This week, a parent made the headlines by suing her child’s preschool. Her claim? That the preschool “proved not to be a school at all, but just one big playroom” thereby jeopardizing her daughter’s chances of being accepted by an elite private school.
It’s easy to scoff at the extreme nature of this parent’s action, but it also reflects some serious issues about how this country views the education we want for our children. Parents clearly and rightly want their youngsters to have access to the best in education. The problem is in defining what is best.
When should my child start reading?
Today, many people believe that reading as early as possible is what’s best for preschoolers. That’s why many parents start reading and reading readiness activities with 2 and 3-year-old children. We experience this regularly at the Reading Kingdom when parents ask why we discourage any use of the program with children under-four years.
It’s easy to understand how this trend has taken hold. We regularly hear that reading is the key to school success, and it is. But early reading, particularly super early reading, is not. Nevertheless, the mind set that has been created keeps pushing parents more and more in this direction. The end result is a type of training that seems to yield some initial benefits as toddlers point to letters and then bask in the congratulations of their proud parents.
Encouraging growth in all areas
The earliest years of life are a time of amazing growth. There is a huge range of behaviors, experiences and activities that children need to explore and experiment with—if they are to have the complement of skills needed for a successful and satisfying life.
For example, fine motor skills. Fine motor skills allow a child to zip up a zipper, use eating utensils and write smoothly. When children are not adept in these activities, their daily life is plagued with a sense of clumsiness in themselves and a lot of complaints from others (about spilling their drinks, producing messy homework, etc.) But, short frequent periods of “motor instruction” can yield real gains. It can also be a lot of fun to help a child gain mastery in this realm (such as using play dough to create interesting shapes).
Music is another area that plays a major role in child development.
Research suggests that children who are exposed to music perform better in tests of memory, literacy, mathematics and general IQ. So, in terms of academic success, the payoff seems far greater than what is achieved via reading readiness activities.
As the saying goes, there is a time and place for everything. Reading is one of the most important and valuable skills a child can learn—and so reading instruction is essential. But it’s not for the very early years. And it definitely should not replace the range of activities that young children need to make life as full and interesting as possible.
Dr. Marion Blank is the creator of the Reading Kingdom, the author of the Reading Remedy and the Director of the Light on Learning program at Columbia University in New York. She has spent over forty years studying how children learn to read and is recognized by her peers as one of the world’s top experts in literacy.