Wednesday, 27 February 2013

When to start teaching reading

My friend just asked me a fab question 'when should you start teaching reading?'.  It's really osmotic Nat - it's one of the big arguments for 'unschooling' (as opposed to traditional 'homeschooling') that if you read regularly to your kids they will start to read for themselves and don't need formalised lessons.  In Europe, lots of schools don't start formal reading and writing lessons until the age of seven, when all of the kids are ready, to avoid making boys fail from the start as they usually develop a bit slower in reading and writing.

We read to the boys every day, although at first it was often more about picture recognition than narrative.  Interactive books are fantastic - the 'that's not my ...' range for example (we love that's not my dinosaur) and anything that has noisy buttons to press.

In order to read, children need to have good speech development and so by interacting with your baby, using books or anything you have to hand, you're preparing their brain to learn reading later.  In addition, bright interesting picture books with things they will be able to recognise quickly helps to build the baby's shape recognition abilities, which will later be essential for reading.  Books with faces in are a great place to start as this is the first shape a baby's brain can recognise (something that stays with us - hence all the Elvis on burnt toast sightings).  Also, fill their surroundings with stimulation - we have alphabet and number posters up that both boys love to be held in front of while we make the noises of the animals, or shout out the names of.

We used to read our own books out loud to Ollie too, and this is another way of helping language development as the baby is listening to the rhythms of your speech.  When your little one is about two years, you may like to try introducing things like the Cbeebies range of sticker magazines.  They may not be able to do most of the activities at first, but will enjoy putting on stickers with your help, scribbling on the pictures and listening to you read the stories,  Over time you will be amazed at how much more they are able to do.

As far as writing goes, Ollie started copying '0' and '1' out by himself (weird huh!), so I showed him how to write his name using those.  He's still a bit shakey on the letter 'e'.  You may find opposition from some schools and other parents 'you'll teach them wrong' as my parents were told when I arrived at school aged 4 and reading basic words competently.  I would say, sod 'em and do what feels right to you.  If that means structured lessons, or completely unstructured absorption of reading, it's all good, so long as it suits you and your little person is having fun.

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