Tori's Blog

Do I Really Need To Teach My Toddler To Read?

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009

I recently came across a blog by a group of fathers who refer to themselves as science-based skeptics. This particular post sharply criticized the very popular practice of teaching a baby sign language. It was an interesting opinion and one that resonated with me.

Having a 9 year old, very active boy, I have learned how such “early learning” practices have set up new and unrealistic standards in school, especially in the early years. Alexander went to a “play-based” preschool for two years. What that means is that they sang songs, they created projects, they painted, and they played.

The school had a slew of tricycles and some days the kids just went crazy in the parking lot riding those bikes all around. And they even didn’t wear helmets out there in the tiny parking lot. Although they learned about letters with songs, they were not specifically taught any academics. The focus was learning how to get along with one another.

What that meant is that Alexander did not enter kindergarten reading and certainly not writing. In kindergarten he saw an occupational therapist for delayed “fine motor skills”. Interestingly we learned that 4 of his classmates (the active boys) who preferred to throw the ball than draw were seeing the same therapist. Hmmm… Six months later, his fine motor skills seemed to develop with no difficulty. He may not have the finest handwriting and, I must admit, neither does his mother.

Recently I also came across an advertisement for a reading program called “Teach Your Baby To Read ”. It claims that using the DVD program with your toddler can lead to; increased communication skills, enhanced learning abilities, greater confidence and future success. Wow – what parent would not want their child to have any of those things? I found 17 such programs.

There are plenty of prenatal “learning” and music programs that also make those same claims. Of course they all say these benefits may occur, not that they actually do occur. In fact, there is no evidence that any of this “early” learning has any affect in a child’s later learning ability. Marketing, marketing, marketing.

Studies really do show that whether children start reading at 3 or at 6 they will likely be reading at the same level by the time they are 8. What is important? Reading to them and being a good reading role model.

Again, I can only use my own child as an example of the evidence-based research with regards to childhood reading. In June of this year, Alexander was reading very simple Level 1 and Level 2 books with plenty of pictures. Over the summer, a friend introduced him to a book called “The Lightening Thief”, a 200 page, small print book with no pictures. He was hooked. By November he had read all 4 books in the series. A switch went off and he flew – because he was captivated and he was ready.

The pressure is immense to do the “right or best” thing in giving our children a head start. The truth is that they do not need the educational toys and activities. They need our love, and so importantly, our time.

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