Parents, teachers, and researchers struggle with the question of at what age children should become readers to ensure academic success. Let us look, first, at how youngsters crack the code of reading.
How Do Children Become Readers?
In general, the main reading instruction systems include whole language, phonics, and a hybrid approach. These three methods hold similarities and differing features.
Whole language, a broad approach, uses the child’s natural environment. Techniques usually include reading quality books to children, drawing attention to print that surrounds them (such as street signs and cereal boxes), and promotion of reading in all aspects of life (like shopping lists and greeting cards).
Phonics, a systematic approach, focuses on decoding, or “sounding out,” through sound-symbol relationships. Materials often include alphabet flashcards, worksheets, and books with controlled vocabulary.
Each of these systems offers benefits. Most professional educators choose a combined, hybrid approach. But many parents and children are eager to begin learning before the classroom setting.
When Do Most Children Learn to Read?
In general, kids become readers between the ages of three and seven. Research shows most children learn to read at five or six. “Early readers” are those from three to four years, who start reading either on their own or with parent and preschool educator assistance. Ongoing research looks at whether these early readers enjoy more academic success than those who learn to read later.
Academic Success Related to When Children Become Readers
Children who are ready start putting letters and sounds together before entering kindergarten. This reading success can produce a great sense of confidence in these kids that follows them into school.
Research, however, does not support that early readers will continue to excel or enjoy more academic success than those who start reading later. In fact, these kids may not be at the stage of their overall development that allows them to use this early success to much advantage.
Youngsters who begin reading after entering school usually experienced aspects of whole language at home. Parents read to them and they are often aware of letters and words in their environment.
We should not consider kids “behind” if they are not reading when they enter kindergarten or even first grade. This is their time to grow and shine. Children who learn to read in school may have an advantage. The professionals who instruct them in reading hold many tools and strategies for reading success.
Considerations for Parents
Children learn many literacy skills before they start reading. Surround them with good books and all types of printed materials. Watch your kids for clues that they are getting ready to read. They ask about individual letters, specific words, and the spellings of personal words, such as names. You can then build upon their questions.
This is an exciting time for both you and your child, so avoid the pitfall of reading becoming a chore. Research shows it is a child’s enjoyment of reading that is essential for continued academic success. Concentrate on making the time spent with this activity joyful!
Written by Becky Ross Michael