Is the Rush to Read a Good Idea?

In a Feb 14, 2011 piece, the New York Times reported on a number of top City private schools who are treating kindergarten as a social year, delaying reading instruction to grade one and up.

Not all parents at these high-priced, highly sought schools are thrilled with this approach, and the NYT article goes on to say that, “At the Calhoun School, also on the Upper West Side, Steve Nelson, the head of school, said a week rarely went by without a parent expressing fears about the pace. “Those who get anxious think that education is like a race and you’ve got to get running fast, and if you don’t you’re going to fall behind and then you’re going to lose the race,” he said. “That’s not the right way to look at education.” 

The article reports that, “Not all schools stave off formal reading instruction in kindergarten. “That stops the growth and could make education potentially a stultifying experience,” said Bo Lauder, the head of Friends Seminary in Lower Manhattan. At Trinity, another sought-after private school, reading instruction begins in kindergarten and is differentiated according to each child’s skill.

What’s a lowly parent to do if even the Titans are clashing on this issue?  What is the right approach to education in general and reading education in particular?

The Times reports, Schools like Calhoun and Allen-Stevenson point to studies showing that early reading does not necessarily guarantee future success. “Being able to decode words is not a direct line to heightened I.Q.,” said Dr. Stephen Sands, a pediatric neuropsychologist and assistant professor at Columbia University Medical Center. “Reading is part of academic achievement, but intelligence is part of a different dynamic.”

“And small children who can read are not necessarily comprehending the text they rattle through, said Peggy McNamara, a reading and literacy specialist at Bank Street College of Education on the Upper West Side. Language-rich environments, like classrooms where children must speak in full sentences or are asked to make up their own tales, are what foster learning, she said, not the ability to breeze through “Hop on Pop.”

From what I’ve observed with my own children and the many children I work with in KidWrite, meeting them where they are and letting them take the lead works best. What real difference does it make if a child is reading chapter books at four? Isn’t the point that the child is feeling competent and confident that they can tackle a challenge and come out the winner?

Why not take the time to explore reading, and storytelling, by taking turns reading aloud or using books that have only pictures and asking your child to fill in the story? This will go further toward comprehension and mastery than parroting words off a card or a wall without any true understanding of the concepts behind them.

It will also give you one more way to have meaningful, agenda-free interactions with the children in your life.
Think about it. Then click here for some excellent wordless books!  Or here for a video interview with Caldecott winner, David Wiesner.