Guest post by Eric Watermolen
My daughter is five years old, and she’s just starting to learn how to read. We’ve taken a mostly laid back approach to reading, but I have noticed a lot of pressure and competition surrounding the whole learning to read process. In a way I can understand the push, learning to read is a major step in our modern society. But I don’t really understand all the hype, pressure, and competition. It seems like every parent wants their kid to learn to read as fast as possible. I have to wonder how much of that is for the good of the child and how much is for the ego boost of the parent. Then there is a bevy of products to get babies to read, even before they can talk. I’m not sure how much reading a one year old really needs to be doing.
At What Age Should a Child Learn to Read
All this got me thinking, “At what age should a child learn to read?” The answer isn’t clear at all, or at least there isn’t really any consensus on the matter. On one side of the fence you have those that say you should learn to read as early as possible since it sets you up for more advanced learning more quickly. On the other side you have those that say reading early isn’t important as long as they learn to read at some point. There are even studies that back up both sides, like this one for early readers and this one for late readers.
Phonics vs. Sight Words
As if it weren’t enough to be concerned about when a child should learn to read, we also have to be concerned about the method in which they learn to read. There are two general methods – phonics and sight or whole words. Sight words is where you teach the child a number of commonly used words and they learn to recognize them by sight. Phonics is where you teach them to sound out the words using the sounds of each letter and putting them together.
I found a pretty good blog article that discussed the differences between sight words and phonics. It seems there are pros and cons to both methods. Personally, I think a combination of the two is likely the best course of action. I found a home school website that discussed the combined strategy. They make a good point that even as adults, we use both phonics and sight words as we read. Any time we come to a word we’ve never seen before, we use phonics to sound it out. And then when we see most other words that we’ve read over and over throughout our life, we are using sight words.
What is Best?
What seems to have worked well for us is some combination of all these strategies. We taught our daughter the alphabet and all the letter sounds. She worked with these on and off over the course of a couple of years. She actually picked up a couple of sight words on her own, with the first word she could read being “Jeep.” It seems my enthusiasm for my Jeep and all my Jeep t-shirts likely contributed to that one.
But we didn’t really focus on sight words. We did try going through “Hooked on Phonics” at a few points when she was three and four years old. She grew tired of it pretty quickly though, and definitely preferred it when mom or dad read to her. Just recently when I was working on the computer, she sat down next to me and started sounding out words from “Go Dog, Go!”
That was the point when she decided she was ready to learn to read. It was reading time. It occurred to me that the decision on when to teach a child to read might be better left to the child. After all, we all tend to learn better when we are interested and excited about the topic at hand. Of course it helps to get the fundamentals laid out, but if you are actively reading to your kids and encouraging them along the way, at some point they are going to want to read on their own. I think that’s the best time for a child to learn to read.
About the author:
Eric is the founder of Eden Journal. He loves blogging about personal growth and desires to make a small difference in the world by providing a platform for bloggers to share ideas on a wide range of topics from personal development to spiritual and philosophical awakenings.