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Why teach toddlers to read?

Posted by Graeme in parenting at 3:34 pm on Tuesday, 10 November 2009

As promised in my post on how we taught my daughter to read, here is why I think children should be taught to read as young as possible. There are three good reasons, and the first one is more than enough.

  1. It is fun. Children enjoy reading, teaching them to read adds to the number of enjoyable things they can do.
  2. It forms a habit of reading, that can become a life-long pleasure.
  3. It helps them develop in innumerable ways.

The last of these is the most contentious point, so that is what I will concentrate on. That does not mean I think it is the most important point: on the contrary, I think it is possibly the least important (insofar as one can pick between such important issues).

The commonest argument against teaching children to read is that they may not maintain that lead, over children to learn to read later, forever. I do not know what evidence there is for this claim, or whether it is even true. My family’s experience over at least two generations has been otherwise.

My immediate answer to that is that it does not matter. Think of all they have learnt, and all the enjoyment they have derived in the meantime.

The other is that, if it is true the lead disappears, the reason is that if they only read what they are set in schools, and they are not given continually interesting and challenging books, then of course they will lose that lead. Schools tend to standardise, and parents need to provide an environment that supports any children who are in advance of what their school teaches. The problem is that so many children spend spare time in from of the TV, and read only what they have to.

I have already discussed the sort of environment that nurtures reading in a previous post. All I have to add to that is that having a lot of books in the house, whether they are books the child will read in the near future or not, is a huge help.

I challenge those who claim the advantages of learning to read do not last, to provide evidence that it is true, and that it remains true given the right home environment.

The other claim is that children’s brains have not developed enough to learn to read until they are five or six. My reply to this is, to put it politely, that it is nonsense. It is trivially easy to teach a two year old (the exact age may vary from child to child) to recognize words: my mother did it, and I have repeated it. Once they can recognise enough words, they can read sentences, and then simple stories.

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