all aspects of literacy – developing correct pencil grip and learning how to form letters; understanding concepts about print; learning the sounds made by letters (phonics); understanding the rhythm and rhyme of language (phonological awareness); and being able to form and recognise words (blending and sight words). All of these aspects are covered in the Ready to Read program. Anything being taught at this age should also be tailored to how preschoolers learn – in a holistic, multi-sensory way involving play and exploration.
The best approach to literacy is a proactive one – have fun with it and your child will see that learning is fun!
Ready to Read is an early literacy program based in Sydney. Children have been learning to read and write with Ready to Read since 2001 in small classroom environments, taught by qualified teachers or speech pathologists.